Take another trip through creative non-fiction with the second article in Ariell G.’s conceptual series Train Stories.
By Ariell G.
LEGS NEATLY CROSSED, seated on a bench that has seen better days, I dangle one high heel on the tip of my toes, shaking it restlessly to soothe my boredom. All dressed up in a black cocktail dress, going nowhere… just home. Much like Cinderella, I’ve left a party that grew tiresome as soon the clock struck midnight, but instead of a glass carriage, I’m deep underground inside of a metal serpent with only the bright lights keeping my eyes open. There are several others who join me here, comrades in a place so far below life that it is befitting of the dead. They are seated, as if prearranged, evenly spaced apart down the length of the train car so that no one is forced to take any particular notice of one another. As long as there are no sudden movements or loud noises, we can all remain inside of our individual bubbles of solitude until arriving at our respective destinations. With my thoughts only disturbed by the obligatory announcement of the next stop, I count down the eleven stations remaining until I can discard this evening. The doors open at the current station, and unlike those prior that proved to be meaningless as no one entered, one woman and two men in their mid-thirties jump the gap. The noise of boisterous laughter and clumsy stumbling burst the bubble of every person in the car.
I watch, still dangling my high heel on the foot of my crossed leg, as the threesome take their position semi-tucked inside of the space of the opposite door and opposite of my seat.
A blond, tall due to the platform heels, with a lanky body as if she had been stretched like a piece of yellow taffy at birth, is wearing a mini-dress covered in pewter coloured sequins. She is the entertainer of the three, the one who adores all eyes on her at all times and is willing to be as loud as necessary to accomplish that goal, as though convinced that a gregarious personality compensates for a lack of hips, ass and breasts. It doesn’t of course, so I can’t help think as I look at her that if it were not for her face, I might have decided that her un-womanly figure belonged to that of a prepubescent boy in drag.
The two men that join her, a brunette and the other a light brown, are taller and quieter than the woman, but then again she is making enough noise for the three combined, visibly irritating everyone within earshot. The men are wearing fine black suits, yet I suspect the suit of the brunette to be bespoke judging by the cleaner tailoring and unique fabric. He must have caught me examining his outfit bottom to top; I can see now that he has been watching me all along and is looking back at me with a piercing judgmental stare, worsened by his blue eyes. I sharply look away, forgetting about my high heel precariously balancing on two toes, the same one that flies violently in his direction after uncrossing my leg in one swift and startled movement. “Terrible,” my inner dialogue criticizes, “I must be either more tired or more drunk than I initially thought.” “Go get your shoe,” my mind orders my limbs to respond to the situation without further delay. In as slow and contrived movements as possible – I was now wearier of being drunk – I inch my dress down my thighs and balance on my tiptoes to compensate for the disparity of five inches after the loss of my shoe, moving forward to the gap between the door and the tall, brunette man with the ice blue eyes.
Seeing my movements, he bends down to pick up my shoe, no doubt to force me to look at him straight on. “Thank you,” I say politely as I reach eagerly for my high heel. “It’s quite the deadly weapon,” he says as he examines the five-inch point. “It could have taken my eye out, you should probably keep it on your foot.” “Thanks for the advice, I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” I say as I turn my body to walk toward my seat. Nearly there, I hear the words, “Who’s that Edward? Have you made a new friend?” My body sinks a little bit with every syllable knowing that I must be the ‘new friend’. I pretend not to hear, but she makes her presence known the moment that I sit down by walking over and introducing herself. “Hello, I’m Georgie, this is my boyfriend Edward and our friend Gus.” “Hi, I’m Ariell. Nice to meet you,” I say with the minimal amount of animation or attention focused, being concerned instead with putting on my shoe elegantly in a tight dress. “That is a beautiful dress. I…” – Edward interrupts her mid-sentence with a tap on the arm cautioning her not to yell – “I have one very similar. I reckon this is more festive, don’t you?” she says, pausing to wait for my response, but none is given. “I love to sparkle!” she finishes with a squeal of joyous excitement.
