A Train Waits at a Station

A train has pulled into the station, and waits, humming gently with the still-working engine. It has been at the station for a while, because of a delay on the track further on. The passengers are in no hurry, though. They walk along the platform, from this side to that, strolling arm in arm or alone. They’ve come from a great many places. Some of them have been on the train for a long time and are only too glad to stretch their legs, while others got on only one or two stops ago, and walk along curiously, as if unsure whether or not their journey has actually begun at all.

The cars of the train are all empty, except for the driver who sits in his cabin, idly smoking a cigarette out his small window, and the conductor who walks down the train to inspect each compartment. She reaches the last car, which is always empty of travelers.

The last car is quite odd and unlike all the others. It’s decorated: frames hang on the wall, holding canvases painted with people, landscapes, abstract shapes and sometimes only a few words. But the conductor is used to these, and focuses only on the other things that litter the floor. In the very middle of the carpeted floor lies an orb of many colors. The conductor is one of the rare people who see words in colors, and the gem shines to her in the earthy-brown of deep-rooted friendship, the blood-red of family and parenthood, the bright yellow of childhood and the misty lilac of memories. The orb, made of finely spun glass, glows brightly so that the walls and picture-frames are all lit with stripes of this color or that.

The conductor takes the orb in her hands and carefully wraps it in tissue paper. The light still comes through the paper, and she puts the orb in a small straw box that closes. Through the cracks in the woven straw glints still the light of the colored orb. She puts the straw box in a bigger metal lock-box and clasps it tightly. There, the light now isn’t visible. As an extra precaution, though, she puts the box in a briefcase and locks it. Around her, there are still a suitcase big enough to hold the briefcase, and a steamer-trunk big enough to hold the suitcase. The car itself has a lock on its door, although it’s usually left open.

The conductor leaves, hoping the metal box will be enough to keep the tender orb safe and sound. She walks back up the train, her thoughts dwelling on a strange question – if the orb shines in the box, then is it really shining or could it go out without anyone being the wiser? The thought of the light disappearing brings her incomparable, unexplainable grief. But, as she glances at her watch, she realizes that it will be time soon to call the passengers aboard and keep going, and so she forces herself to get on with her duties.

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Samantha and Frank

It was on a bright day in the middle of January that Samantha realized that her cat, Frank, had taken over her life. On that day, Samantha was driving her old Honda to her mindless office job. She was looking forward to work in a vague sort of way, mostly because she wanted to hear Roseann’s latest dramatic episode in her relationship with her ex-husband-current-sometimes-boyfriend. Samantha enjoyed those stories immensely, since Roseann was an intelligent woman who had the charming quality of being able to make fun of herself, and Samantha felt the need for a laugh.

The old car had no CD player, and of course no connection for her iPod – which was good, since it was on the fritz and was working only sporadically – so Samantha spent the drive to work listening to the radio. That morning, in January, she happened upon a talk-show, one of the many that featured uproariously funny hosts (at least, in their own minds) who spoke very fast. She realized soon that the host’s project that morning was dissing people with pets. He was talking to someone who rescued animals on the street and made various mean-spirited jokes about the subject until the guest thanked him sarcastically and finished the interview. Samantha had laughed – this particular show was one she enjoyed, because the host was funny sometimes – but she stopped abruptly when he started reading off a fax he’d gotten.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” he drawled, his voice fizzing in and out of the old speakers. “I have here a fax by Miss Mary K. P. and she’s written a very nice list here. So, get out your pens, all of you pet owners out there, and let’s see if your pet has taken over your life! Miss Mary K. P., as promised, you’ll be getting a free t-shirt from the network. Let’s go.”

Samantha smiled indulgently as she wondered how many of the items on the list would fit her profile, but soon she began to frown in concern. Soon after that she began to laugh uncomfortably, and, finally, she wore a fake expression of calm as she pulled into the office parking lot and decided that she had to get out more.

“First,” the talk show host had said. “If you feed your pet before you feed yourself – it’s taking over your life. Second, if you talk to it more than you talk on the phone – it’s taking over your life. Third, if you talk to it as if it’s a human being who understands your every word – it’s taking over your life. Fourth, if you hug it more than five times a day – it’s taking over your life. Fifth, if you live vicariously through other people’s stories, but interact with your pet more than with other people outside your home – it’s taking over your life.”

The list had gone on, and Samantha realized that yes, Frank had taken over her life. The problem was that even though she knew that she should do something about it… She really didn’t feel like it.

