Zoo Station (Short Story)

In the spring of 1993, I was in my last semester at Delta Secondary School.  It was a tough time.  The school went through a 7-month caretaker strike which began in mid-September the previous year and finally ended in March.  The worst part was that I was the Student Council President during half the crisis.  Few people can understand what President Bush is going through right now but I do. 
After resigning the gig in late November (because they were going to impeach me) I was asked to stay on as an honourary member which was surprising to me.  It was also a mistake.  I should’ve quit the Council entirely and immediately begin the long, arduous process of picking up the pieces of what was left of my self-esteem.  The fact that I was a horrible student politician had a lot to do with my deflated state of mind.  (In the last week of January, I told the new President, who was elected a Vice President, that I wasn’t on the Council anymore when he asked me if I was attending the next meeting.  And that was that.) 
There were two bright spots during that time:  the movies and writing.  In my Grade 12 English class, my teacher, Mrs. Denise Hagger, who I had a hard time getting along with, did something for me I will always remember and appreciate.  She taught me the concept of precis.  The answers.com definition says it best:  "A concise summary of a book, article, or other text; an abstract."  Essentially, she taught me how to tighten up my writing, particularly my critical assessments, and also to not use so many unnecessary words and to make my writing voice as clear as possible.  Being a very sensitive fellow, it was tough hearing her absolutely bang-on criticisms of my writing.  But after calming down, I knew she was right.  She is the very reason why my writing has steadily improved since my time in her class.  No wonder I did so well in College.
Zoo Station was created out of this hostile and depressing period.  I think U2 are the greatest rock and roll band that has ever existed and one of their great albums is Achtung Baby.  The first time I heard the opening track, Zoo Station, I fell in love with the song, right from the intro.  I also thought it would make a great title for a short story.  The mood of that album, in my mind, mirrored the mood of my story.
I didn’t realize I was doing this at the time but I used the name Zoo Station as a fictional version of the Go Train Station in Ontario.  You may also notice some other strange pop culture references like Scantihose (remember those?) and the movie Indecent Proposal.  (At one point I mention someone receiving a "decent proposal".)  I also mention, as a bit of an inside-joke, chocolate-covered almonds.  Is it just me or does every high school, past and present, sell those things every year as part of their fundraising activities?
This story might have been handed in to Mrs. Hagger as an assignment but I’m not sure now.  The typewritten copy I have doesn’t have any grades or teacher markings on it so maybe it was submitted without receiving any kind of feedback.  I like the story.  It captures the bleakness of my life at the time even though it’s rather short, could use some greater detail and be expanded.
I named the woman in the story Julia because I had a crush on a girl with that name in high school.  (She was the trumpet player in one of my music classes.)  I thought she was hot and smart and incredibly, I managed to get her phone number.  Curiously, whenever I called, she was always out.  Hmmm.
This one guy, another trumpet player, used to make fun of her all the time.  He said the only reason she called herself Julia (her actual first name is Julie) was because of Julia Roberts.  Much to everyone’s surprise, they were a couple for a while.  Very strange.
The last time I saw her she was at the downtown Public Library sometime in the mid-1990s, I do believe.  She looked like she was dating a good friend of mine, Dave (not to be confused with another pal named Dave who I’ve known for 22 years), who came over to talk to me.  She seemed to want to get out of there in a hurry and so I only spoke to Dave for a short while but it was good to see both of them.  I haven’t seen them since.
Story of my life.
One more thing.  This story mentions the dicey subject of sexism which, I’ve noticed from going through these 1990s pieces, was a recurring theme in my writing.  I always considered myself paranoidly conservative but I guess there was a social conscience in there somewhere.  Either way, despite its flaws and short length, I think the story shows some growth from what I was writing at the start of my high school years.  I’ve corrected some small spelling and grammatical errors but essentially, this is the same story I wrote back in 1993.  I hope you enjoy it.

