Train

Short train rides change perception, rarely reality.

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Our coffee cups, still in the sink, a few crumbs on the counter, added to the house’s feel of empty and ignored as I enter in what was just a few hours ago, familiar.  You tried to clean up before we left but I wanted to get started.  I have no idea why I was so anxious.

Actually, I do know why, both of us tired, the train trip back into the city seemed excruciating to me.  The night before we had the train practically to ourselves.  Oh, a few people sat in jolting, distant, silence, here and there within the train car we were in – an older gentleman, who thought you were my wife, sat across from where we stood.  I didn’t try to dissuade him of his notion.  You had your back to him but I watched him watching us.  Though your hair was pinned, somehow, high upon your head soft curling strands fell down upon the curve and back of your neck — small glints of silver gray, unashamed, glistened upon your temples.  Your eye makeup, slightly smudged from blinking and rubbing fatigue, only seemed to make your appearance softer.  You insisted upon standing, claiming you preferred it but we both knew you were simply fighting sleep.  I looked away from you to hide a smile and caught the old man looking at us — his expression, a sort of longing look, perhaps envy.

So I turned back to you, looked down upon your face, pale, sleepy, beautiful.

I opened up my arms, grasping the cold metal bars above your hands.  You blinked and looked up at me.  A small frown between your eyes and I realized you were questioning me.  Was I really inviting you to step forward, place your head upon my shoulder, lean in?  Gently I inclined my head toward my shoulder.

No sarcasm just rest. Trust me a little.

You did.

You moved forward and I lost sight of you but for the first time, beyond the casual handshake or the quick friendship hug, I felt you.

Your body against mine, resting.

For the first time in years, I was slammed with continuous, slightly frenzied thought.  I was terrified I would have an erection and then terrified I wouldn’t, then terrified I was having those types of thoughts about a woman who was diametrically different from me in almost every way.  And then I caught sight of the old man again, he winked at me and smiled and quickly looked away.

Was he afraid I’d try to explain?  Hey, she isn’t my wife, she’s the most aggravating, mind-bending, hawkish woman I’ve ever met.  I became conscious of your weight against me and realized I was the only one on the train stressing.  Stressing like some overwrought prom date.  So I lowered my arms along the bars to encase you further against me and I felt a small shiver move between us.  You seemed to radiate heat within my protective circle; a heat I was aware of but not consumed by, a heat that was meant for me to know of, but not to know.  A heat that so few women are aware they possess, that permeates their body when approached like the opening of a leaf when finally in sunlight long enough.  A power really, that is self-contained, yet subconsciously utilized.

I thought about saying that aloud but I could hear your scoff, your “masculine conceit,” argument and so remained silent.

I continued to watch nothing out the window, the flash of lights as the train moved quickly from the old city to where I lived, alone in the new housing.  I thought of the many times I had made this trip by myself, exuberant from a time on the town, ready for solitude and rest.  Would I feel that way again?

The train began to slow, our stop tonight, mine alone later.  I felt your reluctance to move so I moved my chin against your forehead, felt your soft skin beneath me.  I could feel the old man watching and I most desperately did not want you to thank me.  I felt myself stiffen as if waiting for a tight-fisted blow but you didn’t even look up.  You placed your hand upon the center of my chest as if touching me was something you did often, and softly pushed yourself away.

The train stopped and the rattle of the doors opening and the cold air of late night, early morning, coursed into the car.  I glanced back.  The old man was watching, again his look of envy or remorse upon his face, but he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at you.  We stepped toward the door and your hand was in mine.  You never held my hand before and I did not feel incredulous but suddenly concerned for you.

The doors shut behind us and we began moving away from the platform, toward my house, my small world I had let you invade, on my invite, for a few days.

“Do you think he rides just to pass the time?”

I looked away from your face, your sad voice but re-gripped your small hand in mine and said nothing.  I did not realize you had even noticed the old man.  Rebukes flooded my mind.  What did you care, you who feel overtaxed, and burdened by the world, what could you care about one lonely old man.  I remained silent and we continued to walk because your rebuke would make sense too.  Why was he alone, when could society take the place of an individual’s touch?

