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It's a Long Way to Massapequa

By 

Charles Joseph

F

or many years, Frankie Falcone enjoyed his long commute home from his job as a custodial engineer in midtown Manhattan out to Massapequa, Long Island. In fact, to Frankie, that little sliver of his daily grind was as sacred to him as Sunday Mass is to a priest. Sometimes he'd read a book or a newspaper. Other times he'd just stare off into space and zone out. But regardless of whatever he did, the inner peace that he found on his journey home each evening kept him sane. Because it gave him a bit of time alone to unwind from the stress of his job, and to briefly forget about all of the responsibilities that he'd acquired, once he acquired a wife that did her best to nag him into an early grave, two miserable kids, and a few mortgages on a house he could barely afford.

Of course, Frankie loved his family. So once he had enough time to decompress, his wife didn’t seem like that much of a nag anymore, and his kids may have been a bit wild and out of control at times, but he wouldn’t have traded either one of them for the world. So even though the bills on their three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac in Massapequa were tough to juggle, in the end, it was a nice environment for his family to live in, and as long as they were for the most part happy, Frankie was for the most part happy to be a father, a husband, a homeowner, and a custodial engineer who commuted all the way from Massapequa, Long Island to his job in Manhattan—an hour and a half plus each way, five or six days a week, fifty weeks a year—to provide for his family.

But in December of 1993, a man boarded the third car of an eastbound Long Island Railroad commuter train to Hicksville during rush hour, with a handgun and a canvas bag filled with a hundred and sixty rounds of ammunition. And as the train approached the Merillon Avenue Station, he stood up and opened fire. Two fifteen-round magazines later, six innocent people were dead and nineteen innocent people were wounded. And from that day forward, even though Frankie wasn’t a passenger on that train, he would never feel safe, or enjoy, traveling alone among others on the Long Island Railroad again.

So much so, even people that he'd seen on the same train, in the same car, at the same time, for years, suddenly seemed suspicious. So instead of reading a book or a newspaper, or staring off into space and zoning out, Frankie spent every second of his journey to and from work on high alert, consumed by the notion that one of the other passengers he was traveling with was about to stand up with a gun in their hand and open fire. Which may seem a bit extreme, but Frankie’s life was already complicated and stressful. So once FEAR entered the equation and he lost the only opportunity that he had to unwind and decompress, the stress of commuting, the stress from his job, and the stress from all of his responsibilities pummeled him to the point where it seemed as if it was only a matter of time until a metamorphosis would occur, and he would awake one morning from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a human being that was crazier than a rat trapped in a tin shithouse.

But then Frankie started getting chest pains, and with that, he concluded that if a random shooter didn't get him a heart attack would. So for his sake, and the sake of his family’s future, he tried just about anything that offered tension relief. He switched from coffee to green tea. He attended a Yoga class a few nights a week at the Massapequa YMCA. He listened to self-help audio books. He even bought a bunch of new-age crystals and precious stones to send him on a path toward love and light. But regardless of whatever Frankie did to keep himself calm, cool, and collected, everything he tried always seemed to work a bit of its mojo for a little while and wear off.

So when all else failed, Frankie decided to look for a new job that he could drive to, so he wouldn't have to worry about public transportation anymore, with hopes that that would magically make his life bearable again and change him back into the man he remembered. And luckily, three weeks and a few interviews later, National Grid offered him a position as a gauge inspector at a nuclear power plant that was only forty-five minutes away by car from Massapequa, with a salary that matched what he was already taking home. So he took it. And once he gave his boss two weeks' notice, he was smitten with the idea that all he needed to do to feel like a normal, healthy, middle-aged man again, was survive ten more days of traveling on the Long Island Railroad.

But what seemed like an achievable goal to Frankie soon proved itself to be a daunting task, because his last ten days of commuting from Massapequa to Manhattan felt like they would never end. So once his two weeks were up, even though he was a bit sad and teary eyed when he cut the first slice out of a sheet cake with 'We're Gonna Miss Ya Frankie!' inscribed on it during a going away party that his co-workers threw for him as a fond farewell, when the clock struck five, he was out the door—with a small brown box in his hands that contained what was left of his going away cake for his wife and kids—and he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Manhattan and back to Long Island once and for all.

So much so, instead of walking from where he worked on 30th and 6th to Penn Station like he normally did to save a few bucks, he decided to take a cab to speed up the process. Which it did. And before he knew it, he was sitting in a window seat, in the fourth car, on an earlier train to Massapequa—with a small brown box on his lap, sipping at a to-go cup of green tea that he purchased on his way in through the terminal—impatiently waiting for it to depart.

