Five times a week, sometimes more, I took that old commuter train into the city, usually mornings and back to my small town home in the evenings. I didn’t mind the commuter ride to work each day. On the way to the city I could sleep, and on the way home I could plan my evenings. Well. That usually took about from the time I first sat down til the train left the station. The rest of the time, I was in some other space, but like I said, it didn’t bother me.
I had a reasonably decent job, the pay was good, and the workload wasn’t too stressful. I liked the job, and I liked the city, but home was the small town an hour and a half away. It was a great little town. I had grown up there, went to school there, had my first love there, then we went to highschool and that ended, but, so what. I had some good friends, friends I had met while at school and on various sports teams. Over the years, the love of sports had evolved from participation to primarily team support at the local watering hole on game day.
We still played a bit, slow pitch in the summer, touch football in the fall and pickup hockey during the winter. Most of the time, it was just hanging out after work, at a buddy’s house or the local drinking, and eating establishment, Roadside Sports Bar. For the chief part, it was work and that daily train ride there and back.
Like I said, most mornings I dozed my way to the city stop where I got off and walked the block to work. In the evening, it was the same trip only in reverse, most of the time I spent staring off into space with a few minutes focussed on the daily news.
That had gone for nearly two years. Then one day between the station and the office, I came across a storefront shop I can’t remember ever having seen before. The name on the door said, Kwick Optometry. The signs in the window promised cheap prices and better vision.
I had broken the nose piece on my glasses, trying to slide into second under a tag. The glasses still worked, but had an annoying tilt. I couldn’t remember ever having seen this shop before, although I must have passed it every day. I figured I hadn’t noticed it because until now; I didn’t need it.
There it was, so I stepped in to see if I could get my glasses repaired. There was a small counter, with some eye glass frames and a box of loose eyeglass parts. Nothing else seemed to be there except for one shelf with a very limited and to my mind hideous looking collection of glasses. A nondescript lady with straight, greyish blonde hair, excessive eye shadow and bright red lips, wearing a gray cardigan with the emblem of some university or college I’d never heard of, stood behind the counter. She asked if she could help me, and I explained my issue. Then she added, “Certainly we can help, but you’ll need to see the optometrist first.”
I felt it an unnecessary imposition, especially as I was running a little late for work, so I asked, “Is it really necessary just to get glasses fixed?”
“Oh yes,” she replied. “Doc Dabra has to see all our customers. It will only take a minute.”
She ushered me into a small room. It was empty except for a threadbare patient chair and a couple of pieces of equipment. It looked nearly as ancient as the gentleman, with the white hair and shaggy moustache that matched the white coat he wore, standing beside the chair. It looked something like a dentist’s chair. Similar to everything else in the shop, including the old guy, it looked ancient and well used. The old fellow, obviously Dr. Dabra, pointed to the chair, “take a seat, young man,” he said.
I explained about the glasses. He leaned close and in a quiet, even voice said, “Son, forget the glasses, in two minutes I can have you seeing better than you ever have.”
I was about to demur when he swung something that looked like an old pair of binoculars on a rotating stand toward me. “Take a look in there,” he said, and for some reason, I did.
I could see nothing and I told him so. “Oh you will,” he said, and clicked something on the binoculars and moved them away.
’There,” he said.
Then he took the glasses I was holding from my hand and tossed them into the garbage pail beside the chair. “Won’t need those anymore.”
To be honest, I had no idea what he was talking about and reached into the garbage to retrieve my glasses when I realized I could see perfectly without them. He was right; I didn’t need them anymore. Then he asked for my insurance and wrote down the information from my card on what looked like a scrap of newspaper. “Don’t worry,” he said with an odd looking smile, “Let me deal with that, and,” he held the piece of newspaper up to his eye, “as for you Mr. Bannon, enjoy your glasses free life and,” after a pause, he added, “believe me your vision is now far better than you ever dreamed possible.”