Edward gently brushes her aside, putting out his hand to shake mine. Somewhat begrudgingly, I oblige the exchange of civility, offering the gesture in return, and Gus follows suit. “We’re going to a large after-party at the moment. You’re dressed appropriately, so you can attend with us.” “How condescending. As if I would ever accept an invitation offered like that,” I think as I analyze his tone, facial expression and choice of words within less than half a second. “I’m going to have to pass, thank you. I’m already drunk.” Georgie’s cackling laughter ensues, “But I’m drunk too! You must come! You’re perfect for that party!” she adds yelling, this time with no regard for the pained expression on her boyfriend’s face. “Perfect for that party… What type of party am I being invited to?” I say to myself silently as I wonder about the strange happenings at this event that have made her refer to it as ‘that’, differentiating this night from all others. “Thank you again, really, but I’m on my way home already.” “You are quite stubborn. If you do change your mind, here are the particulars,” Edward adds as he pulls a business card and a silver, nay, platinum… he is pompous after all… pen from the inside pocket of his bespoke jacket, and begins scribbling details that I take and promptly shove into my clutch without even so much as a glance at what is written. They return to their claimed spot by the door, and as the train approaches their station, Edward looks at me with his indelible blue eyes and says ominously, “See you there.”
Left to my own devices, I return to the quiet comfort of my bubble like the others on this train that must be just as relieved at their departure. One has a new appreciation for silence after the white noise ceases. I stare straight-ahead and wonder why I had not done that to begin with, avoided examining a well-tailored suit in favor of the advertisements or least of all, my own reflection. “Why have I chosen to end my night so soon? Am I the same as all these people underground heading home after only a partial celebration? Is that really a fitting end for this night, a night of new beginnings? And who am I to decline an opportunity?” I question silently as I retrace the series of stations on the map overhead, still counting the stops until the end of my journey. Something has changed though. Instead of looking at my final stop as always, I’m looking backwards, reversing time and my gaze to the station when they exited the train.
Although consciously unaware until this moment, I’m ruled by the impulse and electricity that is born from every new action and new experience. Upon awareness, my subjugation under the laws of time and space also becomes painfully evident, so that it all melds into a singular now-or-never moment. I had no time to question the desire to join them, for my mind and body were already united with the energy that springs from this conclusion – black or white, stop or go – so that before my consciousness could possibly catch the thread flying through the ethers and make the leap of faith to act, everything has, in fact, already happened. Decidedly, I stand to salvage the remnants of my evening, and removing the business card with barely legible directions written, I exit at the next available station to travel back in time and space… but only in my mind.
The ground is glistening with rainwater and the street, lined with pristine white terrace homes, is quiet with a 2 am – residential – silence, disturbed only by the sound of my high heels on the pavement. The white stucco house on the corner is teeming with life, moving and gyrating with every step of the dancers inside and every beat of the heavy base blaring from within. I approach the front steps slowly, each of my movements is deliberate so as to have fluidity reminiscent of being in a lucid dream – I’ll pretend that is the case this evening. “This isn’t happening. I’m actually dreaming. Nothing is as it appears to be.”
Standing between the imposing Doric columns, I lift the heavy brass lion-head knocker to find that the door is already open, so I push gently. The figures inside move as if in slow motion either due to the alcohol that I’ve drunk, or the scene itself is so implausible that my brain has slowed it in order to allow for my understanding. The characters of this clandestine party are all dressed in black, the men in black suits and women in black cocktail dresses. Each wears a black Venetian mask, but the men wear plain velvet and the women velvet with the addition of large black feathers, covering the only part of the face that truly matters – the eyes. I stand in the foyer facing a crowded room of dancers undulating to the music, absorbing the sight as my blood stream has absorbed one too many glasses of champagne. The women are black birds of prey, adorned with jewels, sparkles and voluminous feathers eyeing the dinner that they will no doubt devour later on; the men move silently between them as they decide which black bird will watch their mating dance. I notice the lanky blond, Georgie, and her tall, dark and handsome boyfriend Edward, or so he considers himself to be, standing in the far off corner of the room. They’ve positioned themselves in a space between the bar and an innocuous potted plant that speaks of domesticated bourgeoisie bliss that is entirely at odds with this scene. Edward recognizes me in the distance and stares intensely, but Georgie doesn’t even notice that he has stopped listening to her speak. “Of course you’re bored of her Edward, you avert your eyes and your body language is cold and unforgiving, but still you’ve chosen her for some reason, whatever that may be. We’re ill suited to one another. Look the other way. You could never be a good lover.”
I turn from the room and Edward’s stare, walking slowly as I glide my hand along the wall covered with mint-green and silver wallpaper in a paisley pattern, and equally garish ornate gold frames, feeling every crevasse. “Surely, this act of feeling something, anything, even a wall or frame will keep me grounded in a reality.” A crystal chandelier dimly lights the vestibule, receiving no help from the moonlight since all of the windows are covered in yards of black fabric. I hear something… “Who is that? Brahms? It’s Vivaldi.” A symphony of music pours from the room at the end of the corridor – I want to go exploring. Naturally, I expect a surreal, Kubrick-esque tableau, yet instead I find a calm room filled with classical music and party-goers separated into two groups: the first is seated at a table playing a game involving writing on small pieces of white paper that are folded and passed, one hand over the other around the circle until the sand in the hourglass stops; the second is standing in a circle watching a man and a woman have sex on the hardwood floor. I reflect on the hypothetical scenario of sex on a bare wooden floor, “How uncomfortable. They could have given them a blanket to lay on.”