As If (More Jessica)

So Jill finally gets to the store – late again! I swear, she spends more time on her hair than I do, and that’s saying something, you know? I mean, fine, sure, she’s got curly hair so she needs to straighten it every day and that takes time and stuff, but still – it’s not like Mr. Jacobs remembers to pay me overtime. Anyway, she’s finally here and I’m pretty angry by now since it’s almost five-thirty and my shift was supposed to end at five.

“Um, double-you-tee-eff, Jill?” I ask as she comes in.

“Sorry, sorry babes! Oh my gosh, is it really that late? Oh, I’m so sorry,” she’s such a gusher, it’s so annoying! “But Jessi-babes,” and I hate that she calls me Jessi. “You’ve got to listen, the most amzinglicious thing happened. I was walking out of my car, right? And this guy was, like, leaning against this yummilicious Ferrari and he was texting on his phone or something, and he looked so bored and then I tripped, right? I mean, these heals are new, and it was so embarrassing.” Does she realize that I’m still here? I should be halfway home now! “But he was really sweet and helped me up and asked if I tore my jeans or anything, and I said no, but that it was so nice of him to ask and not laugh and we got to talking – and have I mentioned how hot he was? Anyway, so we talked and I gave him my number!” She looks so excited, it’s really so sad that I have to say what I have to say. But I do.

“Yeah, Jill?” I say, and I take my purse from under the counter. “That’s Robbie, he’s my roommate, he’s been waiting to pick me up from my shift.” I can’t help gritting my teeth a little, I mean, come on, she hit on my roommate and that’s a good excuse for making me stay an extra half hour? As if!

Jill giggles. I hate her giggle. I mean, I like her, don’t get my wrong, and when we have shifts together – only on weekends when there’s a rush of customers at the mall – then I kinda like hanging out with her. She can be funny and stuff, but I hate. Her. Giggle. “Oh-em-gee, Jessi-babes! You’ve got a hottie like that for a roommate? Jealous much. So can you make sure he calls me?”

As if. I am so not making Robbie call her. “Sweetie, he’s gay,” I tell her. Ha! I love seeing women’s faces doing that crumply thing they do when I tell them about Robbie. They get all disappointed and then, the inevitable comes along…

“But he doesn’t look gay!” she says. See, now I just kind of hate her a little bit. I mean, come on, not everyone fits a stereotype, you know? I mean, Robbie sure doesn’t. Anyway, I don’t know, my mom said the same thing when she met him when I told her we were moving in together after college. She totally didn’t believe me at first, she was so sure that we were going to get married and stuff. It wasn’t until I told her flat out that I could produce video proof that she backed down. I was bluffing, obviously – I mean, as if, Robbie hasn’t had a date in months! Sweet guy, but he only knows how to hit on girls. It’s kind of funny, really, he’s just this big flirt, but he clams up around guys he likes.

“Well, I’m getting out of here, okay? Mr. Jacobs is in a mucho bad mood so watch out. He caught this rich lady stealing and now she’s saying she’s going to sue and stuff. So, like, be careful.” I air-kiss Jill and I leave the store.

Oh! Text. Let’s see… Oh, it’s Robbie, of course: “Jess, Jess, Where art thou, my dove?” He’s so funny! He was an English major (duh) and he is so funny about his texts, he always writes really long ones and uses capital letters and stuff. I text back “c ya in a min” and I start to go down the escalator.

Three Cars at a Curb/Another Award?

The first car is what they call a clunker. It’s unclear whether the original color was tan or yellow – it’s so dirty that it looks gray more than anything else. The back window is full of bumper stickers. One says “Save the Whales!” Another reads “Keep Calm and Carry On.” There are at least twenty more, seemingly random. There are two conflicting ones, side by side, supporting opposing political parties. Other than the stickers, there isn’t much that distinguishes the car from dozens of other similarly dirty, old cars that are scattered around the city. But the stickers give the car character – it’s almost possible to see the teenager driving it, enjoying the confusion as people behind him in traffic try to figure him. He jokes with his friends that his car provides entertainment – something to read on the road. Secretly, he fears someone will cut his tires one day, because they won’t find his ironic take on issues to be amusing.

