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Sightseeing



Sightseeing

  

 

The train lunged to a halt in the underground station, then William stood and retrieved his leather bag from the overhead. A tinge of anxiety overcame him, as he waited for the conductors to ready the hatches for passengers to make their egress.

Clutching his briefcase in one hand and the overnight bag in the other, he trundled single file toward the open door, and stepped onto the platform, taking in a breath of stale air. He fell for it every time. Crowded conditions on the train always made him feel claustrophobic. Years of traveling to the city for business and he hadn’t learned a thing. Alighting from the train, he was always relieved to get outside of the compartment, and quickly inhaled the fume laden air, trapped inside the dank cavity beneath the bustling city.

William coughed; the discomfort caused him to forget his misgivings, if only for a moment.

He shook his head in dismay, as he plied his way through the throng of travelers headed on and off trains, darting about the platform without regard to standard means of travel. “Keep right,” he muttered, waving at approaching people.

 Some had desperate looks in their eyes. Uninitiated travelers without experience disembarking by rail, they appeared distressed about missing their trains.

Ambling towards a narrow staircase, William converged into a clump of people trying to gain access to the station above. Many of them would merely step outside to cabs or head for office buildings on foot. Others were desperate to make a connecting train on time.

He eased into a single file line and pressed his way upstairs. Lugging the bags had bogged him down. By the time William reached the top, the young man ahead of him was long gone, and the couple behind him huffed, impatiently.

William stepped to the right, allowing them to traipse past on important business. Then, he plodded through Pennsylvania Station, with the rubber soles of his dress shoes squeaking on the granite floor. He traveled to the corporate office once a month, twelve times a year, and had been doing so for twenty-five years. Still, he had to pause and check his bearings, consider the proper exit to get to West 34th Street.

Recognizing the route, William headed toward the escalator. His heart raced as he neared the surface. Mere thought of carrying out the plan made him quiver.

He stepped outside, set the bags down, and took a deep breath. The scent of onions, hotdogs, and pretzels wafted through the air. His mouth watered. Never taking the time to smell the roses, he decided to opt for a dog.

Trudging over to a stand, he put the bags down, then moved them each time he shuffled ahead. Eventually, he made it to the front and a younger man met his eyes and smiled kindly. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m not too picky. Just a hotdog with some onions and relish.”

“Coming right up.” The man smiled again, like he enjoyed pleasing customers.

William watched him work the grill, using tongs to remove a dog, and then he carefully slid it into a bun and sprinkled onions on top.

“Here you go,” the vendor said, handing the dog over.

William looked at it curiously.

“The condiments are on the shelf, there.” The vendor pointed to the end of the cart and smiled. “Take as much relish as you’d like.”

“How much do I owe you?”

“Let’s just call it an even five.”

William nodded, then reached into his suit coat and grabbed his wallet. “Here you go.” He handed over the money.

“Hope you enjoy your trip to the city.”

William smiled and raised the hotdog in salute. Then, he scooted luggage down to the end of the cart, while trying to keep from squeezing the hotdog. Looking it over, his fingers had squished into the bun.

He applied some relish, then folded the wax paper back, exposing a nub.

Biting into the hotdog, it tasted stupendous. William savored every bite, polishing off the entire dog within moments of buying it. He crinkled up the paper into a ball, then glanced around for a trashcan. Spying one up the sidewalk, he bent over for his bags.

“Here. I’ll take that.” A satisfactory grin brightened the vendor’s face.

William nodded, and then trundled over to the man.

“Like it?” The vendor reached for the wrapper.

“Best dog I ever had.”

The vendor nodded and smiled, appreciative.

“My wife used to tell me that eating stuff like that would kill me.”

A sad frown crept across the vendor’s face, as though reading the issue.

“She was a smart gal, but didn’t quite get that one right.”

The hotdog vendor forced another smile. “Well, I’m glad you got to enjoy it.”

William made like he was tipping a hat, and then went for his bags. He plodded down the sidewalk, meandering between pedestrians, and watching for safe passage across side streets, as the din of the city hummed in his ears.

Car horns honked, brakes squealed, and the people chatted with each other. Some pedestrians spoke on their phones, walking down the sidewalk carrying on a conversation into a blue-tooth, or microphone located on an earbud wire. William thought they appeared as candidates for a lunatic asylum.

He shook his head, and continued on. Both handles to the bags dug into his palms, making his hands ache. And his shoulders were strained from carrying the load.

Finally, he reached a familiar point and stepped to the edge of the sidewalk. William set the bags down, and glanced up. The Empire State Building loomed on the horizon, lit up in the dusk with amber lights of red and blue.

A tear ran down his wrinkled cheek. He reminisced, picturing her in a nearby recliner, watching their favorite old movies, always planning to make a trip to the city together, never quite seeing it through. “Wish you were here,” he muttered.


 
 
John W. Dennehy

 

John W. Dennehy is an American novelist and short story writer. He earned a degree in English/Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington. His work has appeared in Dual Coast Magazine, Calliope, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Stray Branch, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Literary Hatchet, The J.J. Outre’ Review, Fiction on the Web, Short-story.me, Blood & Bourbon, and many more. He lives in New Hampshire ,

 

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