by Peter Byrne
(Swans - October 18, 2010) When I was a boy I took a train trip all by myself. As soon as I got back home, my father asked me where I'd been.
"On a train," I said.
"Where did you go?" he asked.
He was genuinely interested, which surprised me.
"As far as I could," I said.
"Where was that?"
"To a station."
"But which, where?" He really wanted to know.
People often wanted to know what you'd done. You couldn't tell them the truth. It hardly ever made them happy.
"Places have names," my father said. "The name had to be written there on a signboard."
"I didn't see any signboard," I said, because I hadn't looked for one.
"What the hell," said my father with a sigh.
I thought I'd ask to go outside to play, but then I thought not.
"You want to notice things," said my father. "How can you get on in life if you don't notice things?"
Getting on in life wasn't something in my sights. But my father smiled as if I'd agreed with him.
"So you had a nice train ride. The conductor would have called out the name of your stop."
I started to say there was no conductor.
"Okay, okay, he might have called it out in the carriage behind or before yours. But in any case you stepped out on the platform. Then you went to the ticket office."
My father waited for me to nod. So I nodded.
"Then you bought a ticket to come back," he said.
"No," I said.
"You had to have a ticket."
He smiled. So I smiled too. But I shook my head, no.
"You had no ticket?"
"Yes, I have no bananas?"
"No. I had my ticket from when I got on."
"Sooooo. You bought a round-trip ticket to start with. We call that a round-trip ticket."
My father, imagining what I'd done, made himself happy without knowing what I'd really done.
"Well now, at the start, when you went up to buy that round-trip ticket, you named the place you wanted to go to, the place whose name was on the signboard you didn't notice."
"What do you mean no?"
He wasn't happy now.
"I just put my dollar and a half down and he gave me the ticket."
"He probably thought you were a deaf mute. Do you want to grow up to be a deaf mute?"
"No. No, I mean I spoke to him. I asked him what time the train left."
"So you were kind of pushed for time, worried about fitting the trip into your busy day?"
"I didn't want to look dumb."
"Well, well, I'm glad to see you have some ambition. You realize what the man did? He sold you a ticket based on mileage. That's why you didn't have to name your destination. You could have taken any train out and back for that distance. Understand?"
"Yes, that was my idea," I said.
I could see my father was getting tired. He threw his head back, looked over the top of my head and asked,
"What exactly did you do on this trip?"
"I went in the train."
"Yes, yes, we know that. But did you eat peanuts or scuff your shoes against the seat?"
"Well, what did you do?"
I should have thought up something to make him happy. I could have said I counted the cows we passed. Or that I wrote down the number of minutes between each stop. But I said,
"I just sat there."
"You just sat there?" he said.
He was looking at me again. He still wanted something to make him happy. But I wasn't going to tell him about the old man who sat across from me. He had a white stick, held a cat in his lap and sang Sweet Adeline.
"Yes," I said, nodding. "Can I go outside now?"
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