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What Is Your Problem?

by Ian Smith 100 

Posted: 23 November 2005
Word Count: 504
Summary: Ever had a bad journey home? My "Lost Chances" challenge. Have I had trouble with this story. I was inspired by seeing someone drop down dead at Richmond station in the rush hour.

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The train stopped as it always did at one of the many stations on my long, slow route home from work. The doors opened. People got on. The doors closed, and the train crawled away. Someone sat next to me.

“You’re going home early today?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re on the early train?”

He must have seen me on the train before.

“Well…no…not particularly early.”

“Are you having marital problems?”

“Now, look.”

“Of course, you don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re right. Now, if you don’t mind.”

I picked up my newspaper, and hid behind it.

“You holiday in The Seychelles.”


“You own a boat there, and you’ve bought a plot of land. You hope to retire at fifty and build your dream home.”


“You’re fit but you could be fitter. You drink a little, smoke too much and eat well, but not well enough, sad to say. You go and enjoy yourself while you can.”

I put the newspaper down.

“What are you talking about?”

“Your wife is ten years younger than you. She wanted a family of three, and that’s what she’s got. She doesn’t work, doesn’t need to. Your house is too small, and you’re unhappy about having to move. You will be forced to buy a bigger house next year, and you will be forced to buy a bigger car. You will need a bigger job with a bigger salary to pay for all that stress, memory loss, infirmity, constant reassurance, heart trouble, banzai. Check the statistics.”

“I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but what is your problem? Who are you?”

“I know everything about everybody. Try me?”

“Children’s names?”

“Oliver, Tabatha and little Melissa who at this moment is giving the babysitter a hard time.”


“Michelle Wislon, private school teacher.”


“Terence Wislon, accountant. I know you’re going home early because you’re taking advantage of the fact that your wife is out this evening.”

“That’s crazy.”

“She says she’s going to the hairdressers, but in fact she’ll be meeting someone at a motorway service station.”


“You don’t need to know his name at the moment, but you’ll soon find it out for yourself.”

“Wait a minute.”

“But you’re not going straight home. You’re getting off one station earlier to meet an old flame. Now, pick up your newspaper like a good boy, and pretend all of this never happened.”

The train stopped, as it always did, at one of the many stations on my long, slow route home. The doors opened. The man got off. The train doors closed, and the train crawled away. I picked up my newspaper, shaking slightly.

But the train stopped again. I looked up. The doors opened, and this time they stayed open. Everyone was looking at me. They were looking because they were waiting for me to get off. I was supposed to get off, and I didn’t want to. It was just a matter of making the doors close. Then I could continue with my journey.

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Comments by other Members

crowspark at 17:24 on 23 November 2005  Report this post
This is a fine flash Ian. I love that ending, the doors open, the universe waiting for him to get off.

I felt it was the grim reaper who knew everything about him and I'm glad that that wasn't asserted as that would have felt too obvious. But this ending is a surprise and has a wonderful ambiguity.

Great dialogue, great writing. Where are you going to send it?


choille at 19:12 on 23 November 2005  Report this post
I think this is great. The dialogue works really well. When I got to the bit,“Are you having marital problems?” I thought Oh my God, that's why you city folk don't make eye contact with strangers.
It is compelling to read, but half way through I thought Ah ha I know where this is going, but the bestest bit was I didn't. Great ending.
Sticks in your head, made me think.
All the best


Meant to say the title is very apt. I wanted to ask what is 'banzai'? I was too taken with the story that I forgot to ask.

Ian Smith 100 at 11:30 on 24 November 2005  Report this post
Thank you both. So, the 110th version seems to work. That's great news. It was always leaning towards a grim reaper ending, but avoiding it was the problem. I had him sucked out of the train, holding the doors open, all sorts of nonsense, but I felt this ending lifts it. I don't know where to send it at the moment. It seems to fall somewhere between mystery and sci-fi, and doesn't go down well with Flash Me, and a host of others. I'm making inroads on sites like Silverthought, and Bewildering Stories who seem open to all sorts of interesting writing. Don't be scared. Get involved I say.

'What Is Your Problem?' is an investigation into what's happening to city people. 'Are you having marital problems?' links to the title, always wondering what a fellow passenger's problem could be. The flight out of UK cities is in full swing, and this train, heading out home to utopia with the character hanging on, not wanting to be ejected, is all about that. Banzai is something I've seen kamikaze pilots saying in boy's comics. Anyway, don't think about it tooooo long.
Thanks again. Ian


Caroline, It should be full stop, capital B, Banzai.

Cornelia at 22:03 on 25 November 2005  Report this post
Nice easy read, if a tad misogynist. Still, that seems quite fashionable. Men's magazine material? You could have the voice turn out to be a leggy blonde.

It should be Tabitha, not Tabatha, I think.


Jumbo at 11:38 on 26 November 2005  Report this post

Brilliant writing. I was there in the train with this guy. And your strange, second character was so well drawn. It would have been too easy to go over the top with him, but I think he's spot on!

Great dialogue. Very convincing.

Loved 'It was just a matter of making the doors close.'

Superb flash!!


Anj at 20:13 on 26 November 2005  Report this post

This is great, love the dialogue and his initial denial of the truth, especially his belief that if he stays on the train he's safe.


Dee at 09:35 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
Ian, I love this. The dialogue is great (actually it reminds me of something that happened to a friend of mine – but it’s a long story), the mc’s increasing discomfort is wonderfully controlled and the repetition of the opening para is so neat.

A very worthy winner. Congratulations.


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