I Couldn't Help Overhearing
By Peter McMillan

Could anyone else hear them? Not just the conversations, but the whispers and the words not spoken. All of sudden, I could.

Amidst the swirling sounds of a train station at rush hour, I could hear them, sense them—whispers and unarticulated thoughts—and some I could make out.

"Call me as soon as you get in?" asked the man who was sitting behind me, facing the timetable of arrivals and departures.

"Sure, honey, but I'd rather call you from the hotel, so it may be kind of late."

"That's alright, I'll be up late reading tonight anyway."

What she whispered under her breath made it plain as day to me, but apparently not to him, that she was leaving him. Could be he wasn't paying attention.

A boy scout troop was moving through the concourse like a swarm of bees.

"It's way different than the subway. I once went to Chicago. That train—it had a locomotive—was big and fast and there was food service and places to sleep. Nothing like the subway."

The chubby youngster found himself marshaling a flock of wide-eyed little boys who were too entranced to pick up the menacing chuckle I heard, or thought I heard.

Seated next to me, a couple was talking marriage.

"I knew my parents would never go along, but I thought yours were more open-minded."

"About some things, like business, yes, they can be quite modern, but not when it comes to family relationships."

"Well, they drew the line—"

"That's their generation-speak. Ours says if they cross the line, we'll welcome them. Right?"

But what the taller of the two men added in a lower voice—something about a forfeited inheritance—wasn't noticed by his partner.

A young, stern-looking Army private dropped his duffel bag on my outstretched shoe as he reached down to hug his aunt.

"Sorry mister," he said.

"No worries," I answered.

"Your Momma passed away this morning. She knew you was coming, but she couldn't hold on no longer," said the aunt tearfully.

"Did she suffer real bad at the end?" asked the soldier, repressing a yawn of … exhaustion.

"I'm sure you coulda come before now if you'd really cared," she whispered voicelessly.

"Now, I can finally sell that damn house—" and, as if hearing his subvocalized relief, she added "But the government done claimed eminent domain and that house ain't gonna fetch near what it's worth."

“Excuse me, are you listening to my conversation?” a thickset man with a brush cut and a well-tailored suit beside me asked.

“No, no, no. Of course not!” I insisted, though I guess I was leaning towards him and I suppose I did hear … accidentally.

“Aren't you going to tell her?”

“Excuse me?”

“About the FBI, the search warrant?”

“Look buddy, you've got a very active imagination, but I'd appreciate it if you'd leave me out of it. Otherwise … slander, you do know what that is? If not, I can have my lawyer bring you up to speed. Would you like that?”

“Please accept my apologies. I really didn't mean to offend. I mean, I had no intention of upsetting you … or your plans—“

“What plans?”

“Oh, nothing. Just plans. You know, everybody has plans.”

“You seem to know more than you're saying. Why don't we go outside and talk about what you think you heard. I still have 10 minutes, don't you?”


“Good. Let's go.”

“They'll never talk to me that way again,” muttered a frazzled young woman with two battered suitcases. Before I could ask “Who,” I had been hustled out the door.

I handed him my wallet, and he looked at me in surprise then in amusement.

“That's very good, but I'll need your briefcase, phone, ticket, and keys, too.”

“Why do—?“

You'll get it all back. I'll put it in a locker at the next station. The name—let's see, Ira Kessler. That's a good picture. Some people take lousy driver's license photos.”


“You'll be delayed a little, long enough for me to leave without any further interference. Here's a cab. I'll give the driver $100 to take you straight home—that means no stops, understood?


“Once you've got your things back, forget about me, forget about this conversation. But you know all this already.” He texted something. “I don't think I need to say anything else, do I?”

But he did, because as suddenly as it had come on, it vanished. I couldn't read him anymore. Grabbing my arm firmly, he shook me out of my daze then escorted me to the waiting yellow cab where he gave the driver an unfamiliar downtown address.

“It's just to buy some time. You should be home within the hour. And don't worry the driver. She's getting paid at the other end, too. In case you're wondering, nothing's going to happen to you, that is, as long as you don't do something stupid like jump out of a moving car.”

I protested that I didn't know anything, that it was a big mistake, that I couldn't even remember what I'd said much less what I'd heard.

“No doubt it comes and goes. I've heard about this spontaneous environmental telepathy. It's probably nonsense like most of what I my ex is into, but to be on the safe side, I have to do this.”

The cabbie peeled out and at the first red light she turned around and said she didn't want to hear any crazy talk about the FBI, fugitives, or kidnapping.

“None of that's any of my business. What is my business is taking you from Point A to Point B. So, sit tight, and whatever you're thinking, remember I'm way ahead of you. Got it?”

She knew I did.

- - -
The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. He has published two anthologies of his reprinted stories: Flash! Fiction and Flash! Fiction 2.
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