"The Last Stop"


Harry stood up in the break room at Atlantic Terminal as he recollected his belongings. He glanced at the small steam engine keepsake that he kept on his key chain. It was one of many that he and his father had carved out of wood when he was a boy. Together they drilled a small hole through the end so that he could fit a key ring through it. He ran his thumb and index finger along the smooth wheels before returning it to his pocket.

He looked at himself in the mirror while readjusting his tie under his collar. His 5 o’clock shadow had crept back onto his face. Grabbing his conductor’s cap, Harry exited the break room.

The conductor from the previous ride that departed from Babylon exited the train. He waved goodbye to Harry as he boarded for his shift. Harry glanced down at his wristwatch and saw that he had about eight minutes until the train left. Passengers flooded the train like waves crashing on a beach, snatching up all the empty seats. Suits, ties, and briefcases smothered the teal cushions during the maddening rush. Harry smiled.

“How’s it going, Dumbo?” said the engineer who would be driving the train for this upcoming trip.

“Same shit, different day,” replied Harry.

“Do you mind doing the usual?” asked the engineer.

“Not at all,” he replied. Harry was always happy to oblige by taking the train into the yard after Babylon, since that was the engineer’s stop.

Harry walked through the train cars. There were two teenage boys with football jerseys hanging from their broad shoulders. Both of them were harassing another boy who was much smaller. They took turns pushing the smaller one around and knocking him to the floor. He was wearing a Metallica t-shirt and had longish hair that stopped below his ears. One of the jocks pushed him back down as he started to pull himself to his feet. The other snickered with laughter. Harry’s thudding heartbeat echoed in his chest. His left eye twitched, followed by a quick snap of his neck.

“Is there a reason why you keep staring at me, punk?” said one jock to the smaller boy as he knocked him down again. Before he could answer, the jock’s friend gave him another shove. He sat there, shaking with fear, fumbling words coming out of his mouth as if he was learning how to speak.

Harry stepped over and put his hand on the shoulders of both jocks, turning them to face him. “L-l-leave him alone. G-g-g-o find a seat on this train away from him or I’m kicking both of you off,” he said.

“Whatever, train bitch,” said the jock as he started to walk away. His friend followed behind. The smaller boy stood up and thanked Harry, but he didn’t say anything in return.

***

“So, first he pinned the poster to the classroom door today. He said, ‘look at Harry Dumbo, the main act of the circus,’ and then he pinned a picture of my face on Dumbo the Elephant’s body. Then he pulled my pants down in front of a girl in class, shouting ‘Harry’s got an acorn! Harry’s got an acorn!’ So many kids were chanting with him, Mom, so many kids!” said Harry, fighting back tears.

“Oh Harry, I’m so sorry, Harry,” his mother said, holding him in her arms. He accepted her touch at first but then pushed her away, stomping back to his feet.

“Why is it always me he picks on?!” he shouted. “What is so wrong with me?! Why can’t I be different?!”

He slammed the door behind him after running off into his bedroom and wiping the tears away from his face. They were tears of frustration, never ending, one after another, cascading to the floor.

Harry walked over to his Lionel train set that resided on his wooden desk. He flicked the on switch and moved the lever so that it ran at a steady pace along the metal tracks. A Superman poster hung on his wall with him soaring in the air, his fist pointed towards the sky. The train traveled around the Lego scene he placed in the middle of the table. The crying transformed into a blank stare, mesmerized by his train set.

He thought back to the day when his father took him to the NY Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. After that day, Santa would leave him a new Lionel train car to add to his set each Christmas. The trains ran underneath the tree and across the fake snow scene that he and his mother arranged each year. The chugging sounds entertained Harry for hours. He would fantasize as if he were in charge, taking each passenger to a new faraway place. His father passed away right before his ninth Christmas, leaving only one last car for him to add to his set.

Harry continued to stare at the trains, but his mind went elsewhere. He thought back to the beating he had received earlier that week. There were hundreds of evil acts inflicted upon him by this bully, but none compared to this one.

He had spent weeks working on a project in his wood shop class. The goal was to design anything he wanted as long as he used the tools he had learned to operate during the semester. Harry chose to make a wooden train in honor of the memories he shared with his father. He carefully measured the length, width, and height of each piece. He sanded the edges so smooth that your finger could slide off like a knife slicing through butter. It was finished with a slick walnut stain. Once completed, it looked and shined almost exactly like the real Lionel set that ran in his bedroom.

Harry received an A for his work and was thrilled at the opportunity to finally bring it home. He held it in both of his hands and smiled, feeling happy for the first time in years. With his head down, he didn’t see the bully hiding behind the tree, waiting for him around the corner from his block. He was punched in the mouth, forcing him to fall and drop his wooden train to the sidewalk. Punches flew again and again to his face while he on his back, causing blood to spill out of his mouth and down his ch