Dan

Foxtail, Railway, Seated

At the train station, we are all familiar with tragedy. It no longer has the glittering pull, the gravitational lensing. We have no problem looking away, these days. But why don’t we?

We all steal glances at the man. His hair is a birds nest from last year, which arrests the gaze. Then your eyes ski down the slopes of the wrinkles in his face, where clearly tears have been icing the well-worn paths, and instantly your gaze jumps away. Frightened, a skittish flock, all our stares. Instinctively embarrassed. To look anywhere else but there, indeed.

Yet he speaks with such fervor, it’s hard to ignore that part. Some of us recognize the language. To those of us who don’t, we assume it’s German, or Polish. Maybe Finnish? But he is Hungarian. Some of us can tell by his coat. Some of us can see what he’s staring at as we walk by: he’s got a bundle wrapped in a kerchief. Or maybe he just gazes blindly at his shivering hands.

“Why did you come to see me off, then, Segura?” he asks angrily. “Just to ensure I would finally be out of your hair?”

“No, father. Goodness gracious, you have created such a fantasy world for yourself. Are we all just a part of your dark cloud, now?”

He sits there angrily silent for a while. We can guess he’s been there all day. Maybe he’s been there for weeks. He might be made of a new kind of stone, a type of fellow who no longer needs to eat. Subsisting on the short glances he gets, as everyone hurries to their ends.

“I feel like a broken tool. Confess! Isn’t that what you see me as?”

“Dear God in heaven, father. What even makes you say this sort of thing? We make sacrifices too!”

“Sacrifices, pah! Sacrifice is what I gave up, my sparkling years of youth and vigor, to raise a two-faced daughter and a bunch of useless sons! When I could have made great contributions to mathematics!” His voice is thundering out, and some of us think of politely interrupting, but we hurry past.

She does not reply this time.

He throws the kerchief to the ground, with a clank, and puts his face in his hands. “I broke my spectacles. And when I went to find a tool, I found the old set of tiny things from building your dollhouse furniture? Remember?”

Silence. Or rather, only the sound of all of our shoes hitting the stones. Trundling on our merry way, thankful for the calm.

He’s almost whispering now. We can’t help but lean in, trying to make it out. “I tried to screw them back together, but nothing would happen when I turned and turned. The little screwdriver had come unglued in its handle. Somehow, I thought that was the funniest thing. I started laughing, and dropped it all on the ground.” Leaning down, painfully slow, his quivering hands pick the bundle back up. He holds the empty frames up to the light. “I can’t see. Now I don’t know where the lenses went.”

The high-pitched voice sounds angrier than ever in response. “I know you’re striving for pity, father. But it’s not going to work on me. I can’t abide when you try to sweeten your rages with this play-acting.”

A small girl sitting nearby pokes her mother. Or maybe her grandmother. Or aunt. “Who is he talking to? Why does his voice keep going all silly and talking about his da?”

“Shh, now, dearie. He’s talking to himself. It’s fine. Old folks do that sometimes. Come on now, stop staring. We’ve got to get to the other track.”

And the mother, or grandmother, or aunt drags the child onward. Through the station, toward an oncoming train riding on tracks of societal steel. We keep trying to ignore the mathematician. He’s clearly mad, we think. But what can we do about it?

“You can find your own way to the train, now, father,” he says in a high pitched voice, twirling the broken spectacles through the air like a biplane. Imaginary skywriting.

 

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