Oswald Madness awoke to the sound of an automated voice announcing the next stop on the G Line. The train was mostly empty except for a few heads gently moving to the rhythmic sway of the metal machine burrowing through the guts of the big, big city. He looked out the large sunny window beside him and the world rushed by in sequential camera flashes, blurry photos of man’s rape of the landscape developed in the new progressive and technological grunt.
He pushed himself up in the seat for he had been leaning. He looked down at himself. His clothes were the same, his hands were the same, yet he felt crumbled and misty headed for some reason. There was a woman ahead of him with a plume of brown cascading hair bowed out at the sides and it made her resemble a flared and heated cobra. She was sitting with a young girl beside her. She had the same color hair but scraped with a shining tightness against her head and with tidy bottle brush tails at the sides kept in place by butter-scented bands. They talked softly to each other and smiled, feathery laughter dangling in the dangerous air. Oswald wondered what they were so happy about. He searched deep inside himself with a soul shovel to dig for his own happiness but came up with nothing but dust and crumbling crumbs.
And as if the girl suddenly sensed him fumbling around in the back of her head, she turned around for a moment and looked at him and smiled. Oswald was struck with the thought that she looked familiar. Then she turned back around and continued chattering with her mother, or whoever she was. Then the woman turned around and looked at Oswald as well. Her face revealed that the inner workings of her memory were clicking along like the core of a clock as she tried to fit the piece of him into her own scattered jigsaw. She quickly resolved that he was nothing of any significance to her and she too turned back around. When the train came to a jolting stop at the next station, the woman and the girl got up, steadied themselves against smudged silver bars, and went to the door that opened with a hurried sliding whoosh.
Before she stepped off, the girl turned back to him and waved in a silly, teasing way. Oswald noticed she was wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. Oswald scrambled to the seat on the other side of the aisle and watched them as they gathered themselves together on the platform, hoisting packs and checking fuzzy pockets. He pounded on the mouth-stained window, and they looked up at him with wondering glances. But the train started pulling away and Oswald could only watch as they quickly got smaller and smaller and then vanished, swallowed up by the deepness of Denver.
Oswald Madness gathered his things and departed at the Arvada Old Town station. He watched as the train took a deep breath and then rolled off toward the metal blue horizon. Other humans were milling about there at the station’s park, staring into phones or the bleached-out sun. Some of them were lonely, he could tell. Others were full of life and fire and love and hope and crippling fear. No one noticed him as he walked among them. It was solitude in the songs of the soldiers, and then he smelled coffee, and he saw the place on the corner with the big windows and metal tables outside haphazardly arranged under blue awnings flapping in the mountain wind. His face felt burned and dry, like stale toast of rye void of oleo. He pulled the door open and went in.
Oswald sat at a wooden table with his steaming cup of Cuban coffee with one pump of Irish and another pump of French vanilla. He was the only one alone, he noticed. Everyone else had a partner of some sort, or a trio of friends or family or whatever they were. He blew on the milky brown slick lake on the topside of his drink and took a sip. It was hot against the tip of his tongue, and he wondered why he didn’t just get something iced.
Something vibrated in his pack that sat on the seat beside him. He retrieved his phone. The screen displayed the words Unknown Caller.
There was a girlish giggle on the other end.
“Hello,” he repeated. “Who is this?”
There was another girlish giggle, and then a staticky, warbling voice came across. “Did you steal my Christmas mustard, Mr. Madness? I can’t seem to find it anywhere. How do you expect me to eat my meat without any Christmas mustard?”
“I don’t have your Christmas mustard,” he sternly replied. “Why would I steal anyone’s mustard?”
There was a pause as someone whispered something to someone else, somewhere else. Then the voice returned at full force, not in the invisible background. “Because you’re a… Messed up person. Just take a moment to look around you, Mr. Madness. Go ahead.”
Oswald scanned the coffee shop and all the other beings there, human or whatever they were, had wide eyes of green marbles, and they cast all their frivolous doubts and misgivings upon him, not in audible words, but slick, piercing thoughts.
The youthful voice came again, now flecked with irritation. “Can you taste their judgment, Mr. Madness? Can you taste the mustard seeds in their mouths?”
Oswald pulled the phone away from his ear and pressed the end call icon. He looked up at the people again, and their eyes had returned to normal. They were no longer looking at him or judging him. They were merely not noticing him at all. He took a few more sips of his Cuban coffee, grabbed up his pack, and went out of the humble dust and plant strewn dimness of the shop and into the sunlight of the day. Oswald stood on the walk just thinking about how he should soon head over to meet his friend at his new butcher shop on the square for the big grand opening celebration at 3:13 p.m. He sat down on a bench under a tree and unzipped a pocket on his pack and dug around for the announcement he had printed off. He couldn’t find it.
That’s when a woman came scrambling out of the coffee shop and came over to him with purpose. She was wearing a white apron and she was holding something in her hand.
“Hey mister,” she said, and she held out a jar. “You forgot your mustard.”
Oswald looked at her, confused. “That’s not mine. You’re mistaken.”
“I saw you with it. It’s yours, so here, take it.” She thrust it toward him. “You can’t just leave mustard laying around a public place like that. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Oswald refused. “I told you it doesn’t belong to me. I don’t want it.”
“Take it!” the woman demanded.
Oswald got angry and stood up before her. The woman’s eyes suddenly swirled marble green like a mood ring in astronomical motion. “For the last time, it’s not mine!” he bellowed, and then he slapped the jar from her hand, and it crashed to the ground in a shattered mess of glass and an oily creamed smear.
“Now look at what you’ve done!” the woman yelled, and she stomped off in a huff. Halfway back to the door of the coffee shop she turned, pointed, and said to him, “You better clean that up or the litter patrol will be on your ass!”
Oswald bent down to the ground and inspected the mess. “How the hell am I supposed to clean this up?” he wondered aloud.
Then the girl from the train who was wearing the Nirvana t-shirt was somehow suddenly knelt there beside him looking down at the very same sloppy disaster. She reached out, grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand back away from the broken, leaking jar. “Just leave it,” she said, and she looked at him and tried to smile. “I’m sorry all your dreams have been broken. I’m sorry your life has been a token of suffering. I told someone important to fix it… But they didn’t.” She stood and looked straight into the mountain wind as another train pulled up to the platform across the way. She nodded her head in its direction. “You better hurry before it pulls away and leaves you behind again,” she told him.
She started to walk away, and Oswald stood up to watch her. It wasn’t long before she turned some misty corner and was gone. He suddenly forgot everything that ever went wrong in his world and quickly walked to the train platform and squeezed in through the doors just as they were about to close. It was empty and quiet save for the mechanical chimes and robotic voice of the invisible conductor. He took a seat beside the window of the approaching brightness, the approaching darkness, and all the electric beating hearts of light pressed tightly against it guiding him to endless places and ways.
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