another kind of life
Just a clot, nothing serious.
I am already on the train when I get the call. Jesse tells me vague things.
It didn’t happen to me.
The guy next to me talks on his cell phone the entire time.
Outside the sky changes from pale green to dull gray. The rain is forever coming down. The train moves slowly from one station to the next. Each small black sign heralds a new town, then shrinks from view.
Finally the towns run out. The train stops, and then begins moving backward, returning to the place it came from. Inside the hollow and empty train cars, the bare seats are dark and forlorn.
I stand in the rain and look at a train schedule. Columns of numbers meaning nothing. The pages of a novel, partially thrust into a jacket pocket, slowly becoming wet.
Eventually a new train comes and takes me the rest of the way.
At the station most of the other passengers seem to evaporate into thin air, or vanish into a handful of cars in the parking lot. In front of the station, a narrow bench sits beside a locked door. Salt has been dumped on the ground in a haphazard manner.
The soles of my sneakers dig into the salt and pierce the silence of the empty parking lot.
In the distance, where the cracked surface of an asphalt sea ends, a few black lines cross overhead. Beyond them, the remains of a hotel seem to stand defiantly against the onslaught of weeds, neglect, and the slow march of time itself.
To the left of the parking lot, a line of dead trees halfheartedly obscures a large wooden sign advertising topsoil. To the right, a highway meets the train tracks, where an occasional car comes to rest only for a moment, the crossing gate providing a slight hiccup in the grand scheme of things.
And the rain is forever coming down.
I mix rye with Coca Cola and throw in two maraschino cherries.
When we drive, empty and dead fields zip by the windows, forming an endless brown canvas.
In places long since put out of mind, I seem to be tracing old steps.
I don’t see much of anyone this time. Just my nieces and my little brother, his wife, and my mother.
Just the same, and all too soon, that out-of-place feeling comes sweeping in. I panic and wonder how quickly I can escape the feeling of not belonging, sinking back into my familiar under-a-rock routine. In New York, where a man can be mercifully swallowed up and forgotten, I can slip back into the featureless waves and eddies of lost souls and soulless people.
I read incessantly and sneak some M&Ms to my oldest niece who laughs when I whistle.
“I am very glad you’re here,” she says in almost a whisper.
In the morning I pour milk into sippy cups for her and her sister. Then we go into the playroom and color.
“I’ve noticed you haven’t been smoking,” my sister-in-law says.
Hearing those words, I immediately want to feel my lungs tighten beneath tobacco smoke.
“To be fair, man, it’s not like you even smoke a lot…you know, one after another…” Tom reassures me.
But to me it’s a familiar weight. Something I miss bearing down on me. Something I long to have eating away at me.
I get hugs and kisses from my nieces, and pound my little brother on the back.
The last glow of sunlight is disappearing into low, dark curves of horizon. Soon a train will come and take me back to another kind of place, another kind of life.
Finishing a short story by Haruki Murakami, I sink back into my seat, to mull things over and collect my thoughts.
In the window, the reflection of someone old and tired, someone pulled this way and that. Stretched too thin. And the feeling that there’s always some part of you, torn away and left behind. And that it will always be that way, until there’s nothing left to feel the loss.