Posted in Short Stories

James Alan McPherson: On Trains

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 25

He did not stop his work; nor did he look at her, but answered her questions and made the bed with the proficiency and cool detachment of one used to confronting stupidity in the intelligent. It was bargained and paid for in the price of her ticket and his was a patient and polite endurance of her right to be stupid.

James Alan McPherson’s story “On Trains” takes us on a smooth ride with all the hustle and bustle of porters, passengers and bartenders until we hit a rough spot as a white southern lady gets on at Dearborn and then refuses to sleep in her bed while the porter (a black man) does his job of sitting outside her berth (and everyone else’s) in case anyone needs anything. As he points out, he has been doing this job for 43 years.

Just like the porter as quoted above, the writing has a “proficiency and cool detachment” that easily contrasts with the commotion caused by the one passenger. It’s interesting that all this is set on a train where people can’t just jump off whenever they want. Something has to be done. It’s also interesting that the passenger in question chooses her “values” over her comfort (and common sense).

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 25 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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