Nothing rocks like a train. It catches you off guard, rolls you from side to side, throwing you off-balance.
The ride south is sunfilled; mirror glass icons gleam, alleys and chain link fences anchored with discarded cups, straws and empty plastic bags. The other side of the tracks. The facades faded, flat; chipped paint and rusty doors rule.
The backside of business. Count the Bed Bath Beyonds’, Taco Bells, and Dominos. What the market will bare.
The city blooms and suburbs fade; smokers litter the sidewalks, each wearing plastic name tags, badges, and labels; the new lepers of polite society.
Big slow turn, spy the grassy knoll, see the flag, the window, brass markers gleam on the sidewalk and always remember, never forget. Yes, it really happened…right there.
All stop. Switch westward bound. TRE means half way there, bigger train, commuter filled, bags and brief cases hogging the seats. The sweat and barbecue sauce, oil and designer fragrance mix.
See her wipe the table top with antibacterial wipes; lemon fresh. Add to the bouquet.
The paper napkin from the bag, unfolded, placed on the clean table. All is ready, out comes the sandwich, the juice box, the carrots and ranch? Dinner is served. With each small bite she looks out the window; she watches where we just left.
The rolled up sleeves and black aprons board.
“Ever have a raw habanero?”one apron asks the other.
“Many times, but it’s not the hottest. The hottest she is the ghost pepper.”
His pronoun choice makes me smile.
“Hotter than… the hat, ah what is the word, the ….cap pepper?” he gestures with both hands on top of his head which necessitates letting go of the strap that steadies him.
weebles wobble but they don’t fall down…Scotch bonnet
“The Scotch bonnet pepper. Ghost pepper ten times hotter, your mouth will break into sores, it is so hot. I have done this, just one time. In my country they smear this pepper over fences to keep the animals out, it works, even on elephants.”
Elephants and Scotch bonnet peppers. Gotta love the train ride, it’s a United Nations of world views all wrapped up in a moving metal box.
The aprons are quiet now. They step off at the next stop and disappear.
The westward journey over, disembark, destination just ahead.
Intermodal Station, dodge the buses, cross the street wrestling the roll bag filled with books along the cracked and crooked sidewalk. The best swear words are saved for this exact moment.
Elevator down, push open the thick glass doors, the library awaits.
A different type of wrestling begins.
Afterwards pull the book bag, heavy black, filled to the brim.
Class over, another day marked off; X marks the spot.
The journey back in the night-time is aware at all times, don’t wear your iPod, listen up, don’t be an idiot scary, sometimes.
Still afraid of the night-time, watch and beware.
The eastward train everyone sees in, the mirror windows in the night-time limit the view; reflect only whats inside.
Seats abound I take two one for me, one for the bag, and try to read. The same page over and over and over, give it up.
See his arm is around her, the wife beater white tee-shirt a bright contrast to the blue and black letters, symbols and patterns that cover his shoulders, arms, and hands. After a while he stands, reaches down, then slings a diaper bag over his shoulder. She stands now, so very much smaller than he. A slight, slim, dark-eyed, young mother holding her tightly wrapped baby in blue. He walks ahead, turns and holds her hand, one- two-three steps down onto the platform. The train moves and I cannot see them anymore.
Almost there now, here the slow curve again feel it there in the dark; the shrine to historic horror.
The dark dims the view, but you know it’s there.
Union station after dark.
Iconic shapes vanish. Giant gleaming mirrors with nothing to reflect loom like a hole you can feel in the dark. Colors melt in the dark glass and blur the straight lines into shapeless waves.
Keep my head down, back against the wall, and wait; watching everything, looking down the track, willing the redline to appear. Loud voices appear from the tunnel, drunk laughter, high fives slapping, missing. They walk along the bench asking all who wait for smokes or change, have to get home, need a smoke man…my turn next. I shake my head no, and they move on.
Redline appears, last leg, northward now, soon back to green grassy lawns, brightly lit streets, jogging paths and home associations.
I like the seats that face forward, have to see where I am going.
The only empty seat is facing inward, back to the window and the world.
Then I see the hat.
The battered straw with a stiff pink tulle fringe around the brim.
It looks like a childs hat, minus the thin white elastic chin strap that always seems to pinch and snap and leave a deep mark on your skin. The small hat cradles her rocking head perfectly. The tulle and straw brim is pushed up against the glass. She is sound asleep against the window. Like a sleeping child her head starts to roll, sideways, then all the way back, coming to a stop against the back of the bench seat. The hat stays perfectly planted. She is vulnerable grace, her smooth slender neck childlike. I fight the urge to place my sweater under her head. Instead I watch her sleep in her Wal-Mart name tag, and Easter bonnet.
I take out another book, give it a try.
“Whats that book?”
Don’t look, don’t answer, don’t flinch; can’t you smell the booze?
Didn’t notice him until he spoke. That’s not good.
“Acing Torts” I hear myself reply.
“whats that mean, ….acing?”
I see the little boy he was, unable to read, trying to sound out the words, and wonder when and why he stopped trying.
“It means earning a high-grade, to do really well on a test, getting an A is acing an exam.”
He brings out a bag of chips munching as he speaks, “You…going to college or something?”
Every syllable spews flecks of potato chips in my direction.
“Something like that,” I answer.
For a moment I imagine teaching him to read. I stop the fantasy when he starts just talking, out loud crumbs flying, one of those crazy out loud cross the street he’s a whack job rants, to no one in particular. I keep my head down, reading the same page over and over.
Johnny Depp’s doppelgänger boards and stands between the bag of chips man and me.
“Nice boots” chip man sprays.
“I got these bad boys in New Orleans.” Depp replies
“Man you from New Orleans… I’m from New Orleans!” They grab hands bend elbows and chest bump.
“I miss that place man been here since Katrina man…that was hard dude, how long you been here?” chips only occasionally fly.
“I’ve been here five years bro.”
The train stops Doppelganger and Chip man step off.
They too fade to black as the train pulls out.
Last stop Parker road. The car is parked at the far end of the lot. Old fears creep in, push them away.
I am Eowyn, see me roar.
Fuck off fear.
Step off the train, looking back, the Easter bonnet is still asleep. I fight the urge to wake her.
what if she’s riding it back downtown and this is the only sleep she gets? ”
Black bag behind, the brick path rattles me inside and out.
The lot is empty, my car a foot ball field away.
I start to walk, aiming for each of the pools of light.
I didn’t see them until they jumped.
Crickets. Big black armoured crickets having a gathering under all the lights. I ponder my next move.
Either walk right through them and stay in the light, or go around and risk darkness.
Place your bag in front of you, not behind, and use it to clear your path….
Thanks Eowyn, brave sword wielding princess, I think I’ll just do that.
I put the bag in front of me and began to run, staying in the light, crickets parting like Moses and the Red Sea.
Car straight ahead, keys in hand, click to unlock throw in the bag, lock the door.
Driving home I can’t wait to see what tomorrows train ride will bring.