Feast your eyes on our first article of creative non-fiction and the first in a series by Ariell G. titled Train Stories.
I Dream of an Empty Train Car…
By Ariell G.
SITTING AT THE BACK OF THE CAR, moving as if the train itself was an unnecessary requirement for my continued propulsion and acceleration forward. It’s late at night, but it’s always late at night when traveling on a train that frequents the long-forgotten underground tunnels of the city – daylight dare not come here. The fluorescent lights of the train pierce my eyes, painfully reminding me of the grade school class lights that I fervently despised. I would often ask to finish my work sitting on the floor in the dimly lit, far-off corner of the library rather than stay bathed in unnatural neon flares inside of the classroom. I cannot be excused from these fluorescent lights though – I’m inside of a train car, moving no less, inside of a tunnel and underground, trapped like a caged animal. The bright lights merely draw my attention to the fact that I am one of two caged animals in this particular car. A young man, late twenties or early thirties at most, sits five cushioned seat rows ahead of me and to my left, I counted, and facing the same direction, forward. He’s calmly staring out of the large adjacent window as if hypnotized by the dark nothingness that he sees. A certain clarity of the mind is achieved when staring at nothingness; the lightening fast light waves of information that travel through our pupil to our retina, through the optic nerve to our visual cortex cease for just the length of time to feel peaceful. In those few and rare moments, a true quieting is attained, free from the veritable deluge of visual information incessantly received and interpreted by our brain.
I catch his gaze as he looks at me through the reflection in the window. Now he has received my visual information and so begins to interpret me as I do the same of him simultaneously. “Who is he and what is his story?” I think, wondering at all the possible scenarios that have created his existence thus far. “Why is he on this train and where is he going?”…“To visit an old flame? No, it’s night, so perhaps he’s just left one instead, standing on the platform of the station after they said their ‘Goodbyes’ to one another.”
Of course that would make for an odd coincidence as I’ve just left my own ‘Old Flame’, although in a far less cinematically climactic arrangement, as he was not standing on the platform this time. “So…” I think, “let’s go with this train of thought for the moment” as I begin to concoct an image of his old flame in my mind’s eye. “She’s a brunette,” but I’m biased of course against all other hair colours, “of average height, fairly slim other than the pouch in front from one too many pieces of cake. Not what one would refer to as any sort of ‘great beauty,’ as her face is one of those forgettable faces that blends easily into a crowd. She is slightly mousey in her appearance, with diminutive mannerisms and an agreeable character, but relatively acceptable to look at which is why he decided to travel the distance to see her again.” “He chose her because the other men tend to not notice her and when they do, quickly forget her, which allows him to feel safe and secure in his lack of competition. This melds nicely with her self-esteem issues that make her overly attentive and worriedly complimentary to him.”
I wonder now about the love affair itself. “Was it once a passionate one to have incited his curiosity to visit? No, her agreeable nature and mousey mannerisms don’t lend themselves to a passionate love affair – a man needs a passionate, fiery woman in order to have an equally explosive love affair.” “He’s just broken-up with another woman and so he decided to visit to be consoled by his old flame’s nervous attentiveness and smothering adoration. Just what the doctor ordered for a broken heart.” “But wait, why does he keep looking through the reflection at me? You don’t know me I’m afraid, so I’ll warn you that I will not be annoyingly attentive nor adoring, only distantly warm in public and passionately loving in private, you don’t want that, look away.”
He suddenly rises from his seat as if able to read my mind and casually walks toward the back of the car, presses the button to open the door and proceeds to walk through to the next car, and the washroom no doubt.
I, distracted by the allure of the blur of nothingness outside the massive window, stare at my own reflection, my eyes and brain forced to process the light waves of my face as recalled in countless memories. Content to sit there, sifting at the speed of light in the Rolodex of my mind to memories of my life in which I played the role of leading lady.
I am afflicted with memory. Many people are able to forget, and thus live peaceably in comfortable ignorance of the past, whereas I cannot forget. This is not by conscious choice, but rather by the natural ordering of my mind, as such I live with and have accepted this affliction. It’s so strange to recall in perfect detail memories from throughout my life as though playing on a film reel. I, as the alien observer of my own past, feel like I was asleep during the actual occurrences and so will use ‘automatism’ as my defense to any and all crimes of rage, panic, cruelty or the breaking of someone’s heart committed in the past. There I stand before an enormous glass display case in a museum looking at the scenes of my life frozen in a time and place that are both foreign and familiar. There it is, I see the orange leather couch in a tiny office. I’m sleeping on it and snoring while he works late, occasionally looking back at me with an expression of… Curiosity? Confusion? Hatred? Perhaps that’s ‘Love’ scrawled on his face as he watches me silently. Suddenly, I am able to see and analyze the facial expressions of the characters objectively; characters that I thought I knew so well, now realizing that in fact, they were only very well-known strangers. “You’re snoring on a big, orange leather couch. I love you,” he will write on a Post-it in that moment to give to me later on. Ah, so it was ‘love’ after all – I move to the next scene.