By Dennis Earl


After all these years I can’t believe my life is close to the end. Here I lie in this overused hospital bed, hoping that the cancer inside me ends my pain and yet, at the same time, I want to remember. I want to look back at my days as a poor and pathetic man who, because of one woman, was able to keep going.
How I wish she was here now. Her soft hands caressing my prunish face while soothing me with her smooth speech. Her hazel eyes reminiscent of those chocolate-covered almonds that high school kids sold for fundraisers. But it was her intelligence that I was most attracted to. She knew more about political science, history and medicine than any man I ever met. If it weren’t for the sexist workforce back then, she would have pursued a career in politics. Instead, she had to settle for a teaching position at a Hamilton elementary school. And it wasn’t even a Canadian history course. More like home economics. Can you believe that?
She was also a physical masterpiece. This woman could have been a top-notch model like Twiggy, as far as I was concerned. She always hated those women, though, the way they looked and the horrible ideas they provided for ambitious, teenage girls who didn’t know any better. I was pleased she wasn’t interested in that line of work as well as the hefty, financial rewards. But she would’ve been something.
I fondly remember our first encounter. It was quite by chance, actually. I was on the Zoo train that was returning from Toronto and re-entering Hamilton. The ticket cost me my last paycheck and I didn’t know what my next move would be. I had just been fired by my boss at The Globe & Mail for rarely showing up on time. He was never displeased with my sports articles, by the way. In fact, he was my only supporter at that building.
Anyway, the train pulled into Zoo Station after a rather bumpy, one-hour journey. It was one of those two-leveled trains that were more fun to ride on if you sat on the top deck. Being in my forties at the time, I preferred the bottom floor. The exterior sides were painted green and white and the Zoo logo was stuck in the middle of the colour scheme. I grabbed my bags and quickly exited the train. As I turned my head, I saw her for the first time. She was sitting on a bench all by her lonesome, and that got be thinking. Maybe if I talk to this woman and open my soul to her, about my problems, she could arrange something for me.
You see, not everyone was sexist during the psychedelic era, as some younger people would have called it. I was well aware of the women’s movement and was one of the few who supported it.
I approached with caution, nervous that the opposite purpose would be discovered. I mean, she could have mistaken me for a desperate and lonely man who needed to hear a reassuring voice from a stranger.
This woman wore a classy pinkish-coloured dress with white polka dots and with matching pumps and a nice new pair of Scantihose. Her hair was quite dark and absolutely straight which suited her personality. She did not glance at my unappealing face which, to some people, resembled Karl Malden.
I reluctantly sat down beside her. Still no glance. I waited a few seconds for her to start the conversation. Silence. There was definitely no way that I was going to speak first. I’m terrible at that stuff. Granted, if someone asked me a question, I would immediately respond. But this was a much more complicated situation. I didn’t know how to start this flirtation.
Thank God for the rain; no offence intended! Fortunately, I had an umbrella packed in one of my bags and I proceeded to use it.
Finally, she spoke to me.
"Excuse me, sir, but may I stand under your umbrella?"
"Oh, sure. Quick, get under!" I responded.
The rain was torrential at this point. But at least there was no thunder. I hated the noise it made. It irritated me and made me feel fragile. I was amazed at how friendly this woman was to me.
After her request to stay under my umbrella, there was a brief pause. Then, she impressed me with her intelligence.
"I can’t believe it’s taken this long to end the drought," she said.
"We had a drought?" I asked stupidly.
"Oh, yes! You were probably in Toronto for a while, writing those articles. The weather was much more pleasant there but here, it was nothing but hot and humid afternoons. I’m sorry, I should have told you my name before all of this. I’m Julia."
"The name’s William."
"I know."
We shook hands trustingly and I realized that I did have more than one fan. Soon after, the dialogue resumed.
"I noticed you on the train. You had this horrified look of despair on your face. Are you alright?" Julia inquired.
"Actually, I’m in over my head. I just lost my job, I got the axe from my landlord and that train ride ended my cash flow."
"Oh, how awful! Does your family live in Hamilton?"
"No. I’ve never been married and all of my immediate family is dead so I don’t know what’s going on. My life is just a complete mess right now."
Then, I was saved.
"I have this incredibly insane idea and I hope you won’t feel uncomfortable because of it."
"Say it."
"Would you be bothered if I asked you to stay at my apartment for a while? Until you get rolling again?"
"No. I don’t think so."
"It’s just a train ride away. I’ll even buy your ticket!"
"No. I would be stepping over the line and you have problems of your own…"
"Please. Don’t walk away. I’m going to help you. I mean, you’ve got absolutely no place of your own and where else are you gonna go? Your belongings are all gathered as I can see. Why don’t you bring them with you to the apartment?"
"No. I’m flattered and touched by your offer but…" Julia interrupted me again and she continued to sympathize with my problems.
"Listen, William. I feel for you, I really do. I know that we’ve just met in a train station during a torrential downpour but I want to help you."
I was relieved and eventually, I accepted her decent proposal. She bought my ticket and a few minutes later, our Zoo train arrived. I left my stress, as well as my past difficulties, behind at Zoo Station.
Now that I’m at that age, I can’t recall any more details of my life with Julia. Not even the first time she professed her love to me. The only other remaining image I have of my wife was in the casket at the parlour a few years ago. I was saddened by her quick passing, hoping that she would outlive me. But that didn’t happen.
Julia was a charming woman, twenty years my junior. Age never mattered in our thirty-eight years of bondage. Only our passion for each other was important. If only I could remember how we first realized that we were together, that we were in love. But that detail, along with many others, has dissolved itself from my dream maker.
Now I have no one.
Please, my Lord, end this pain, this horrible feeling in my body. I can’t stand this hospital. The nurses treat me like my young grandson and not like an eighty-year-old man which I am. The stench is unbearable. The people are impolite and I never have any visitors. Kill me now before I find those pills. Oh, they’ve just turned off the lights. Finally. Now I can sleep for the last time.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 1, 2006
11:39 p.m.
Published in: on May 1, 2006 at 11:49 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] other Windows Live-era pieces like Marlon Brando’s First Appearance On Larry King Live, Zoo Station (Short Story), and a couple of the Seinfeld DVD trivia postings, among a few others, also received additional […]

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