I rode the elevated to gain a respite from the biting wind. St. Patrick’s was too far away anyway; I could walk it but it would take too long. I couldn’t waste any more time. I watched the buildings rise and fall away and rise again outside the window, somewhat in awe that just ten years ago this train wouldn’t have been moving. Now it was an everyday convenience for a Chicago resident.
There were few riders in the car with me – an old lady, a young man listening to music on headphones, two women sitting together and chatting about someone named Ben. As I said, I was looking out the windows, so I didn’t notice when a man came into the car. All of a sudden he just sat down next to me, causing me to jump.
“I’m not that frightening, am I?” he asked.
What now? I wondered as I looked him over. He was rather plain-looking, and if I had passed him on the street I would have had no reason to remember him. But he smiled, and it was a genuine smile, reaching to his large brown eyes.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “This is about Sam.”
His smile slipped. “So someone got to you already.”
“Depends what you mean by ‘got to’ me.”
“Depends how you look at this whole thing.” He glanced at my hand inside my coat. “I do hope you keep the revolver away. Guns make me nervous.”
“Good of you to tell me. Your comfort is of utmost concern to me. Who are you? And who was the other guy?”
He ran a hand through his hair – a dull curly black that clashed with his white coat – as if he really was nervous. “I can tell you I’m more of a friend to Sam than whoever this other guy was.” His hand left his head and there was a black feather in it, as if he had pulled it from his hair. And maybe he had. He held it out to me.
I took it. “But I already have a feather.”
He smiled again, but more solemnly this time. The train was coming to a stop, and he rose. “Then he’ll have to make a choice,” he said.
The doors opened, and he drifted through them as swiftly and fluidly as water. I made to follow him, but he reached the balcony and leapt right off it into the street. The people at the station made no indication that they had seen this jump, and no one shouted from below. Perhaps he was invisible to all but me. In any case, I would never have caught up with him. I sat back down, dejectedly watching the doors close, new black feather in hand.
I had lost all interest in the landscape outside the windows. I watched the passengers that embarked and disembarked with suspicion. When I switched trains I eyed the crowds on the platform. And again I wondered what made them think I would be seeing Sam.