I looked out the train window and tried to catch the trees with my eyes as they passed. My eyes were too tired.
"What did you come here for, Clara?" As I said the word here, the window fogged, and I wanted something about this visit to be that tangible, to stay long enough for me to write my name in it. I lifted my finger up, and the fog disappeared.
"It's a crime, I guess, to visit nowadays." I could feel her eyes looking past me and out the window. She said 'nowadays' like we'd been living a hundred years."
"Do you wanna switch seats?" She stood up, a more violent answer than a "yes." Or, at least, more seeable. As I slid over her, I felt what I hoped were her breasts against my back, and that, I supposed, was worth switching seats. I continued looking out the window from my new position on the aisle.
"If you didn't want to switch -"
"It's a long way, though. I mean, it was a long way for you to come."
Clara ran her hand along the glass of the window. Someone had scratched "fuck you" into it. "It's a shame," she said as her finger hit the f, and I didn't know if she meant the vandalism or what I'd said.
Clara had ridden the AmTrak all the way from Georgia to New York. Two days before, she'd knocked on my door, saying that she had missed me and that she was bored. We had been, still were, friends. Once, on a volleyball court in an apartment complex, we had even had sex. But we didn't discuss it the day after or any day at all, for that matter. I just lived hoping it would happen again while, I supposed, she lived hoping it wouldn't. She hated the city terribly and suggested today that we take the train north. I didn't really care, so I said okay.
"Tuckahoe," she said, echoing the guy's voice on the speaker.
"You want to get off?"
"Always on your mind." She smiled.
"Bringing Willie into this?"
"It's usually involved," she said, looking out the window, coolly, and I thought, plainly.
"Really, though. We got to pay now."
Clara spread the map out on her lap. "Close your eyes," she said, grabbing my hand. She ran my finger up and down the train line until I said "stop." With my eyes closed, I imagined no map, only her legs and my finger.
"Croton Falls, it is. You been there?"
"Up here," I said, pointing at my head, "I'm already-"
"You shouldn't do those sorts of things."
"You look silly, and besides, you'll get your finger dirty."
My hair, I supposed, was that dirty. I lifted my finger up to my nose, sniffing, to make her laugh. It worked. Her lips stretched, and she let out a noise that I can only describe as heavy. The cold sore on her lip seemed to crack, and I wondered if it would bleed. I also wondered if those things were contagious. But above anything, I wanted to kiss her. She stopped laughing, so I sniffed my finger again, but it didn't work. But as I smelled- really smelled- of my finger, I thought I could detect her leg under the scent of the peanut butter toast and the cigarette.
"Slick," Clara said, as she touched the back of the seat in front of her. The word made me think of sex. "They should use vinyl on AmTrak, too. Much easier to keep clean," she continued.
"The thing is, Clara, when you showed up yesterday, you really did. You really looked like you'd been hit by a train, y'know. And I know that's a stupid way to put it. A trainwreck and all, but it's-"
"Thanks a lot." She ran the palm of her hand over her forehead.
"And you said you felt dirty from the train ride, but that wasn't it."
"And the compliments, they keep acomin'." She sang the words like a country song. I wanted, just for a second, to squeeze her face, hard, until her teeth cut into the inside of her cheek. I pictured her cold sore, crinkled in the crevices of her lip.
"Croton Falls. The two of us," I said to the ticket man. He punched my ticket, and then stood there a minute.
"You sure, miss? Croton Falls?"
I turned and looked at Clara. She was tracing the "fuck you" with her finger as fast as she could, as if there were purpose to it. I said her name, but she continued in her business, facing the window. I squeezed her elbow, "Hey, Clara."
She tilted her head back and looked at the ceiling. The man began to punch her ticket. "Wait."
The man stopped and hunched forward a little."
Nevermind," she said and looked out the window. The man shrugged a little, so that only I could see. I felt bad for him. It wasn't my fault. Still, I felt the urge to say, "Women," with a sigh. Something so he would know. Something so he and I would know. But it was more than that.
"You okay?" I asked, as I wondered if I really cared.
"I saw this movie last week."
"Oh yeah?" I could do movies. "What was it called?"
"I can't remember. It was really good, though."
"All right. What was it about?"
"I don't know. But it was sorta like this. Two people on a train."
"Well, something had to happen."
"I don't know. The ending was good. I mean, it was all right. Everything was all right."
"Did you rent it or what?" I waited for an answer, didn't get one, and continued, "With all of those specifics you gave me, I can't believe I don't know what movie-"
"It doesn't matter."
"Yeah it does. Either we're talking about a movie or we're not."
"I was talking about a movie, and now I'm done."
"What was the point, exactly? You didn't recommend it. I mean, you don't even know what it is."
