What I like most about "Train Fare" – in addition to the fact that it's set on a commuter rain between New Haven and Grand Central that I know well – is that this was the story that broke a long dry spell for me. After leaving Arizona in 2011, I was on the job market and spent the first few months doing not much else than writing cover letters. I tried a few flash here and there but ended up with a long chain of unfinished pieces with little potential. This story changed that. I went on to publish 5 of the next 10 in that collection, and beyond to many other projects.
When we're in the thick of it, especially a dry spell but even success, it's hard to imagine getting past it. I remember the first short story I wrote after college and liking it and being unable to imagine ever writing another story as good. Obviously not true, and "Train Fare" is testament to the continued potential of any writer who feels down on his or her luck. Keep writing.
from Pure Slush
Laney found an empty seat on the train as it began to move, facing backwards toward a woman dressed in a business suit and skirt. She was reading a newspaper and didn’t look up, just crossed her legs out of the way. Balancing her coffee cup on the seat beside her, Laney opened her wallet, checking that she still had enough cash after breakfast. She had a $20 bill; off-peak fare was $14.
The train picked up speed as it cleared the station, the momentum pulling Laney away from her seat, and she grabbed her coffee cup before it fell. She looked up to see the conductor enter from the car behind, watching as he worked his way toward her, checking and selling tickets.
The passenger across the aisle from her pulled his wallet out when the conductor reached him. “One adult, one-way,” he said.
“Twenty-two,” the conductor said.
Laney’s brother had told her something about different ticket prices, but she only remembered peak and off-peak. He might have mentioned the on-board price, too. Heat flushed her cheeks, knowing that embarrassment would come, and she felt sweat prickling up across her skin. She set her coffee down on the floor, hiding it between her feet, then snapped open the change compartment of her wallet. There was only a handful of dirty pennies.
The conductor turned to her. “Tickets, please,” he said, then punched her neighbor’s ticket and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
“Can you come back to me?” Laney asked, holding her twenty while making a show of re-examining her wallet’s contents. The conductor scowled but gave a quick nod, then moved past her.
Laney had been in Italy once and found herself on the wrong train after missing a transfer in Empoli. Getting off at a tiny outdoor station that had no ticket counter, she took the next train back the way she’d come, sitting by the door and watching through the small dirty window for the conductor to appear. He never came, and she arrived at her destination without paying for her detour. She hoped that maybe she’d have similar luck today.
Digging through her empty wallet a third time, knowing she didn’t have two hundred pennies but considering counting them anyway, she felt a tap on her knee. Laney looked up to see the businesswoman’s hand holding a $5 bill toward her.
“Oh gosh,” Laney said, “thank you but I don’t …”
“Is the next station the one you need?”
She pushed the bill into Laney’s hand. “They’ll throw you off there. Probably fine you.” She returned to her paper, the matter decided.
Her coffee cup still balanced between her ankles, cooling, Laney leaned forward to pick it up. But she stopped, and sat back. She didn’t want her patron to see it.