In the dining cart of the slow-moving train, I eat the meal set before me at the “Best of the Best” conference. It’s a white-china-linen-napkin-breaded-lemon-chicken affair. I’m seated with three other people I’ve never met before—all of them “Best of the Best” conference participants. We’ve submitted resumes and won the chance to be here.
“Why is this train moving so slowly?” I ask the woman seated across from me.
“It’s so you can get on and off easily. The train doesn’t stop, but you can get off briefly to snap a photo and get right back on without any trouble. I’ll show you. We can try it after lunch.”
“But watch out,” the man seated next to me says. “The train will pick up speed eventually.”
“When?” I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders.
Since there are thirty minutes before the next session, I go with the woman seated across from me (her name is Tammy) to the outside deck, where there’s a gate, and she unfastens it. She is about to show me how to just step off lightly, but when I turn to look back at the dining compartment that we left, I see there are people with official-looking blazers picking up the silverware and inspecting it carefully—especially my fork. A woman in a blazer licks my used fork and wipes the tines with a cloth before shoving it into a plastic bag.
“What’s going on?” I ask Tammy.
“They’re looking for frauds.”
“People who faked their resumes to be here. It happens every year. They find one or two and then, we never see them again.”
Tammy steps off the train as if it were nothing—like stepping off a sidewalk, but when I follow, my legs buckle underneath me, and I stumble.
“You’ll get the hang of it,” Tammy says.
Behind us, the train barely moves, giving us ample time to take pictures and step back onto the train. Again, Tammy has no trouble, but I think I pull my hip, so I hide a limp as we go back to the conference area of the train.
In the conference area, everyone takes out notebooks and laptops, which reminds me of my long-gone-college-days where professors paced the front of the room, wearing intense expressions as they fired questions at the students to find the ones with the worst answers. My stomach tightens.
“This is the law section of the conference,” the presenter says. Through the glass inside the compartment, I can see the officials in blazers walk by. They’re carrying many plastic bags filled with silverware, and I wonder how long these inspections should take.
The presenter continues: “What are some areas of law you would study if you could?”
Several hands go up. They mention environmental law, immigration law, patent and copyright law. The presenter looks at me, and I go blank. I can’t think of any other area of law, so I imagine a courthouse and things that might happen in a courthouse—and I think of the clerks behind the desks and the smell of old paper records, new carpet, and Lysol—and when I have my picture straight in my head, I open my mouth and say, “Licensing and titles.”
The presenter just stares at me. Tammy doesn’t even want to look at me when we leave the presentation. I’ll be stepping off the train on my own to take pictures, which I do, and I skip the presentations, deciding that meals are the best part.
Tonight, they’re serving chicken parmesan. Tammy sits at another table. The other conference participants around me quiz each other on the various presentations.
“Is there a test later on?” I ask, half laughing.
My dinner companions look at me as if to say, “Yes. Everything is a test.”
When I leave my seat and fold my napkin on the table, I notice that the train has picked up speed. A little giddy after my wine at dinner, I slap Tammy on the back when I see her and say, “Train’s picking up. Things are getting started now!” Tammy smiles politely and rushes off to the next presentation.
The people with the blazers make their rounds again, licking forks and spoons and placing them into plastic bags, and when they get to my empty seat, they stop and convene. All of them, nodding their heads and writing in their notebooks—whispering amongst themselves. Then, they all turn at once and look at me.
“Ma’am. We’re going to need to escort you from the conference,” the Head Blazer says.
And I’m outraged.
“I didn’t fake my resume. Everything on it is true. I’ve achieved every single thing I put on there.”
“We understand, but it’s more than that. There’s a chemical that shows up in the saliva—one that indicates that even if the achievements are true, the person who achieved them isn’t living up to them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, just by the chemistry we found on the fork—and the napkin—”
“Don’t forget the spoon and the wine glass,” the Deputy Blazer says.
“Yes, pretty much everything we’ve collected—you’re not living up to your potential, so you’re just as good as a fraud, an imposter, someone who doesn’t belong here.”
The shock of what they’re saying surrounds me in static before evening out in rhythmic waves as the wheels clack along the tracks and the trees whirl by. I don’t even resist when they usher me by my elbows out to the deck. No, they won’t tell the conductor to slow down or stop. This is how frauds are escorted from the conference. They’re gently pushed. It doesn’t take much. I catch the wind in my hair as brown and green patches of earth spin and lift, and everything goes dark.
Cecilia Kennedy taught English composition and Spanish courses in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Idle Ink, Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020)is her first short story collection. Additionally, she’s a columnist for The Daily Drunk, an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and Running Wild Press, and humor blogger: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks (fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/).