The street was dark, my house darker.  My hand trembled as I inserted my key into the lock and opened the door.

I stepped aside and let you in first.

You walked down the long hall toward that narrow entry room that separated the dining room from the drawing room.  I watched you.  You placed your hand deep within your hair and pulled out the magic that held it aloft upon your head all evening.  I watched your hair cascade down and brush your shoulders.  You placed the magic absent-mindedly upon the small narrow table that belonged to my Mother and seemed destined for this narrow tall house, deep within this bohemian, suburban, sprawl.

Your back still to me, your hands went up and rubbed your temples and I could imagine your face, eyes closed and worried about the old man on the train.

I wanted to man up, wrap my arms around you, fight your hair ‘til I found your neck and place wet kisses there, feel the tension drain away and hear you sigh.  I wanted to work every inch and curve of your body against mine.  Maybe you were right, there might be a God, and He had a hand in making things fit.

The moment passed, I allowed it.

I let it pass and I let you walk to your room, close the door without saying goodnight and I sat up the rest of the night with very expensive wine and as far away from God as the day I decided He didn’t exist.

You told me not to stay with you at the airport, that you’d be fine and I honestly felt that you meant it.  You seemed relieved to be there, to be boarding a plane back to your beloved Chicago.  Dark circles under your eyes and your hair disheveled and sexy, the waiting area for your flight suddenly seemed to lift your spirits.

I thought seriously for a moment about leaving.  We were adults, behaved like adults, and didn’t have a thing to worry about or remember tonight.  But to your annoyance, I stayed and I wanted you to take my hand and I wanted to put my arm around you while we waited but you read your book and I paced the floor.

A call to board.

Why had I waited for this moment?  What did I face now?  A quick, friendly hug, a joke, a laugh –next year in Chicago.  But you had caught on, hadn’t you?  You straightened your back, shrugged your bag higher up on your shoulder, and waited for me.  For one moment, one glorious moment, I thought, yes, I surrender.  I surrender and there is no way in hell that you can stay but I don’t care the enormity of pain watching you board that plane will be worth one honest square moment.

I asked you what the weather was like in Chicago.

The weather.

You didn’t say anything, smiled a small smile, gave me a quick kiss and was gone.

And now I’m standing in this house.  Sunlight streaming into the windows, dust motes floating in the air and the sound of a distant city on a Sunday afternoon.

I waited for the telephone to ring, had visions of you at my front door but the house remained quiet.  I told myself, as I settled in and cooked my evening meal peace and tranquility had settled back into my house.

I preferred to be alone, admired from a distance, known for my austerity and non-hypocritical friendship, I was a haven for my friends.

Darkness and I still waited for the telephone to ring.

I broke down, washed your coffee cup from the morning, and placed it away with the others.  I went upstairs and entered the guest room.  I could smell your perfume, knew that I would.  I told you to leave the bed that I’d wash the sheets for the next guest.  I pictured myself naked chest down upon your sheets, shook my head and roughly pulled the bedding up ignoring your sent and stumbled out the bedroom door.

I washed everything.  My small machine and I worked.  I sweated hanging your sheets in the basement to dry, smelling now like laundry detergent.

No one at the door, no telephone ringing, I grabbed my keys, locked the front door and started walking.  An all-night coffee house down the street.  I took you there a couple of days ago.

The coffee house was expensive but good.  I took no book, no electronic gadget, I just watched the quiet Sunday evening world move by.

And oddly enough I didn’t look for you.

You are gone.

I looked for the old man.

I saw my partial reflection in the depth of the coffee cup.  I saw my reflection, dimly, in the darkened windows of the shop.  I tried to look beyond myself, out to the suburb and city I know, but my reflection was in the way.  My hair, silver, my expression somber, my shoulders still broad, not stooped, not yet.  What would we look like sitting there together?

