Short Story – Bridge Up Ahead

By David Michael Newstead.

The train had put thirty minutes between me and Union Station. The city was behind me now and I sighed. My watch read 3:40 p.m. in lifeless digital script that made me tired to look at it. I folded my sleeve over my wrist, obscuring the time. I was restless and besides it didn’t matter. The trip had really just started and there was a long way to go, I thought.

I leaned back and tried to relax. I spent awhile just staring out the window, absently watching rays of light fighting to break through the gray winter sky. Scenery decorated the passage of time; all the trees reaching up in desperation, worn out industrial buildings and aged murals of graffiti that followed these tracks presumably along the entire Eastern Seaboard. Inside, the train felt stale with five or six conversations blurred together into a single backdrop of noise.

For no apparent reason, I found myself watching the back of the seat in front of me. It was like I was trying to trick my mind into ignoring the distance I had left to travel. Like I could just arrive at my destination! Because of that, I stared at the plastic tray table and cloth upholstery in earnest. Finally, I blinked and rubbed my eyes. That’s when I turned to look at the other passengers. I shifted around the arm rest and surveyed the interior of the train car.

There were laptops and smart phones and books, newspapers and coffee cups. I looked a few seats behind me and I saw a man in his early twenties, our faces mirroring each other’s. Then down the aisle far in front of me, there was a much older man, perhaps seventy years of age. I stared intently at him like I had the back of that seat cushion. I saw his narrow shoulders, his neck, and the skin around his scalp surrounded by thin, white hairs. And when he ran his hand across the back of his head, I reached for the back of my own.

I looked behind my seat again at the twenty year old and realized that that was my past. I looked forward again and I realized that was my future. The train had been sailing down the railway for a while now and it suddenly occurred to me: I had lost track of the time.