Hello all, below is a short story based on the one liner provided by Mr. storiesbywilliams. As in a previous story I put his line in bold and I wove the story from there.
An Evening in the Lounge Car
“The only people who think capitalists are rational are communist” he declared with a magnanimous wave of his arm as if edifying the entire room. Sidney sipped her martini, frowned and asked “but what does that even mean, Taylor?” Another sip, “and I thought you were a conservative and a capitalist to the very bone?” “Oh I am, and proud of it!” He proclaimed.
“And I also think that under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite. So in other words, they are the same.” Sidney rolled her eyes and signaled the bar keep to bring her another martini. She had a feeling she was going to need it. With concerted effort she managed to guide another cigarette into the long holder. She laughed to herself. ‘A few more martinis and I may poke someone’s eye out with this thing, perhaps my own. It would give me an excuse to go back to the sleeper car.’
Sidney stifled a yawn, then batted her eyelashes and asked “Darling, isn’t that a quote from that John Kenneth Gilbrot fellow, or Galbraith…Goldthwaite or whatever his name is…was?” Taylor’s face lit up “why yes, yes, you are absolutely correct, Dear Heart.” She thought ‘why certainly my love, and I would bet my pearl necklace you could not come up with his name if I had my derringer to your head, although your skull may be too thick to suffer damage.’ She smiled and tapped her cigarette on the ashtray.
Bradley, the self-appointed communist of their impromptu debate, announced “I agree with Chavez and am convinced that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism.” Taylor laughed and swatted Bradley’s shoulder saying “of course you think that, but you would not survive one day as a socialist.” Bradley sputtered “and why not?” “You goose, if we had lived in a socialist society, you wouldn’t have Mummy’s millions to fund your excursions about the country engaging in drunken discourse whenever the mood struck you!”
Bradley rose from his seat and said “I beg your pardon, Sir, I did nothing of the kind! What does that…that..word have to do with this discussion, and in presence of a lady, no less?” Sidney managed to turn her bark of laughter into a groan and put her head down on her arm for a moment to hide it. She thought ‘ if he says “this is no lady, this is my wife” I will spit my olive across the bar.’ Taylor enunciated “I said discourse, not intercourse, you boob.” Bradley said “Oh I, well ah…” and sat down.
They sat drinking in solemn silence for a few minutes. Then with renewed bravado, Bradley said “but you have to agree with Marx; from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs?” Taylor laughed and slapped his hand on the bar. “No I do not have to agree and furthermore, if that were so, you would be out in some God forsaken field digging potatoes.” “Well, I’m not Irish and I see no reason to be insulting.” Taylor downed his drink and said “I said nothing about being Irish! What the devil are you talking about?” Bradley looked puzzled, “well don’t the Irish specialize in potatoes?” “Good God no, they specialize in exporting children.” Sidney could no longer contain herself and burst out laughing. “You two gentleman ceased to make sense at least an hour ago, I think we all need another drink.”
They settled in with another round. Sidney asked “so what is the difference between communism and socialism anyway?” Her question ended in a hiccup, making the question sound a tad less witty than intended. Taylor took the bait “well my dear, socialism is communism, but communism is not always socialism.” She stared at him. “I love it when you think such deep thoughts, Darling.” He soldiered on in a further attempt to explain what he did not quite grasp himself, “the main difference is that communism is an economic system where as socialism is both an egomaniac and political system.” Bradley emitted a high-pitched giggle saying “you perhaps meant to say economic?” “Oh? Well yes, of course, of course. As I was saying…”
Anxious to regain hold of the conversational wheel, Bradley blurted “But as Miss Sylvia Pankhurst said…” Taylor interrupted “and just who is this Pankhurst woman? Did you go to school with her cousin?” Bradley rubbed his forehead in exasperation. “No I did not go to school with her cousin, for God’s sake, allow me to finish my sentence. Miss Pankhurst said; I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving.“ Taylor, being deliberately obtuse demanded, “Well if you did not know her, then who the hell was she talking to, who is starving and how do you know what she said?” Sidney laid a hand on his arm and said “Darling, I believe Miss Pankhurst was a political activist in the early 1900s and involved in the suffragette movement in Great Britain.” She managed to bite her tongue at that point, and closed her eyes.