The second car is stunning, spotless and gleaming in the sun. It looks like a commercial rather than a real car. The curves and planes, the perfect proportions and stylish color – they reek of money. Lots and lots of money.
Every passerby looks at it with a mix of admiration and envy. Some want the car, but some just don’t want the owner to have it. The car has tinted windows, which gives it an air of mystery. Maybe the solution to it is the woman inside, cowering as people peer closely at the car, hoping the windows will do the trick and keep prying eyes out. She has a black eye and a cut lip, and her clothing is piled up in the back seats, haphazardly. All the money she owns is in the glove compartment and she’s spent the day on the phone getting her boss to allow her some paid leave. Just until that pesky cough of hers goes away. Why paid? Because she needs a little extra this month – you know how it is, the taxes are always going up, up, up. The paid leave is given, but she doesn’t want to emerge in daylight. No one needs to know what she’s gone through.

The third car seems dull, after the first two. Not a clunker, not a stunner. It’s just a medium sized sedan, clean, but not gleaming. It has no distinguishing features whatsoever. It doesn’t seem to have any story behind it at all. The people walking along would never notice it – it’s just another car. They wouldn’t even guess that the owners were trying to have a baby, that there were problems and treatments and horrors to go through, that the couple’s relationship seemed to be fraying day by day with the mounting pressure, that they might one day break up, and then who gets the car? Well, the passerby won’t know any of that, but maybe, if they live in the area, they’ll notice one day that the woman is pregnant and glowing and driving off to Lamaze class. Or maybe, instead, they’ll see the man driving off in a rage, never to be seen again. Maybe the car itself doesn’t have a story, but it has, like everything, a story hiding just behind it.

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I can’t believe that I forgot to mention Desiree in my post yesterday… She writes beautifully, and her poems break my heart sometimes. She awarded me this, for which I thank her deeply. I’d like anyone, everyone, who wants to, to receive this award. Because (corny warning!) I truly feel that every one of you whose blogs I read has a magic touch. You all make me think, smile, laugh and cry, and to me, that’s what writing is about – making others feel something. And making someone feel something… well, that’s magic. (I warned you, I warned you! But I mean it.)

The Little Moments

-I sat in the kitchen this morning, eating cereal and reading a book as usual. The book, A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, is incredible. But my eyes kept straying to the big kitchen windows, and the glorious clouds visible through them. They were white and fluffy, but had grey lining in one direction, making them seem like an artists rendering in pencil.

-I looked at the salesman in the Nissan dealership, and I saw that he genuinely wanted to sell us a car. It was his job, and I knew he got paid by commission, but I appreciated the sincerity in his gaze, as well as his manners.

-My mom and I sat behind a gas station eating yogurts and brownies and chips, our only snack between about nine and four-thirty in the afternoon. The wind was blowing my hair all over the place, but it felt so nice, so comfortable. I could feel the hairs tingling on my arms with the slightest chill, but ignored it and turned my face into the wind.

-I was reunited with my book during my exercise walk. I read avidly, walking as fast as I could, but at the same time heard the silence of the afternoon settle around my pounding footsteps and my ragged breath. My sweat dripped down my forehead, but I was so immersed in my book that I hardly felt it.

-Chatting over coffee with my mom, I felt like an adult, trying to decide on a car to buy. My opinion meant something, and I could contribute. I’ve been doing this for a long time, ever since I aged almost overnight when I was fifteen years old, but it still feels like a marvel when I stop to think about it.

It’s the little moments, the good moments, that can make a day tolerable. They can even make it good.

The Night Greg Died

Greg died in a car crash. The police say they don’t know exactly what happened, but that someone must have rammed him off the road. They say that they’re on the lookout for badly dented green cars on the highways. When I asked why they were only looking for green cars, they told me that they’d found some green dust inside the big dent in Greg’s car. The dent that was so bad that the door caved half-way in. The dent that punched Greg in the stomach and killed him even before he crashed into the metal railings on the highway.

Myra and I know that the police aren’t going to find a darn thing by looking out for green cars. Whoever rammed into Greg is long gone. Maybe they feel guilty for killing a man. Then again, maybe they’re just relieved that they got away with it. Maybe they don’t even read the papers and don’t have any idea that he died. I sure as hell don’t read the papers anymore. They’ve gotten too depressing.

“You know what’s weird?” Myra asked me at around three in the morning. We’d been sitting up having coffee after coffee ever since the police came and went.

“What?” My voice was all croaky, like a morning voice only worse because I’d been crying. We both had.

“That Greg died in a car crash. I always thought he’d scrape himself off the road on that red beast of his, but in the end it was in his dad’s ratty car and it wasn’t even his fault.”