"I don't know why I always gotta have exact points," she sighed.
"Did you put any medicine on that cold sore?"
She lightly rubbed the sore, back and forth. "I have approximate points."
"Does it hurt?"
"Not really. It's just embarrassing is all. Like, 'Hello world!'"
"It's not so bad."
"I enjoyed it is what I meant."
"What? Oh, right. The movie. That's enough, I guess."
"That's all, really."
I wanted to touch her. Somewhere, it didn't matter. I didn't have time to think of anything smooth. But I coulda done better than I did. I pulled her hair.
"Ow," she said, rubbing her head, "What the hell you do that for?"
"Just messin' around."
"We're not in second grade, y'know."
I sniffed my finger. She laughed.
"I just like saying your name and having you answer," she said, taking my hand in hers. I didn't really know what to say next. I wanted to say something very truthful, very thoughtful, very sincere. But I couldn't really think of what that would be. Or what it would mean, really, to her. I finally settled with, "You're pretty."
"Nah," she said.
"All right." She looked down, and I supposed she didn't know what to make of what I'd said. But I just didn't care. Or I did care, maybe, about her, but not about whether she was pretty or not. And I was a little annoyed that she was caring, but I shouldn't have been. I had started it, after all. Then, I thought, that if I cared about her, I would care that she was a little hurt at my "all right" comment. And that I could do something about it, say something like, "no really, you are." But that seemed so dumb. At this point.
"Skippy said you've been running around with some assholes lately," I said.
"When'd ya talk to him?"
"I don't know. A week ago, maybe."
"Him included, I suppose."
"No, you know what I mean. Is it true?"
"Is what fucking true? That my friends are assholes?"
"Jeez. Don't get all defensive and everything. I mean, I don't even know."
"You don't even know."
"Like your boyfriends and stuff."
"You're jealous or something?" She asked, looking out the window and wriggling her hand out of mine. I wasn't jealous. I'd just heard that she'd been having a rough time of it.
"Well, what did you come here for, then?"
"Damn it. A break. I missed you. What's so hard about that?"
"I would never think to go to Georgia, especially on the goddamn AmTrak."
"That's the difference between you and me," she said.
"Oh hell. Did you get that from that damn movie or something?"
"Maybe we shouldn't go to Croton Falls."
"C'mon. I didn't mean anything. You're fun to have around."
"That makes no sense. No sense whatever."
"Here's what I think," I said. "Can you look at me? Because I mean it." She turned from the window. She had her lips rolled into her mouth, so that all I could see was the very top of her cold sore. "I think, I think that I don't really care."
"So, you're not jealous?"
"No. I mean, about anything."
"You're depressed or something? Because it's so lame to kill yourself."
"I'm fine. Most of the time, I just feel, like, what's the big deal, y'know, of it all?"
"I think so. Especially today. I came along with you on the train."
"Shit, Devlin, you've been prying at me since we've been on the damn thing."
"I was curious is all. I wondered why a person would do that."
"For fun should satisfy it."
"For fun? Really?"
"Shut up," I said. The whole train ride began to get really funny to me. Me wanting answers, the fuck you on the window, the ticket guy, the holding hands, the cold sore. It was so damn funny and really sexy to me, when I thought about it. I laughed. "This is fun," I said.
"We should get a hotel room in Croton Falls," I said, staring at Clara.
"We got our own train car."
I looked at her to see if she was serious. She was smiling, her cold sore stretched. I leaned forward to see if she would try to dodge me. She leaned in. I began to kiss her. It had been a long time since I had kissed a girl. Her mouth tasted really red to me, and I wondered if she had bitten the insides of her cheek, or if somehow the taste of the cold sore had gotten on her tongue. As we were kissing, Clara put her backpack over her lap and pulled her pants down. It was clumsy work, and I laughed. I wondered if she would laugh if I pulled my pants down. I loved making her laugh. But I didn't. I took my finger and ran it over her leg where the map had been until it finally reached that warm place. I put my finger inside of her while I kissed her closed eyes. All of this was so good to me, so like middle school or something. But her eyes were crinkled, they were so tightly shut. I couldn't tell if she was all right.
"He did graffiti, all around town," she said.
"What Clara? Who?" I said, my finger still inside of her.
"Big red letters, that I didn't understand. Tags, or something, he called them."
I took my finger out of her and began trying to pull her pants up for her.
"I worried sometimes that I was a building, that somehow I would be stained. Red, permanent, with the stench of paint."
"I'm sorry, Clara. You're fine though. I mean, you'll be all right now," I brushed her blonde hair from her forehead.
"I know," she said. "That's why I came here."--Britt Norris
Free Williamsburg | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | August 2000 | Volume 6