Growing tired of the attempt to make sense she said “so I gather that with capitalism there is the rich and the poor and the possibility of private property, as opposed to communism where everyone is poor and own nothing and the government owns everything?” Bradley said “No, no, Sidney, the beauty of communism is that we all own everything.” She frowned. “I don’t think I like the idea of other people owning my property and surely don’t want theirs.” Taylor smiled paternally and patted her on the shoulder, probably relieved that he was not the one required to explain the unexplainable for the moment.
Dinner was hours ago and she decided she was a little hungry. Addressing the bar keep she called out “Excuse me, what are the possibilities of getting a bite to eat at this hour. “Well Madame, I believe there may be watercress sandwiches remaining from the Sherry Social earlier. “Excellent, would you be so kind?” “Certainly, Madame” he replied, then turned and began to disappear into the floor. Overcome with curiosity, she pushed up from the foot rail to peek over the bar. ‘Oh, he went downstairs. Drat, I don’t remember coming upstairs. This is rather disconcerting. How does one get lost on a train?’
Asking Taylor to take possession of her sandwiches upon their arrival, she excused herself to powder her nose. She managed to proceed with a modicum of dignity, bouncing off the wall only once and a narrow miss of slamming herself in the door between cars. She was of the opinion that the engineer took fiendish glee in somehow violently rocking the train from side to side at the very hour when civilized people enjoyed a nightcap.
At her destination Sidney gave herself a talking to. One of her evening gloves drooped down almost to her elbow. Her hat was a bit more askew than the accepted norm. But she was on a train after all. Surely with all this swaying to a fro she was entitled to a wee bit of dishevelment.
Back at the bar, she nibbled her watercress sandwich and listened to Taylor and Bradley attempt to best the other in the art of name dropping and verbal prowess. Nietzsche, Marx, Chavez, Mussolini, trains running on time. Snippets of conversations seemed to break away like bubbles, flouting formless in the air. She formed a mental image of two mountain goats butting heads and then locking horns. Did they actually read and comprehend all the books they were quoting from? Or did they just memorize a list of famous author’s quotations as fodder for future arguments? ‘Does anyone have an original thought anymore? Anyone?’ What can I do to change the subject?’ she mused.
Becoming suddenly tired of the quote slinging and expounding of borrowed premises she quipped, “If you two are going to continue with this spirited melodrama of intellectual masturbation, perhaps you would do well to remove yourselves to behind closed doors.” She rummaged in her clutch in search of her misplaced cigarette lighter, found it and looked up.
“What?” They were both staring at her with looks of open-mouthed horror as if she had ejected an eyeball into her martini glass. A red line crept up Bradley’s face and he began to scrutinize the light fixture on the ceiling. “Sidney, perhaps I might escort you to our berth?” “I will escort myself, thank you.” Taylor shrugged, kissed her on the forehead and said “very well then, good night dear.” Bradley took her hand and missed in his attempt to kiss it. She pretended not to notice and pecked him on the cheek. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Bradley.”
Hoping she was making a dramatic exit in the right directed, she left the lounge car in search of their room. The sway of the train seemed to escalate and she put out a hand to steady herself. It worked through one car. However in the next car, right at the moment the train rounded a curve as she leaned on a door. It gave way and she shot sideways into the room somehow landing upright in an empty seat.
An old woman stopped knitting and stared at her in shock and then asked “are you quite alright my dear?” Adjusting her hat Sidney replied “Oh I am fine thank you, and you?” They were both silent for a moment and then started laughing. Wiping her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief, the woman asked “Are you certain you are well? Shall I ring for some tea?” “No, I assure you, I am quite alright. It’s just that, well, my husband and I were having cocktails in the lounge and the discussion grew somewhat out of hand.” The old woman smiled and returned to her knitting as if it were nothing out of the ordinary for a young woman to burst into her room unannounced and take a seat.
For some reason Sydney felt comfortable enough to unburden herself. She recounted how the conversation sailed away from the calm waters of the theatre and careened into the rough seas of politics, capitalism, socialism, communism and what have you and eventually became quite tedious, at times bordering on the outrageous. She withheld her own last statement that brought an abrupt end to her portion of the evening. The old woman smiled, reached over and patted her hand. “My dear, in my life I have found that it is best not to have such conversations in mixed company. As a matter of fact I told my son, Bradley, the very same earlier this evening and sent him along to cocktails without me.