The scene is that I’m on a train late at night, tired from not sleeping for more than a few hours the previous night, and mentally exhausted from enduring karmic retribution. My hair that has become an uncontrollable wavy mass, as if an animal has perched itself on my head, is finally dry from the rain that drenched it an hour earlier. The young man, I’ll call him Sam inspired by the song playing in my ears by Elliott Smith, it’s either that or ‘Lola’ the transvestite in the Kinks song, has now re-emerged through the sliding door and stopped at my cushioned row of seats. “Do you have the time?” he asks rather matter-of-factly. “I saw you slip your cell phone into your back pocket as you left the car, I can see it and something else protruding. How little you must think of me that I shouldn’t notice every tiny detail,” I think silently, “besides, don’t you know that time doesn’t really exist, it’s an illusion. Silly Sam.” Regardless, I check the clock on my cell phone that plays the song ‘Lola’ now, “Sure. Umm, it’s 11:11,” I tell him while being distantly warm. “How funny!” he says, “Parallel lines and parallel lives being the only two on this train. It’s meant to be,” now slowly walking toward his seat five rows ahead and to my left. “An allusion to destiny Sam? Really? How entirely unoriginal – don’t you know who it is that you’re talking to… No. You’ve just left a one-dimensional old flame on platform B for ‘Back-up’ of the train station, you’re not to be faulted,” I think as I watch him smirking at me like a schoolboy. “You do work fast though Sam. What, you’ve gone without sex for maybe 3 hours at most?” An amateur narrative bores me to tears, so let us create a new one. I wonder, “Suppose this was our destiny as you have alluded to Sam, then what? What would our hypothetical love affair look like and how would it transpire?” Considering that we’re the only two people in this train car our next move appears obvious, although you’re unaware that being the only two in the car is an irrelevant fact in this story, misinformed by my affected air of distant prudishness. “Nearby people or public spaces have not stopped me in the past Sam… Parks, cable cars, movie theaters, rooftops, long distance coach buses, Ferris wheels, adding a train doesn’t seem so implausible,” I affirm to myself as if he can hear my thoughts. Sex is as matter-of-fact as Sam asking me for the time, so that is hardly the portion of this story that interests and intrigues me – I concern myself with love… deep, indescribable, unabiding love.
This love of ours Sam, it would rival the poetry of Neruda and render Yesenin at a loss for words; it would create a douceur de vivre, a sweet life, a sugarcoated existence filled with a daily celebration of the world lived through all of our senses and beautiful Monet sceneries of distant travels to far-away places. Immune to the antiquarian language of romance, we would create our own script with just a hint of apocalyptic subplot to enlarge the density and meaning of our love. Death will suffice for that purpose… “You are mine until the day I die and until the very end of life itself!” we’ll proclaim to the world, yet it will only be understood by us. And still, even in death we are inseparable, living on in the memory of the other. Everyone at one point dreams of a love like ours, an indescribable love that inexplicably ties us together to this very moment when we meet again as if from eons past in this train car, but only we will truly know this dream. Instantaneously upon reuniting, our unique language reignites, the non-verbal communication of glances, gestures and expressions that is recalled, as if by instinct, enlivens. Ours would be the kind that teaches of the possibility of truly blind love, devoid of fear and a constant hedging of losses that denies the resurgence; to set a precedent for those who possess the feeling, but not the narrative. For the losses are inevitable, but so are the gains that show expression in exuberant laughter. Our days spent as one in bed are only explained as the belly of one becoming glued to the spine of the other from coming too close, if possible, and traversing the mysteriously magical realm of the erotic sense when one cries at both the sadness and joy of simultaneous orgasm. Our loving tenderness was wretched out of the dark abyss of death within view of the end, and so can be finally and truly appreciated. We were drawn together, invited to reunite by the passion, joy, sadness and loneliness that simmers within us so intensely that is sends shivers through our shared skin enough to make us question reality and think, “That relationship is different than all the others.”
“I’m far too much of a romantic though Sam. That doesn’t happen in real life, only in the movies. Surely you’ve just had a weekend with friends and are now en-route home,” I say to myself as I watch him gather his bags. The train has now stopped – this is his destination. “Goodbye Sam!” I yell to him with a smile as he walks to the sliding door, turning back for a moment to smile at me before exiting, and before I will never see him again.