Fiction · 04/11/2018

A Family Unit

They boarded the crowded train in Kenosha. Marjorie sat in the only empty seat. Next to a sailor. The sailor smiled. Marjorie smiled. Will stood in the aisle. He held Pearl in one arm and the stroller with his free hand. He carried an overstuffed backpack. A diaper bag was slung over a shoulder. He let go of the stroller. He touched Marjorie’s elbow.

“There aren’t any more seats, hon.”

Marjorie glanced at her husband.

“Maybe the next car?”

“Should we look?”

“Why don’t you go? If you find something, come back for me.”

Will looked at the sailor. The sailor looked out the window. The conductor collected tickets.

“You can’t be in the aisle, sir. There are more seats in the forward cars.”

Will handed Pearl to her mother. He finally found an empty bench meant for persons with disabilities. There was room for the stroller so he sat there. The train stopped in Waukegan. The conductor helped an elderly couple climb aboard. The man was blind. The woman wore a breathing mask and dragged a portable oxygen tank on wheels. Will felt a dozen powerful emotions all at the same time. He stood. He said, “I’m sorry.” He wasn’t even sure if he said it aloud. He went back to check on his wife and daughter.

Marjorie was missing. Pearl was on the sailor’s lap. The sailor looked at Will.

“She had to use the restroom.”

Without another word, the sailor slid out of the seat, handed the baby to her father, and fast-walked away.

Pearl saw her mother coming down the aisle.

“Mama!”

Marjorie saw Will.

“Oh, it’s you.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“I was just…”

“I know. Your friend told me.”

The conductor was back.

“Sir, you need to fold the stroller and store it in the overhead compartment.”

“It doesn’t fold,” Will said. “It’s not that kind.”

In one motion the conductor folded it, lifted it, and stashed it away.

The train arrived in Chicago. The stroller unfolded itself like a magician’s bouquet. Will needed to say something. This was supposed to be the honeymoon they never had. He would forget all about the sailor. They’d never mention it again. Marjorie touched his arm. “You have nothing to be jealous about. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The hot August air had a yellowish tint, and it was difficult to breathe. Seeking coolness, they headed east towards the lake. The left front stroller wheel seized, leaving a black skid mark on the pavement. Will stopped pushing.

“Now what?” Marjorie lifted Pearl from the stroller.

“Now nothing.” Will folded the stroller — it was easy once you knew how — and stuffed it in a trash barrel.

Pearl was crying. Marjorie handed the baby back to her father.

“She wants you.”

They walked to Lake Michigan. It was Marjorie’s first time in Chicago. Will had to convince her that it was the same lake as back home. They headed away from the nicer hotels and fancier restaurants until they came to a neighborhood of shabby store fronts and dive bars. They found a Travelodge.

Will turned on the air. Marjorie breastfed Pearl, who immediately fell asleep. They took showers. They got under the covers. They remained on opposite sides of the bed with Pearl in between. There was free HBO. They watched whatever movie was on. Marjorie looked at Will.

“I’m starved.”

“We should go somewhere.”

“Can’t you do takeout?

“I guess. What do you feel like?”

“I don’t care. Hamburgers?”

Will carried the backpack to the bathroom and closed the door. He put on clothes meant for tomorrow. He saw his reflection in the mirror. What had happened to his life? He remembered getting up the courage to ask Marjorie for a date. She was his first and only girlfriend, but she’d been with other guys. It drove him crazy. He imagined Marjorie with the sailor. She was so pretty. Wherever they went, men stared. Did she miss her freedom? She must. She could have any guy she wanted. When she told him she was pregnant he offered to marry her, and she accepted. The wedding was at the courthouse. The reception was in her parents’ basement. How could this possibly work? A divorce would be best. It would be worse for Pearl if they waited.

There was a Jumbo Burger across the street from the hotel. Will bought cheeseburgers, curly fries, and chocolate shakes.

The keycard worked on the first try. Marjorie wore the nightgown she had bought special for the trip. Pearl was awake.

“Daddy!”

The same movie was still on. Marjorie looked at her husband.

“That was quick.”

They ate in bed. When the movie ended, another began.

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Dan Nielsen is a full time open-mic standup comic. His flash manuscript Flavored Water was a semifinalist in the Rose Metal Press 2017 Short Short Chapbook Contest. His recent flash has appeared in Cheap Pop, The Collapsar, Ellipsis Zine, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and OCCULUM. Follow Dan on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES. He and Georgia Bellas are the post-minimalist art/folk band Sugar Whiskey.