The people playing the game look to see if I’ll cross the invisible border of the doorframe. “No, I don’t think I’ll be joining you this evening,” the inconsideration for the man and woman, now in a Tantric position, on the hardwood floor has disturbed my empathetic sensibility.
My hand, still traveling along the wall back toward the foyer, only stops as I catch my reflection in the six-foot tall gilded mirror hanging above a console table. I lean forward toward the mirror to examine the state that I’m in at 3 am, the edge of the table pressed firmly in my stomach causing a slight pain to reverberate, so I don’t move.
“My lipstick… it’s completely off,” I conclude silently and so remove it from my clutch to reapply the vibrant red to my lips. I’m nearly finished when I catch the eye of a man standing directly behind me in the reflection; it’s Edward, although this doesn’t surprise me in the least, so I hold his gaze as I finish the outer corners of my lips.
As though speaking strictly with our eyes, he tells me the story of himself. The slight glimmer, the glance away, the glossy sheen as a prelude to a tear, tell me of his philogynist nature, of his genuine desire to love all women, including the one standing before him wearing red lipstick. He reminds me of the five-inch tall man from the black & white silent clip in ‘Talk to Her’ by Almodóvar, the one who strips naked and climbs headfirst into his lover’s vagina… “Surely you would do that if you could take a bite of cake and shrink to five inches tall Edward. Yet you must know that you can’t love all women, it’s impossible.” I put my lipstick away, leaving my clutch open on the table, as he places his hands on either side of my waist, rotating me to face him and watching his actions in the mirror. Just as he is about to speak, I place my forefinger on his lips, “you’re more pleasant when you don’t speak,” I think as my mind wanders. Although merely a kiss, innocent by the standards of the adjacent room, it is enough to change everything. I move toward the front door to leave when Georgie – “I hadn’t seen her there, did she see the kiss?” – touches my arm and says softly, her eyes those of a wounded animal, “I can’t have an orgasm.” Hers is the story of faithfulness over betrayal, of virtue and temptation, and the childlike excitement of not submitting too quickly or easily.
Leaving the house on the corner behind, I’m alone with my thoughts. I could not understand her allure until now – Georgie is attractive by virtue of her unattainability and frigidity in lieu of her symbolic ‘pure’ state, and Edward’s masculinity is encased within this imagined virginity. Her inability to reach a climax acts as a constant and enduring challenge to his affections, making him feel like less of a man, so he must continually try, but to no avail. Equally, it weighs on her feeling like less of a woman, as something broken meant to be sent back for repair, so she cannot leave. As a result, they are bound together, interwoven like the lovers in the room at the end of the corridor, not in love, not even in lust, but in pure ego. I walk down the stairs to the Underground, glance at the map to decide whether to move left or right and suddenly, as though I’ve just stepped on a hidden trip wire that pressed a light switch in my mind, everything goes black.
[I did tell myself that I’m dreaming. Perhaps my mind believes it and has thrown me into one forcibly. But… where am I? I can only see a black void. What is my body doing? Have I collapsed or am I still functioning? Have I died?]
My eyes open to the daylight and the sound of a sparrow chirping loudly outside of my bedroom window, odd considering that it’s winter, but everything seems odd, I don’t even know how I got here. I lay in bed for a moment, like a rabbit paralyzed by the sound of a would-be predator, examining the bedroom and its contents. The black walls and white cornicing tell me that this is indeed my bedroom, but there is a pair of men’s pants on the floor. “Is someone here with me? How did I get home?” I notice my clutch open on the nightstand with a small piece of white paper inside. It reads, in a familiar handwriting, I wish it were you. All that remains from last night are these words on a piece of paper in place of the fiery leap, the act itself – I have nothing else. “It wasn’t a dream, was it?” I ask myself endless questions, yet receive no answers in return. With the sparrow still at my window chirping wildly, I decide that it’s safe to move from my bed and venture outside. I find the sparrow’s mate laying helplessly on my front step. Its tiny black eyes are still open, but frozen looking up at me. The small bird must have fallen from its nest and although there are no obvious signs of trauma, the tiny limp remains tell me that it is dead.
(Article I) I Dream of an Empty Train Car…