Daniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school.He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, Spindrift, Zygote in my Coffee, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written four books: The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), the Lexical Funk (a short story collection), Reejecttion (short story/ essay collection), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).
A short story by Daniel Clausen
He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there at the train station at Shichirigahama, or even that he was at Shichirigahama, one of the many small rustic train stations that dotted the Enoden line along the Fujisawa coast. It seemed like it hadn’t been any time at all since he had left the Army two years ago. He had done two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and then he was out of the Army, and then he was working as an English teacher, and then one day he was just wondering around Fujisawa trying to figure things out. His body was weightless, nothing was real, and he wondered as he sat at the train station if he would simply sit there until his thoughts had settled, or if he would throw himself on the tracks and just be done with it all.
For a while teaching kids in Fujisawa had seemed alright, and then one day he was sitting in class and this older Japanese teacher had told one of her kids to “shut up” in English. When he heard it, his mind went blank and angry, and then he heard her say it again. It was strange, but somehow his nose started itching like he could feel smoke. He had told her not to tell the kids to shut up, that she should never say that to a kid. He thought he said it calmly. The teacher had gotten angry, there had been a meeting called, and finally he just walked off the job.
He thought he could escape, but there he was at some random train station.
He had gone back to his apartment and changed into jeans and a t-shirt. He had gone for a long walk along the coast of Fujisawa. He had watched the shoreline and began to feel better, and then worse, and finally better again. He saw the surfers out in the water trying to catch little waves on a Tuesday evening. There was a time in California when he thought that just about anything could be cured by the ocean. He wondered if the people in Shichirigahama surfed out their frustration. He wondered if he tried to surf the small waves if he could forget himself.
Then he had made his way to this train station, Shichirigahama, and now he was trying to figure out what to do.
He still had a lot of his Army money. He had enough. Enough for something. But enough for what? Every time he tried to wrap his mind around the question his body seemed so light he thought he might float up off the platform and wake up as someone completely different.
He felt for a moment that he should try to call his old girlfriend, Beverly, from high school. He would ask her what she was doing and whether she was married. He was sure he could track her down through Facebook. Then for a moment, he thought he would call one of his old friends who was still in the Army. He would be on leave right about now.
People got off the train and people got on. The first few times he would try his best to smile or nod, but after a few times doing this, he lost his appetite for even this common courtesy and began to simply stare into space.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and now his mind was turning blank and angry because some Japanese teacher had told a kid to shut up. Now he could smell smoke that didn’t exist, and here he was thinking about the green Enoden train and how it would be nothing at all to throw himself in front of one.
The girl must have shown up sometime later, perhaps just as the sun was starting to go down. By this time, though he couldn’t be sure, he thought that he must have been sitting at the station for a few hours.
At first, he didn’t even notice her. He couldn’t explain how she had managed to get to the train platform or if she was one of the passengers who had deboarded sometime before. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old. She wore an old baseball cap that she kept touching around the edges near her ears.
The old soldier, perhaps soon ex-teacher, tried to pull himself together, to begin considering what his next move would be. Would he try to call his ex-girlfriend, would he try to find a new job, join the Army again? The badness would just keep on repeating itself forever without end: quit his job, bad relationship, Army, quit his job, and so on. That’s when he noticed that the girl’s cap was off and that she was rubbing her ears. He noticed that her ears were much larger than normal ears, at least a half size larger than normal. She wore her hair long, perhaps as a way to cover them, and she kept brushing her hair first over her ears and then away from them, and the process was so natural and compulsive that the man thought he saw the rhythm of a song there. As he watched her natural stroke, first touching her ears, then brushing her hair over them, then combing it away, then considering the cap with her other hand, he thought he could hear a melody playing.
The melody was soft and beautiful, classically played, and he wondered where this girl had suddenly appeared from and if any English teacher had ever told her to “shut up.” As he began to look at the girl, something inside him said that long ago he had known her. That’s when he noticed her fingers. Long and slender, they were the ones holding the cap and stroking her hair and touching her ears. They must have been the most beautiful fingers he had ever seen.
He watched her, and then he watched the train coming, and it didn’t even cross his mind that she would jump.
The last thing he remembered was reaching out for her. His arms seemed impossibly short and she was far away, and the train came and didn’t seem to stop, and then she was gone, and he woke up on the bench of the train station with cold sweat running down his forehead and the smoke of a bomb crawling up his nostrils.
It was night now, and he seemed alone on the bench of the train station at Shichirigahama.
He checked the time and then checked the train schedule. He looked around to make sure the girl wasn’t there.
Suddenly, the next step seemed clear. When the next train came he would get on it and let the rest figure itself out.
If you enjoyed this short story, you can sample more short stories in “The Lexical Funk” right here: https://www.goodreads.com/reader/63995-the-lexical-funk?return_to=%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F2927664-the-lexical-funk