I knew what she meant. My eyes slid to the photo that hung on the wall, behind Myra. It was taken the day Greg bought his red Suzuki motorcycle. He’d been so proud of it – of her. He’d named her Tessie. Myra and I always freaked his dates out by telling them that no matter what, Greg would always love Tessie more than he’d love them. Then he’d take them out to see her, and the girls would simper and giggle and hate Myra and me. That was okay. We usually hated the girls – they were all much to air-headed to be called women – that Greg went out with.

In the photo, I saw Myra and Greg and me. Tessie was leaning on her kickstand, and Greg was sitting on her, sidesaddle, his arms crossed across his chest and that goofy grin of his spread across his face. His hair was longer that summer, almost down to his shoulders, and the wind had blown a couple lanky strands of it into his face when the photo was taken. Myra was standing behind him and her arms were flung around him, head poking from one side, face scrunched in her usual photo-pose – lips puckered in an exaggerated kiss. Her hair was in its usual bun, trying to restrain her wild ginger curls. Then there’s me. I was standing next to Greg, one hand resting on Tessie’s gleaming handlebar, the other making a peace-sign behind Myra’s head, giving her horns. I’m smiling to, my tight-lipped smile, my photo smile. I can’t for the life of me smile my real grin, all teeth and open mouth, when I’m in front of a camera. So my smile looks fake in that photo. It was the summer that my hair was bubble-gum pink.

That photo was taken six years ago, when Myra, Greg and me all got an apartment together during the summer between freshmen and sophomore years at college. We’ve lived here ever since, a small three-bedroom with a kitchen so tiny we need to literally squeeze around each other when we’re all in here. The dining room and living room are slightly bigger, and it’s around the table we used to eat at with Greg that Myra and I sat at three in the morning that night.

After tearing my eyes away from the photo, I saw Myra staring at Greg’s place at the table. The MAD magazine he’d just gotten that morning was still at his place, open to one of the articles. I felt the same tears prickle in my eyes as those starting to roll down Myra’s cheeks.

“It’s not fair,” Myra said.

“Nope.

“Nobody should die when they’re twenty-five.”

“They sure shouldn’t.”

I must have said something wrong, or maybe my tone of voice was too flat for her to deal with. She looked up at me, her eyes blazing, and threw her coffee cup against the wall behind me before running to her room and slamming the door. I still hadn’t moved when I heard more objects being thrown around in there. But after another small eternity of staring at that photo of us all, I got up to get the broom and started to sweep up the pieces of cheap porcelain scattered on the floor.

Dramatic Scene…?

“I know what you’re thinking,” shot Max at Deirdre. “You’re always thinking the same damn thing. You’re thinking that I shouldn’t go. You’re thinking that I’m being stupid. Just say it already!”

Deirdre looked coolly back at Max’s angry expression. She could have scratched her face off, for plainly showing her thoughts and emotions as it so clearly was. It was too late to fix the expression that had jumped unwillingly to it when Max had told her he was going out. She settled for pretending innocence instead.

“I’m not thinking a blessed thing, boy.”

“The hell you’re not,” Max spat back.

“Well, I’ve got nothing to say to you when you’re in such a foul mood,” Deirdre didn’t give up her act, but gave Max a bland look before turning her back to him. He knew everything she could say to deter him already. It was true that she thought him a fool for going, yet again, and there was no point in having another argument on the subject. Max would do what he wanted, and that was that.

A few minutes passed. Deirdre sat at her vanity, staring blindly at her own reflection. Finally, she heard the sound that she’d been expecting. The front door slammed with a force to shake the very panes of glass in it. She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, screwing her face up in pain.

 

Max waited outside the front door, wondering if this time Deirdre would come after him. But no, the minutes passed and still there was no sound of footsteps inside the large, boring suburban box of a house. He sighed and ran a hand over his face. Taking his car keys out of his pocket, he strode off down to the curb and unlocked, with an unobtrusive beep, the luxurious car parked in front of the closed garage door. He climbed into the front seat, put the key in the ignition, and turned it.

The effect was immediate. His seat bent down all the way back, several contraptions started moving around and making metallic noises, and the car began to pull out of the driveway and zoom down the street on its own.

When Max’s seat came back up, he was dressed in a black, skintight outfit, with a white mask covering his entire face except for a slit for his eyes.

Off to save… someone, Max thought, tiredly. Damn it.

He thought of Deirdre, her shimmering blonde hair running down her back in dripping strands as she took yet another hot shower. She always took showers when he went out on jobs. She seemed to like the sensation of heat when she was upset. Max took cold showers when he was upset. It was one of the many ways in which they differed. Another, rather crucial, point of difference, was that Deirdre wasn’t a superhero. Max was. He was really very tired of it.