What did we look like sitting there?

My hand didn’t tremble at all when I pushed the key into the lock and shoved open my front door.  The door did not creak and the floorboards beneath me did not moan.  The house was dark; I switched on the light and stood in the long hall.  There where you left them, were the magic hairpins upon my Mother’s table.  I picked them up and held them in my hand.  Smooth, warm, small; how could something so compact help defy gravity?  I placed them back down on the table, arranging them how you had left them.  I walked up the stairs, into the barren guest room, laid down on the bare mattress, smelling faintly of your perfume.

Professional to the End

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her deep blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his. 

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her dark blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his.  He thought of just taking over, feeling her slip into his embrace and following his lead, perfectly trusting his every move.

He had never met her before face to face, they had talked a couple of times over the phone.  That was her job, customer service.  He was a client.

She was nice, pretty too, not beautiful and not athletic just pretty.  She smelled really good.

She was too nice to be up on her desk and pulling his body toward her in a less than ladylike fashion.  He wanted to stop thinking about her that way, but it was her scent, the clean, cool scent of her skin and the way she looked at him, straight on with an open smile.  He felt thin and hollow, and his heart beat deep down into his echoing stomach.

Her office was full of papers, and she was talking and working.  She was walking between her computer and the copy machine and telling him that she was always ready to help.  He needed the help, paperwork wasn’t something he was good at.  He needed her to slow down because he needed to look at her while speaking; when he got nervous, he went deaf.

Suddenly rather than thinking about fumbling with that tight-fitting slip that he knew she wore under that flowing summer dress he wished he was sitting across from some pencil pushing moron from the IRS who had no interest in helping him at all.  He felt the hot prick of sweat spread out between his shoulder blades.

She was still smiling at him and still handing him papers.  They stood side by side, and she was pointing out key and important telephone numbers, websites and email addresses that would get him through his present dilemma.  She didn’t lean in, her hands moved slowly when she talked, and the pen she used to point out what might keep him alive was tucked up nicely behind her ear when she was done.

They had not shaken hands brushed up against each other nor stopped the flow of conversation between them in any sort of meaningful way.  He was someone off the street who needed assistance, she was doing her job.

“Well, I think that should get me through.”

She was already looking at the papers on her desk.  “Don’t ever hesitate to call me.  I’ll try and help in any way I can.”

He hesitated, he had been taught never to extend his hand to a lady, but he wanted to touch her before he left.  She stood smiling totally oblivious to the fact that he had made love to her in his head during the whole damned ordeal.

He extended his hand as a sort of reward to himself.  She stepped forward smoothly placing her hand in his.  There was no spark, no electric current, only the cool, soft grip of kindness.  She was professional to the end.

Love’s Trouble For Me

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated. 

I, of course, worried after I fell in love that I would lose my edge.  Edge is everything in my business.  Love blunts every edge; I don’t care who you are.  It’s cruel if I don’t stay sharp, razor sharp.  If I take a swipe at someone and my edge has been blunted, well let’s face it they suffer.  If I’m not hampered by the preoccupations of love, that swipe is painless, goes without a hitch, you’re dead before your mind can reach even the idea of pain.

Yes, I’m a professional.

I was in love once before, years ago when I was young.  I mean, you know love.  I can’t help what I am, I can’t.  She didn’t understand and she moved to Milwaukee.  I was devastated.  I think that disappointment was what gave me my edge.  I wanted to hate her, I really did but I couldn’t.  Years later I had a job in that area and I looked her up.  She was still fine and she seemed happy.  I said hello and she seemed edgy, a little scared but okay.  Next thing I know she’s in Green Bay, then she’s in St Paul and divorced.  I called her a year later, you know just to check on her, make sure she was okay.  She was in Seattle.  I point blank asked her if she wanted me to look up her ex-husband and she said no.  She was emphatic about it, so I didn’t and I won’t.  She’s in Tokyo now, seems to be doing alright.

