Featured Fiction
// Andrew Zuliani

The man in the navy slacks and grey knit sweater shifted his weight in the faded yellow and unevenly padded seat. He had been on many trains in his long career, but none quite like this. The train seemed louder inside the coach than it was outside on the platform, and this loudness was not a constant thrumming that could easily be tuned out. Instead, the train bashed and clanged its way towards Saint-Jérome and offered its passengers no relief aside from the first, second, and third servings of refreshments that made their rounds, balanced on a clattering cart. This cart navigated the tufted and ruined carpet in the hands of a stewardess whose voice became more and more hoarse and worn from her afternoon locked in a shouting match with a steam locomotive. She came to the man with the grey sweater and offered him a drink, which he accepted, and then disengaged the wheel locks with a click and rolled past the last row of seating uninterrupted save for the clamour of the train.

The man held the drink in his right hand and leaned towards the window, watching the snowflakes on the glass melt diagonally into droplets and collect in a thin line of water that streamed off of the outside sill onto the side of the train and out of sight. He turned his head and surveyed the inside of the cabin and then, lowering his eyes, took a drink. He placed the cocktail onto the small table dividing the facing seats and picked up a leather-banded wristwatch that lay next to the glass, registered the time, and put it in the pocket of the coat resting on the seat next to him. The man finished the drink and moved to the back of the train car in the same direction as the stewardess.

“I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“Would you like another drink? That was the last of the rye, but there are plenty of choices.”

She stood up, smoothing her uniform with the palms of her hands.

“No, thank you. I have a strange favour to ask.”


“There’s a woman in the front end of the car … She’s an old flame of mine, we dated back when I was in college. I was wondering if you could pass a message on to her – I’d say hello myself but I figure that this would be a laugh.”

He pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and smiled roguishly.

“You scoundrel. Well, it would give the three of us something to do, I suppose.”

“I knew I could count on you. I’ll wait in my seat … She’s the brunette in the seat closest to the front.”

The stewardess walked past the man and towards the front of the coach car. He took three steps towards his seat, then paced backwards into the room with the refreshment cart and drew the curtain, dividing himself from the passenger section of the train. The noise was far greater in this small room next to the door that opened into the two-foot gap between the coach and the privately rented luxury car. His mind formed an image of the inside of the neighbouring traincar: well-insulated, free from noise, velveted, pristine and polished for its solitary passenger. The man drew back the curtain slightly, and looked back into the cabin at the stewardess making her way down the aisle, letter in hand. He shut the curtain and turned to the grey steel door and stepped towards it, pushing down the sleeves of his sweater and bracing for the wind and cold.

The din from the shaking and rattling of the train was loud and inconsistent enough that none of the passengers noticed its increase as the steel door at the tail end of the train was forced open. The man had planned on this, just as he had arranged for the seat closest to the steward’s quarters of the train, and just as his employers had ensured that this specific, battered train would be making this particular run eastward with the luxury cabin and its one occupant in tow. He approached the open door and crouched slightly, advancing with one arm extended into the snow and wind.

He reached the metal grate outside of the door frame and bent down, unable now to check behind himself for the stewardess’ return but counting on the confusion of the message to buy him as much time as he needed. He bent down against the blasting wind and slowly turned the cold metal lever that extended from the linkage of the train car. The lever released and the man stood upright and turned towards the door with the scraping of metal on metal ringing in his ears over the howling of the winter air. The sound peaked in a screech of rusted iron and then silenced itself as the disconnected luxury car disappeared into the whirling whiteness behind.

He closed the heavy steel door behind him, sprang across the steward’s quarters, pulled back the curtain and slid into his seat where he sat rubbing the circulation back into his hands. At that moment, the stewardess passed along his message to the stranger at the end of the train. From where he was seated, he could not see the woman’s reaction. After a brief pause, the stewardess made her way back to his end of the train.

“I’m sorry, she says she doesn’t know you. I guess you got the wrong girl?”

“No, that was her, all right… I suppose it’s been a long time since my college days.”

The stewardess smiled a small sympathetic smile at the seated man and walked past him, returning with the clattering drink cart.


//Andrew Zuliani, writer

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