Summary and Analysis: Medicine for Melancholy
The Town Where Nobody Got Off
On what seems a whim, a passenger on the Chicago-Los Angeles train gets off in a strange town. There he meets an old man who admits that he has been waiting a long time on the station platform for a stranger to get off the train. When the two men talk, each discovers that he is the fulfillment of the other's secret fantasy. The traveler suddenly realizes that he has secretly wished to get off a train in a town where no one knows him, commit a murder, then get on the train again with no one ever being the wiser. Likewise, the old man has waited for years for a stranger to step from the train. The desire to commit an undetected murder is all-consuming. When each learns that he is to be the other's victim, the fear of death is too great. The men turn from each other and walk away.
The story exposes the hidden thoughts and fantasies that all people entertain at some time in their life, the dark thoughts of hatred and the secret desire to commit murder. Such thoughts are characteristically set against the darkness of night. Bradbury's supreme optimism in humanity is evidenced when, in the story, the traveler and the old man do no harm to one another even though the situation is perfect. Here we can see Bradbury's belief that man is able to suppress his dark thoughts because of his innate morality. Man cannot, however, wholly rid himself of these dark and destructive thoughts. This is depicted through the person of the old man who continues to wait at the station for a victim for a perfect murder even though a perfect opportunity has just passed him by.