I’ve been riding this route sporadically for a few months now.
In terms of relatively inexpensive continental travel, the train is only slightly superior to the bus, and my preference for the train over the bus, therefore, is somewhat unjustifiable. Yes, there’s room to walk around, and if it’s during the day, and you happen to be taking the Amtrak Cascades for any distance at all, the ocean sits beyond the wide expanse of car windows like an ever-moving portrait of itself. Also, there’s the dining car. Which serves food that, while only a notch above airplane food, is at least an excuse to stretch your legs and move from one place to another.
When I’m travelling sometimes I eat just to pass the time.
But none of these things add up, empirically, to an experience that is wholly better than the bus, which, despite its dearth of legroom, and lack of dining facilities, is, on the Amtrak Cascades route, slightly faster and still decently furbished, psychedelic cushion covering notwithstanding. Nevertheless, I do prefer the train. Maybe it’s all in my head, or a conjuring of books I’ve read, but there’s something romantic about clacking along the tracks, the constant motion of it all.
It’s kind of weird, he had said, weeks ago, in a text message, that you live with your husband. And I could see, from his point of view, how it might be a little odd. But still, it was a known fact: before, during, and after. And the fact remained that my living situation had relatively little impact on the gesticulations of our situation. Nevertheless, no one likes to be called out.
There’s a little girl in the seat in front of me. She’s travelling with her grandparents, just her and them. They’ve left the other grandchildren at home, taking her on a special weekend trip to Seattle. They’ll go to the zoo. And the aquarium. They’ll eat French fries and ice cream. They’ll go to the exact ice cream shop they took her cousin to last year. They’ve brought matching see-through umbrellas so they can watch the rain as it falls from the sky, without getting wet.
The little girl wants a chocolate milk from the dining car. The grandfather opens his wallet and she reaches in and grabs a fifty-dollar bill. He laughs. She grins. Bring back the change, he says after her as she runs between the seats towards the dining car. Later, she comes back, sipping a carton of chocolate milk, the other hand in the pocket of her dress. Where’s my change? He asks her. All gone, she says, taking her hand out of her pocket to twirl her long blonde braid. He laughs. She grins. The dance has already begun. I wonder how long before she succumbs to her ruby red shoes.
The waves continue building and breaking without cease in the time between when he picks me up at the train station and the moment of knowing, and before that: weeks, months.
I text him a few lines about the sunrise. Worry they’re cheesy. Him: the him I’m not travelling to see, (but will see incidentally). The one I’ve been messaging, or as of late not-messaging, ever since we unexpectedly discovered whatever it is that we’re doing with each other: prospectors afloat in undetermined waters.
Time passes between us like a piece of Hubba Bubba stretched between thumb and forefinger, elastic and yet also full of holes. I keep chewing, wondering when it will run out of flavour.
The waves. The ensuing nausea of seasickness interspersed with moments of quiet awe. Bent over the guardrail I catch a glimpse of dorsal in the outermost regions of my peripheral, when I turn to look, it’s gone.
In the world of the commonly-acknowledged-real, it’s less than an hour on the light rail from King Street all the way up to North Beacon Hill where the wind whistles like a tortured tempest caught in a tunnel of blue sky and moderately priced real estate. And then, the carrying of luggage. Him helping me with mine. Is this a friendly gesture? What dance is this? What do you do with an unexpected waltz? Step in triple time with the music? And what if there is none? And who is leading whom?
I have work still to do on my computer. He’s taken the weekend off from work. And what does that mean?
Will I be sleeping on the couch or in his bed? I really don’t know. Can we predict the future on the backs of history? It seems our collective track record, as a species, is quite poor. Causation. Correlation. One not proving the other. Nightmares of re-adolescence. Biology. Chemistry. Never English, that would be too easy. Multiple choice examinations: silently reciting a, b, c, d until the student in front stops tapping their pencil. Circle ‘b’. Blah blah blah. Other principles of human motivation gleaned from now outdated Introductory Psychology textbooks, things that have become common knowledge even if the experts no longer consider them to be true. All these things whooshing through my head. And more. And bits of old conversations mixed in like dryer lint that affixes itself to old coins in your pocket: especially pennies from 1963. I twirl the stretched-out gum around my finger and plop it back in my mouth: hard. The flavour still there.
It’s kind of weird, he had said in a text message, that you live with your husband. And before that, something about moving too fast, and expectations, and just getting out of a ten-year relationship. He may not have said smothered but that’s the word that stuck in my teeth.
And so I backed off.
