Sunday, July 24, 2005

On a Train

They rode by bus until they got to the subway station; the first train brought them several stops and there they transferred to the next. This was one of the older trains, dirty and slightly rank. They took a pair of seats facing the direction opposite from the way the train was moving and sat passively touching each other, a little at the thighs and a little at the shoulders, as strangers might. Their minds were like magnets of the same polarity; there was a force between them, one that sprang up suddenly two and a half weeks ago, and he wondered if things would ever be the same again. He glanced around him. At this hour of the day the trains were never terribly crowded and he saw the people clearly as individuals with their own histories. Many of them were middle-aged and, so it seemed to him, defeated, staring dully into space or down at the floor, minding their own business. In his fancy, he considered them all, like the elderly Latino gentleman seated near them with the baggy trousers frayed near his shoes, to be living uncomplicated lives, ones they were more or less in control of, with familiar worries and complaints that have long lost immediacy and urgency; old cares that might never be resolved, but knowing that they might never be resolved was, in a way, a resolution. He envied them that.

She had the seat by the window, which was black at the moment as they were traveling through an unlit tunnel. He saw his reflection in it and then he saw hers, and he decided for the hundredth time that she really wasn’t pretty, at least not in the conventional way. Seeing her as she was at that moment, in repose, unanimated, no one would consider her pretty. She had a natural little frown and her nose was too broad and something about her hair was never quite right, no matter what she did with it. But to hear her clear voice and see her brilliant blue eyes, to witness her many facial expressions and, above all, to be affected by her eccentric sense of humor, then you saw how she was attractive. For the hundredth time, he couldn’t believe his good luck.

She wouldn’t let him come the first time, but this second, the most important visit, he insisted and she relented, smiling a bit in her old way like she used to whenever he said something she thought slightly daft, but in keeping with his charm. Today she wore her best coat, and he suddenly remembered the only time he ever saw her wear it was for Easter service at her mother’s church. She also wore her good shoes and the yellow print dress he liked, and he thought that any disinterested observer, allowing for how young she still looked, might think she was on her way to her first job interview out of college.

“I saw a hawk yesterday,” she said, not looking at him.

“A hawk?”

“I was standing on the front porch and I saw this hawk fly from one tree to another one just a block away. He flew very straight and headed for that other tree with real purpose. He was on a mission, you know? So he went right into that other tree and I expected a big commotion, like feathers and leaves coming out everywhere, but nothing happened. I didn’t even see him fly out again.”

“Are you sure it was a hawk?”

She regarded him with her wiseguy look. “There’s no mistaking a hawk.” Then she said, “I didn’t think hawks showed up in cities.”

“Why not? Hawks can go anywhere they please. That must be the great thing about being a hawk.”

“It reminded me of a news report I heard recently about bears being sighted in some city in the midwest. One of those ‘signs of encroaching civilization’ stories. Something about them running out of food in their natural habitat, so they were forced to try their luck in the city.”

“It’s hard to imagine Yogi and Boo Boo as refugees,” he said with a crooked grin.

The joke didn’t work and they lapsed into silence again. Only several more stops to go now. He had been to where they were going before because it was close to an apartment he used live in, and he hoped there wouldn’t be protesters, loudly telling the rosary and reading prayers through megaphones. A large, yellow line, drawn in front of the entrance in the shape of a rectangle, marked the area where the protesters couldn’t go. Once, on his way to the post office, they were out in force, milling with their placards and singing, and taped to the windshield of a car parked in front of the building was a large poster showing a delicately formed little human being with its eyes closed and all its tiny, dismembered limbs lying nearby. It made him stop and study it for perhaps a full minute. He thought of her, sitting next to him right now, wearing her best clothes like a suit of armor, and he silently prayed that that damn picture wouldn't be there. He doubted she could walk past it, not unless she could remind herself of several things and believe in them very hard.

“I saw a hawk in the city once too,” he said.


“While I was at work, when I walked to the store to buy a snack. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark shape swoop down and grab something at the curb and take off again. It was over in less than a second. It all went on in the periphery of my vision. I stood there flatfooted, not believing what I just saw.”

“And you're sure that was what you saw?”

It was time for his wiseguy look. “There’s no mistaking a hawk,” he said. He saw her smile and she looked at him fully, directly in the eyes. Hers were very blue and clear and he felt sure he could never love anyone this much ever again.

Their stop came and they stepped down from the train. She had her purse open and was fiddling with the things inside of it, walking slowly. Ahead were the turnstiles and, beyond those, the escalator leading up to the street.

There was something he wondered if he should tell her — something he promised himself he wouldn’t say — and he made a decision right there, right at that moment, that he would. He reached over and tugged gently at the sleeve of her coat.

“Clarissa…” he began.


Blogger Chloe said...

Simply stunning, Mr. Schprock. Bravo!

2:06 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Thank you, Chloe. My inner high school English teacher assigned that to me.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Mr. T said...

Great prose, Mr Schprock. Smashing work, old boy!

2:47 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Good of you to say, old fellow.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Mrs.T said...

Its weird to see the picture of Mr.T, then see the words 'old boy' in that context..

I like it... will it continue?

6:46 PM  
Blogger fugusashi said...

I love this.

11:58 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

That's a good question, Mrs. T. The answer is no, I consider that to be the natural ending. This is meant to be one of those stories that asks a lot from the reader. I have my own idea of what the boyfriend will say and so do you. It's provoking, isn't it?

Thanks for the kind words, Paula!

4:57 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Good stuff Schprock. I like the way you've mixed in a different point of view from your normal posting style, and that you are telling a colorful story, but I think you are an incredible tease!

8:11 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Great writing as always.

8:13 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"…but I think you are an incredible tease!"

Wouldn't this be the perfect project for an English teacher to give to his/her class? "Finish this story in 500 words, due Monday." Not to mention the discussion a subject like this would engender.

Thank you, Trina.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Top Notch--I bet you'll make Mr Toodlebottom very proud with that one.
I tell you I wish I could write like that.
Great stuff.

9:59 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

I don't know, Henry. Toodlebottom thinks I'm working on his memoirs right now. I'm kind of keeping things on the down-low for the time being…

10:26 AM  
Blogger John said...

"Clarissa…” he began.

"Hey, you know, Clarissa, I just had a pretty wild idea."

"What is it?" Clarissa asked.

"Well I, uh, I'm not sure how you pronounce it or anything, but I, uh, I
believe it's Ménage à Trois?"

11:30 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

You bad, bad boy, you.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I came to praise you and then saw Mrs. T's comment about Mr. T saying "old boy" and started cracking up.

I love when that happens. The unplanned.

Nice writing. You remind me of Rowling.

3:51 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Thanks knitter. I love the Harry Potter books. I've got them all (including audio — Jim Dale, the reader, is amazing!)

3:57 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

You remind me of a Rowling Pin.
Couldn't resist, sorry.
And it is pretty funny to see a picture of Mr T and him saying, Great Prose....
He must be sedated with that drug they used to give him to get on airplanes.

3:46 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Your humor bowls me over, Henry.

3:51 AM  

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