***

Now, of course Frankie was pleased that his days of traveling on the Long Island Railroad would soon be over. But it was still rush hour. So while he was waiting for his last train to pull out of Penn Station, its cars were quickly filling up with other passengers, and the more passengers that entered Frankie's car to find a seat the more claustrophobic and overwhelmed he began to feel. But instead of searching for signs of suspicious behavior, he decided it best to just gulp down what was left of his green tea and close his eyes to clear his mind of all negativity, just like his instructor Swami John had trained him to do at his yoga class at the Massapequa YMCA. Because even though Frankie was still a long way from Massapequa, he truly believed that the odds of dying a horrible death on his final commute home were slim to none at best.

But then someone sat down beside Frankie. So he opened his eyes and looked to his left, and those slim to none odds suddenly seemed much more like a sure thing. Because the young man sitting beside him—with a shaved head and a long black beard, wearing a long black leather trench coat—was holding a black canvas bag on his lap.

Holy hell, look at this guy. Who's he think he's fooling? Frankie thought, and the train car doors slammed shut. So he took a deep breath, and let it out in five quick bursts of air to alleviate his anxiety, just like the narrator from one of his self-help audio books had urged him to do. And for a moment, it seemed to help. But then the train jerked forward and slowly pulled away on its tracks, and Frankie broke out in a cold sweat while he eyed the black canvas bag the young man was holding on his lap. So he stuck his hand into the right front pocket of his pants, and he pulled out a flat pane of smoky quartz the size of a half dollar coin, slid it under his shirt, and pressed it against his solar plexus so it would absorb and transmute extreme stress from his spirit, just like the woman at the new age store had told him to do. But the quartz didn't help Frankie at all, and as he sat there with the cold stone against his skin—and the small brown box that contained what was left of his going away cake for his wife and kids on his lap—that black canvas bag was something that Frankie just couldn’t ignore. So he turned his head to the left to see if the bag was still closed, and the young man did something that caught Frankie completely off guard. He smiled, and asked him a question.

"Excuse me, mister," he said, "but do you know how long it takes to get to Babylon?"

"Uh... the city or the town?" Frankie said. "I mean, I guess it all depends on where you're hoping this tin can'll end up."

"Well, the town of course. I'm on my way to see my aunt and uncle."

"Oh yeah, that's nice, I'm sure you are, chief," Frankie said, and he made a fist around the smoky quartz in his right hand. "But anyway, Babylon's only three or four stops after mine, so I’d say you're about an hour or so away at this point. I just hope to God we all get to where we're going in one piece. Ya know?"

"What? What's that supposed to mean?" the young man said, with his eyes on the small brown box on Frankie’s lap. "Look pal, if you're trying to tell me something here just spit it out."

"Nah, not at all. Don't mind me," Frankie said, and he tapped a few fingers on the left side of the box. "I've just been feeling a little nuts lately, that's all."

"I see...that's comforting," the young man said. "Well, maybe you should see a doctor or a psychologist then. Because, to be honest, you don't look too good."

"Oh yeah, well I don't feel too good either," Frankie said, and he couldn’t help but laugh at his luck; because out of all the seemingly suspicious people in the world to be trapped beside on his final commute home to Massapequa, the young man that he was talking to seemed as suspicious as they come.

But that black canvas bag that the young man was holding on his lap was something that Frankie just couldn't ignore. So he glanced at the bag to check on it, and a flash of silver made him jump up into his seat.

"Oh my god, he's got a gun," Frankie screamed, and the train car erupted with shrieks as the other passengers ducked down to hide. "Don't shoot me! Please don't shoot me!" he added, and the young man beside him swallowed and shook his head as he watched Frankie cower in his seat.

"Hey, man, what the hell is wrong with you, take it easy," he said. "Just relax now, alright. I'm not gonna hurt you, I swear," he added, and he lifted his right hand up. "Look buddy! Look! I don't have a gun or anything else, except for this baloney and cheese sandwich and the tinfoil I wrapped it in."

But Frankie didn't believe him. He just kept his eyes closed with his arms locked over his head and his legs tight against his chest, and he shivered and shook while he waited to be shot and killed. And for a few minutes, Frankie’s heart thumped faster than it had ever thumped before until its tempo slowed down to a full stop. And before he could make it all the way to Massapequa, Frankie Falcone was gone.

Quiz question:

What is Frankie's Yoga instructor's name?

Phil Lamb

Phil Lamb

Smokey Quartz

Smokey Quartz

Swami John

Swami John

Layla Clementine

Layla Clementine

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Issue 18

published 

September 22, 2017

Charles Joseph lives and writes deep in the heart of New Jersey. Peppered by a battery of life experiences—good, great, bad, and worse—Charles is the author of NO OUTLET (a novel), five poetry chapbooks, and Chameleon (Omnibus Unum 2012-2016) a collection of poems and short stories that will be released in 2017. His poems, short stories, and creative non-fiction have appeared in various literary journals and online magazines. Visit him at www.charlesjosephlit.com

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This writing was originally published in Opium Magazine, and is not listed in the Lit.cat archives.
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