Tuesday, April 13, 2021

It Starts with a Train by Magdalene Bird

 My heart has been tilted off its axis and it’s free spinning and I have not yet calculated if it will land in fear or excitement but I know that I need to walk faster or I will miss this train.

 
Legs scorched in the cold air, I wonder if the houses that face the main road recognise me as the lady that runs for trains. I hope they do. I hope they would notice if I died or moved away. If a child would ask about me, with a mouth full of questions and over-cooked broccoli it’s small hands covertly dropping carrots to the unfaithful dog. Children notice things like that. I hope.
 
I’d better concentrate, listen and ask questions not just invade the conversation. Again. He’s a Nice Man you see. I no longer know what that looks like, but I’m pretty sure it still has the same currency as before. That’s if I trust my sister’s judgement. Which I don’t. But I must, because I need to challenge myself before I become too comfortable with being a hermit.
 
My hermit routine is almost perfect, like I’ve lost the flavour for any meal other than porridge. Which I eat every morning. At the same time. Even my body won’t stay in bed past eight.
 
 The bus I had been waiting for passes me, collecting people like a politician collects his thoughts: consciously planned and today I was not in his favour. A man beeps his horn at the red eyes of the bus and then from his mouth hurls gum onto the road.
 
He’s a Nice Man, she said. I don’t think he is the type of man to do that, but I’m not the most perceptive when I’m drunk. And I was drunk.
 
I blame the straws; it’s like a race to get to the bottom before the clock strikes midnight and I’m drinking papier-mâché.
 
Horn Beeper’s chewing gum joins the pattern on the road, kissing the words: ‘traffic’ into the hard cushion of tarmac. My toes go numb. I am nervous. We’ve had sex already, but I am nervous. He either feels cornered into the date or wants me for sex. There’s no middle ground.
 
Which seems unfair. I’ve pushed him into a hyper-masculine-lack-of-feelings or a hyper-feminine-fragility. But I can’t think in anything less than extremes.
 
I have a tendency to be optimistically morose and verbose sometimes, but that’s why I know I will make it to the train. I stretch my legs two steps at a time forever grateful to the rich fuckers that made trousers popular.
 
It’s Spring and the birds are alive. That’s what they’re telling us. They’re calling to the still drowsy buds to wake up, even as the sky burns a tragic death into the horizon. I check my phone to see how many milliseconds I have until the train. But mainly to see if he’s texted me to cancel. He hasn’t. I punch up the stairs as the train closes in.
 
 
 
I enter the stale warmth of the first carriage with a Woman whose bag is at an angle that makes her look like she has an erection. She sits a few rows away but I can see her in the train’s reflection. Her cheeks are taught, her corners turn down, brows in and if her eyes look up I would see the second before tears walk out.
 
‘Hi there, my name is Vera. Can I help you?’ No.
 
‘Hi there, my name is Vera. How are you feeling today’. Sounds too much like a phone call centre.
 
Maybe I could give her tissues. If I had tissues. I’m not the sort of person to bring tissues. Or rather clean ones. In my backpack I have used scrunches of toilet paper worn by friction into fragile threads or hardened clumps.
 
 
Instead I look out. Give her privacy. I think I’d want privacy.
 
 
It begins to rain outside and two seagulls slip through it: single file wings smooth like a pebble on a beach.
 
We stop on the tracks to let a train pass, it’s carriage so long that time stands still. The baby in the expensive pram waits till the train fades, before it lets out a wail so high my ovaries shrivel.
 
I used to want children. My children with the Nice Man would be attractive, tight curls and caramel skin. I’m getting ahead of myself, dropping feelings like I’d dropped my not-quite-lingerie. That won’t happen again, I promise my reflection in the window. I want him to like me.
 
Mechanical blue cranes fish for something in the network of scaffolding. Soon to be but not yet. That’s what London feels like here: Soon to be but not yet. Uneven brickwork, graffiti walls, broken windows and thousands of chimneys all with new signs promising construction.
 
The train stops suddenly and no-one notices mayhem flicker near some kindling. We all think another train will pass by. The dog ten legs away from me quivers, legs rigid, ears up. No train passes by. But we wait.
 
The Man with gold statues hanging off his lobes whispers too loudly to his lover and we all enter a shared world of panic.
 
There’s a Man with a Knife on the tracks.
 
We all gradually get up.
 
Uncertain if we are safe in this metal can. Metal is thicker than flesh I think. But I’m not sure anymore.
Feelings are written in the air.
 
The Driver cracks open the speakers to tell us that we are ‘experiencing minor delays due to an obstruction on the track’.
 
The Driver does not know that we can see the man with the knife, but I’m sure the carriages behind feel relieved.
 
The Man with the Knife on the tracks wears no shirt and is stabbing the air. His stomach is four beers pregnant with grey chest hair that hangs straight.
 
I don’t think I’ve ever seen straight chest hair. If he was closer I could see that it was in fact a trick of the light and was curled like everyone else’s. Like the Nice Man’s.
 
 
He is closer. They are straight. He is now stabbing the side of our carriage and the Woman with the Erection Bag is suggesting we emergency open the door on the other side, whilst the Man with the gold statues on his ears is feverishly arguing that we go to the next carriage down. The dead light catches the gold swaying with his fear. His lover is a photograph, long limbs frozen in fear. His body had rejected both fight and flight.
 
 
I cannot feel my toes.
 
 
The Man with the Knife and Grey (straight) Chest Hair is at the door to our carriage and seems to be fiddling.
 
The Driver gives up the pretence and tells ‘carriage one to embark into carriage two as calmly as possible.’
 
I shuffle in time to the scurry of others.
 
The expensive pram has been left.
 
The dog is barking.
 
The carriage door locks in a way that makes us safe from the Man with the knife but makes me suspicious of what would happen in a fire.
 
The drama climbs off unsatisfied. The police slowly arrive and we recover our private ignorance of each other. We are strangers again.
 
 
 
But I think I’m giddy.
 
So I arrive late.
 
And we have sex.
 
And I don’t cum.
 
And I take the train home.
 
 
He’s a Nice Man.


© Magdalene Bird

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