I met my new lease on life during an emergency room visit in Chicago.  One of those big hospitals.  I had run into a little bit of a problem in New Albany, thought I was okay but started running a fever while vacationing in Chicago.  I love that city; Chicago.  Anyway, I met Alice there.

Alice is tough as nails and hates her name so I call her Honey and Babe and things like that.  She’s an ER nurse and man, some of the stories she tells makes my skin crawl.  I mean she’s seen shotgun wounds, and people beaten to a pulp.  Then there are the car accidents and the scum of the earth who hurt their kids.  I was in tears one night; I don’t know how she stays sane.

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated.

I, of course, tell her I have no family.  I’m not an idiot, I keep her well protected.  I am human; some may doubt that but I am very human.  She loves to read old novels and I’m starting to understand why.  I like The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Invisible Man – man can you imagine how I can relate?

 

 

Into Safety

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom. 

Since being alone, she has been extremely busy.

She knew a woman, friends of hers, who were the same.  Extremely busy.  They sat down after work and read historical romances or went to movies by themselves.  They lived in the city, in small apartments that didn’t cost a fortune and rode the bus to the L and the L into the city proper and didn’t complain about the early rise because they didn’t have to drive in “all that traffic.”

She was like them, just like them an introvert with a busy schedule.  She joined a knit club with other introverts, men and women alike who told her where the best coffee shops were and the best nookish bookstores.  They would go out together and drink sherry once in a while just to compare notes.

After a long while of learning how to be alone; she liked it.  She liked her satellite friends who would be coming running if there was some sort of catastrophe, like a lost cat, or a pregnant sister.  They came because the catastrophes were few and far between and usually always brief.

Like all contentment however it slips past without any sounding alarm.  One evening rather than a predictable romance, she read “Jane Eyre.” Harmless enough and her friends encouraged her in the classics.  But the classic are dangerous books.  Why?  Because of the questions they pose.  The questions weren’t harmful by themselves:

“Who was president when Jane Eyre loved Edward Fairfax Rochester?”

“How old was the United States when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth?”

“What did Freud have to say about Wuthering Heights?”

Well okay, the last one wasn’t so much a question that has much bearing on her journey but if one has some time on their hands it could make quite a dissertation.

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom.  Could she have made an effort to stop?  Sure, and she did but questions beget questions.  If it was the best of times how could it be the worst?   That made no sense, on the quiet bus ride into work.    Besides if any sort of enlightenment ushers in the guillotine then perhaps we should take a closer look at the crusades.

If that makes no sense just know, the more she dug into her questions the deeper into history she sank.

Until she found him blinking up at her from the dark tunnel of conflicting sources and original sources.  The wind was howling a city of Chicago winter storm when their eyes met over thick tombs that the librarians twittered and fussed about whenever they were requested.

Her heart sank.  She had been trapped, for there he was running his fingers through his hair and with a perplexed look on his face.  She understood, the Enlightenment was sinking into anything but and that was a hard lesson.

She imagined him several times during her work day.  What if he appreciated German opera more than Italian?  What if he liked to travel to see the very place where Antoinette died and she simply wanted to take a visual tour.  What if he preferred French to Portuguese?  What happens to a man who thinks that Dickens actually wrote anything worth reading besides the “Pickwick Papers”? What if he preferred Adams over Jefferson, what then?

Her heart pound in her ears, when she realized that he would speak to her, talk to her and the quiet smiles and bumping into each other in the history sections, were done.

What happened to those nice quiet nights knitting and reading alone in snow driven Chicago?

Before he opened his mouth or give her the warm smile she had shared with him for many weeks her heart felt suddenly leaden.  She couldn’t do it again.  She couldn’t.  It wasn’t the quiet, it was the burden.  Life was too good to complicate it with true love.

She ducked quickly into the medieval histories of the Spanish.  She heard his footsteps slow and imagined his surprised face.  He walked slowly passed her and into Ancient Greece.