But, now he’s asking me if I want a tour, showing me the libraries of his roommates, bookshelves in the hallway, and then his own books and we’re sitting on the floor of his bedroom and I’m two pages into Somerset Maugham’s Razor’s Edge, except I haven’t even read a word, and then I let my socked foot touch his socked foot, and then my hand touches his leg lightly, as if I think maybe it’s the floor and not his leg, and then he touches me back and the book falls to the floor and we find each others mouths and our clothes come off all at once and it’s begun, and I know for sure, and I sort of wish we had dragged it out a little longer, because that not knowing, it can make your mouth water.
We sit on his bed with our legs entwined. He pulls the covers and sheets back and my feet are hooked around his hips. I lay back and he looks right inside me. It’s the middle of the day.
I like your tufts, he says, referring to my hackneyed shave job.
I prop myself up on the backs of my elbows.
Come closer he seems to say with the muscles around his eyes, and his wide wide expanse of tooth and gum and soft tissue of lip. I keep catching my mouth grinning. Keep catching it with my own lips, bringing it back down to earth in a mauve change purse, like the one I won from the fishing booth at the Spring Fair when I was eight or nine: light purple with a nickel clasp. I clicked it open and closed all afternoon until my mother threatened to take it away. Later I peeled the Made in China sticker off the bottom and was disappointed that it left behind a gummy residue to which stuck all the day’s dirt.
I inch my bum closer towards the diamond-shape of our lower limbs. My chin rests squarely on my knees.
He strokes my shins.
They’re prickly, I say as a warning.
I like it, he says.
I shaved a couple days ago, I say.
Meaning it as an apology. The hair was so long I had to shave twice. Tapped the razor against the bathtub. Used my thumb to pull the longest ones out from between the blades. They were still dry.
He looks crestfallen.
I just missed it? He asks. This question turns him into a puppy (a cross between a golden retriever and a basset hound). Smiley and drooping, long ears and a barrel of a body. Genuine disappointment in his bloodshot eyes.
You just missed it, I say.
The clasp on the change purse never broke no matter how many times I clicked it open and closed. The mauve turned to gray. I filled it too full with coins. Then, when I spent most of the coins at the corner store on liquorice and Archie comics, and there were only a few nickels left, it felt too hollow to bear, and so I put it in the drawer of my night table and forgot about it.
The next summer my best friend brought me back a straw purse from the South of France: navy blue and natural straw, with a ribbon bow. My family didn’t take vacations to Europe, we went to my grandparents’ summerhouse instead and my grandpa paid my brothers and male cousins to do chores, like mow the lawn or wash the boats, in handfuls of coins from an old peanut container: one handful of coins per hour of work. As I was the only grandchild interested in reading, and perhaps also because I was the only girl, he paid me one handful of coins per book I read. At the time I was perfectly content with this gendered division of labour.
Later that summer my best friend came up to the summerhouse, and we took our purses to the lake and lay out on the dock next to them. She pretended to read David Copperfield, but mostly just sunned herself. It’s my favourite Dickens, she would say, if anyone asked, and made sure to move the bookmark along at an appropriate clip. I devoured The Winter’s Tale. Shakespeare was worth five handfuls.
The summer after that, when I was nine or ten, or maybe twelve, we were no longer friends. I went to the lake on my own. Wrapped myself in a towel and hid from the sun. Fell equally in love with Scarlett and Rhett. Possession as desire. The un-possessable as the ultimate. Tantrums. Outbursts. Rage and passion commingling. In essence: melodrama. Everything always unrequited. The subtle opulence of the comfortably wealthy, and yet no one getting what they truly desired. I read it three times over.
In his bed I lie back and let my knees fall open. Close. Open. Close.
He doesn’t try to stop me. Doesn’t want to take anything away. I don’t want to own anyone, he says. Do you like this? He keeps asking. Is this okay? What do you want?
Open. Close. Open. Close.
I pick a blister off the bottom of my foot and he doesn’t even blink. Maybe I want to be owned. Or maybe that’s the only way I’ve been conditioned to understand desire.
Is it possible that he doesn’t think any of me is gross?
I realize that I don’t think any part of him is gross either.
Natural light streams in through basement windows.
Do you like it like this? I can’t speak. Can only produce noise that is made from flesh. Can’t you tell from my sounds? I don’t know your sounds yet.
Open. Close. Open. Close.
I realize we’re both gross.
Open. Close. Open. Close.
We roll around in our grossness all afternoon. And in the evening and the morning too. My mouth continues to water on the train ride home. I can’t contain a few droplets of drool as I order from the young girl in the dining car. She hands me a napkin with my box of food, and I mop up the drool, drop a couple quarters into her tip jar. She forgets to give me my chocolate milk and I forget to ask for it. I’ll remember again when I’m home, when I open the fridge looking for something to drink and find that it is filled mostly with semi-rotting food—still consumable, but soft, wilted, just a little sour. I’ll pick up a shrivelled carrot and consider biting into it. Gross, I’ll think, and put it back. Gross, I’ll think and pick it back up again.