Word Count 498
By Terry Rainey
Friday afternoon, New York. Hoping to get to Washington for dinner. Hot, muggy 7th Avenue, then hellish Penn Station. No track announcement for the 3:35 Northeast Regional 173 till 3:25, creating a packed herd of people jockeying for position.
Watching the cattle converge on the escalator, I stopped to get a Times. I’d hope for the best in seating. A few minutes later, after the crush, I walked down to the platform. Seeing no seats in the first two cars, I hopped on as the train started to move. In the third car, I spotted the one seat left. Offering apologies to the man in the window seat, I stuffed my dead cellphone into my bag and tossed it up on the overhead.
As I settled, he said “Amtrak operates more than 300 trains each day, right? They employ more than 20,000 people, am I right? Over 85,000 daily passengers, right? Can’t they post the track number earlier? Am I right?” I agreed with each right, nodding.
He went on to offer opinions on the weather and the Yankees and politics and gluten and teenagers, ending each declaration with a slightly upturned “right.” Half question, half statement. By Newark, I’d given up acknowledgements, and he’d morphed into “Mr. Right.”
So many rights followed that I began marking them with a stroke; four in a row slash five. By Philadelphia, I’d lost count and my slashes had grown wrathful, angry. Perhaps I could escape the monologue by studiously, seriously doing the crossword.
36 Across. 15-letter word. Fellow traveler. “Bore” or “boor”? I wrote both of them, and then “BoerWar.” “BoreboorBoerWar” followed by two question marks in the margin, partly hiding the slashes. Did he get the hint?
“Stuck on a clue, right?” The hair on my arms went up. Was he reading over my shoulder? Could I get out my phone and pretend to make calls? He’d notice its deadness. Time to abandon all hope? Meanwhile he landed a few more rights. I was defenseless.
When he didn’t get off at Wilmington, I accepted my fate, and let Mr. Right go on about taxes and cannibals and acrobats and short fiction writers. I applied meditative principles to the moment, internally chanting, nodding occasionally.
Baltimore. Charm City, right? Would he detrain? I’m not a religious man, but I prayed for such. Francis Scott Key, I beseech thee. Make him go o’er the ramparts.
Indeed, he started gathering his colored pens and papers! I tried not to appear giddy about his departure. As he turned to go, he said “The First Boer War was from late 1880 until spring of 1881 between the UK and Transvaal. The Second Boer War went from fall of 1899 to May of 1902, and was fought between the British and two Boer states, Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It continued sporadically until the British took control.”
All I could manage was an anemic, puny “…right!”
With a smirk and a snort, Mr. Right left.