Elephant on the Train

The sliding doors of the westbound train close tight, and three lovers settle themselves uncomfortably on cold, vinyl seats. From the overhead speakers, a tinny voice garbles what may or may not be the next station stop. Then, with a jolt, the train moves forward, gathers speed, and draws them into the darkness.

The trio is seated together in an empty section of the last car. They make polite conversation, but our young protagonist does not hear a word that is said. He can feel his jaw working, he makes note of the spittle sprayed from his top lip, and, indeed, the happy couple who sit across from him seem to nod in the appropriate places. But he himself has no idea what he is saying.

Earlier, at dinner, he had eaten little and drank much. In theory, he had hoped that the drink would make him brave?brave enough to reveal everything to her. In effect, though, he has surpassed any facade of courage, and is edging ever closer to flat-out drunkenness. As it was, he could barely make himself coherent to her when he was sober; now the words he needs to say have become indefinitely mired in the thick fog that surrounds his skull.

Nevertheless, he attempts to grasp a few scattered portions of the dialogue. He nods his head in answer to something she has said, hoping he has made the proper response, always willing to acquiesce to her, at any rate. He is hanging on the sounds of the consonants and vowels that emanate from her small, pretty mouth. He wants to hear her words, but is distracted by the blood pounding warmly in his ears, and tormented by the sudden, hot, loosening of his bowels (a less-than-romantic sensation, but a biological inevitability when in her presence).

He steals occasional glances in her direction, observing that even under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights she is beautiful. He tries hard not to stare at her, tries hard not to gaze too long at the part of her hair, or the slope of her breast. He decides, instead, to worship the dark pane of glass where night races past her reflected apparition. Even with this second-hand reverence he is content.

This contentment, though, is short-lived. For he cannot help but envision what the happy couple will be doing under the covers, in the darkness, within a few short hours. The clarity of this foresight makes him wish the train would crash and burn. Compounding this agony is the simple fact that the fiancé appears entirely deserving of her affection. Our hero wants to hate the fiancé, demonize him, but, instead, he seems a god.

Another distorted announcement comes over the speakers. The train slows and her destination approaches, all too soon, and not soon enough. They exchange email addresses and make wholehearted vows to stay in touch, but he knows that this will be the last time he will ever see her again. She rises from her seat, her footing uncertain as she is jostled back and forth by the movement of the train; still, the fiancé is there to hold her steady.

?It was good to see you again,? she says, touching our hero’s arm lightly. In her eyes, he thinks he sees what he has thought he has seen many nights before.

But the train comes to a full stop, she nods goodbye, and he notes only the briefest moment of hesitation on her part before she turns away. The fiancé takes her hand, leads her off the car, and out onto the platform. The last our hero sees of her is a slight profile, her breath a small cloud before her; he shuts his eyes tight to burn this image into memory. He listens as the doors slide closed. There is a muted discord of steel against steel from beneath him as the train pulls away, slowly accumulating ever more distance from the goddess of his creation.

The fluid motion of the empty car lulls him into a near catatonic state. In his left breast pocket he can still feel the weight of the gift he had planned on giving her. It sits hard against his chest, a small, dead burden. He draws a laboured breath and swallows with some difficulty, feeling as though he has been kicked in the throat. He feels suffocated with regret, wishing that he had known her at some other point in time, wishing that he had never known her at all.

But he is grateful for this misery all the same.

%d bloggers like this: