Chapter 19 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At 1:20 AM, a subway train screeched to a halt in the musty, dimly-lit tunnel of the Martinsburg station. The doors slid open, and Peter and Paul hopped on.

The car they entered was empty save for two people: a mother and her young son. The boy looked to be about seven years old, and was obviously very glum. As the train started moving again, he stared out of the window at the tunnel lights flashing past. The mother seemed exhausted. Though only about thirty, she seemed much older as she sat perfectly still in the bouncing subway car. She sat rather slumped, as if a 50 ton weight were perched upon her shoulders.

Peter said, "You go ahead and check out this train. Meet me back here."

Paul nodded and went off down the aisle.

Peter sat down on the bench across from the woman and her little boy. "Hey, kid," he said, "You wanna hear a joke?"

The mother stiffened slightly, but the boy's eyes brightened up and he spoke in a shrill voice: "Sure!"

"OK," said Peter, "This truck driver is hired to deliver a bunch of penguins to the zoo. So he picks up the penguins and puts them in his truck. He's told they have to be at the zoo by two o'clock.

"So he drives off down the road with these ten penguins in his truck. Unfortunately, a few miles away from the zoo, his engine conks out and he's forced to stop his truck on the side of the road. Now he's really worried, because he's afraid he won't be able to get the penguins to the zoo by two o'clock, which means he won't get paid.

"So he flags down another truck driver, and says to the second truck driver, 'Look, I'm supposed to take these penguins to the zoo, but my truck broke down. I'll give you fifty bucks to take them to the zoo for me.'

"The second truck driver agrees, they load the penguins into his truck, and off he goes. Then the first truck driver starts tinkering with his engine to see if he can fix it. After a while, he does.

"So the first truck driver gets back into his truck and drives off towards the zoo, to make sure that the penguins got delivered. But as he passes a movie theater, he is shocked to see the second truck driver standing at the box office, with all ten penguins lined up behind him.

"The first truck driver stops his truck and runs over to the second truck driver and the penguins. 'Hey,' he says, 'I thought I told you to take these penguins to the zoo!'

"'I did take them to the zoo,' says the second truck driver, 'But after that, I still had some money left over, so I decided to take them to the movies.' "

The little boy laughed, and his mother smiled. She rubbed his hair with her hand, and it seemed then that the buzzing fluorescent lights overhead were somehow warmer and brighter, that the weight on the woman's shoulders was not quite so heavy, that there was more in the world for the child to look at than the flashing lights in the subway tunnel.

Paul returned then, and Peter stood up. "Any luck?" he asked. Peter shook his head.

The train pulled in at the Frostdale station, and Peter and Paul got off.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

News Search Gift Shop Games About Us | contact us