Strangely enough, as I walked out the door without glasses, something I had worn most of my life, the last few minutes slipped away. I kept only a vague memory of Quick Optometry, and no one who knew me seemed to even notice I was no longer wearing my glasses. When I pointed it out to my friends at the pub after the next game, Most shrugged. One who was a bit sharper than the others said. “It’s no big deal, I had laser vision correction too.”
I didn’t remember any laser, in fact I remembered only vaguely about glasses and optometry. Perhaps that was why I never again saw the Kwick Optometry shop on my walks to and from the station. I know now, but getting there is a long story. I’ll get to it.
As I said, I’d been riding that train for around two years, doing the same thing day after day, morning, doze, afternoon, gaze. But shortly after my vaguely remembered visit to Kwick Optometry, where I thought I might have gotten laser vision correction, something changed. I was on my way home, when the coach wheels must have squealed or something as we took a corner. It brought me to full consciousness, and I found myself looking out the window at what had to be a derelict house. The place was in disrepair, windows broken, roofing torn, shingles missing, side view of a bleached wood porch. A dirty and cracked window, probably a kitchen window on the main floor, caught my attention.
After that I continued to doze my way to the city in the mornings, but on the homeward bound run, I looked for that derelict house. Like clockwork, the train would take that slight bend to the right and there it would be, the derelict house in all its disrepair. And that window, too dirty to reflect back any of the evening light. I couldn’t help myself. I had to look. It called to me.
So now my commuter ride home had incorporated a routine, and, unbelievably, it was one I never missed. Over time, I could see the house continue to fall deeper into disrepair After watching the house and the window day after day for several months, it surprised me one evening to see what looked like a cat on the inside ledge of the window. What’s more, the window seemed clear and uncracked. I really thought little about it. Likely a stray had found its way in and climbed up on the ledge, the sight of it so distracting me I hadn’t really noticed the dirt and the cracks I had been looking at for months.
The next day, the window was back to normal, no cat behind it, dirty and cracked as usual. It stayed that way for several weeks before I saw the cat in the window again. It seemed to show up more frequently as the days passed until eventually it was there every day. I didn’t know why, but I felt there was something strange about the cat. Why I thought that, I wasn’t sure. From what I could make out as the train zipped past, it was a pretty ordinary tan-furred cat.
About that time, with the first stirrings of fall, my slo-pitch team would end its season by heading south for a tournament. Our team was good enough to last most of the week. A number of us would take a second week, get in some golf, and bask in the warmth that had already left our home town behind. After two weeks, it was back to sweater weather and on the first morning back to work; I dozed on that train. I nearly missed my stop and had to push back the doors as I jumped out.
It was a long first day back at work and boarding the commuter train; I was pretty tired. I barely made it to my favorite window seat when I dozed off.
I’ve always found the motion and the sound of the train relaxing. This time, I did more than relax. I napped. Neither fully asleep nor awake, I opened my eyes just as the old house came into view.. I blinked my eyes and upon opening them, the car I was in had nearly passed the house, but I thought I saw a face in the window looking over the cat in my direction. I couldn’t be sure, having only caught a glimpse as the train quickly left the old house behind.
My onboard routine normalized, and I watched for the old house more carefully. I saw the cat in the window, but no sign of anything or anyone else. Then it happened again, a week later. I’m sure I saw someone in the window looking out at the train. It didn’t happen every day, but often, I would see the face looking out the window over the cat watching the train go by.
The face, I could tell, belonged to that of an older teenage or young adult. She had a lovely face framed by light colored hair. I couldn’t tell much beyond that as the house was a distance from the track and the train passed very quickly.
I wondered who this girl in the window was. Had someone bought the place and moved in while I was on holidays. I could see no changes to the building, and I doubted it was very habitable as it was. Perhaps she was homeless and had moved in for the winter, or perhaps she was a member of a homeless gang or group, probably crackheads who hid out in the house.
I have to admit, none of these made much sense. The house was a complete wreck and since I had begun my daily watch, had grown more dilapidated. There had to be far better places out there, even for druggies or homeless kids. My curiosity was aroused and I would have to take a look.