This is a story I wrote back when I was only twenty-years-old. It's called "TRAIN TO BALTIMORE." While it is tempting to believe that anything written by a twenty-year-old is autobiographical, I must warn you that much of what happened to me when I was that age happened in my own mind. That's not to say that my imagination wasn't inspired by my "real" life... Let's just say that this story is what they call "true to life," rather than a true reflection of my real life. That said, I hope you enjoy it =-)
TRAIN TO BALTIMORE
The cacophonous tug of the train pulling out jerked her head back against the headrest, and she turned to look past her own murky reflection in the dark window.
“I thought you weren’t going to call me for a week...that’s tomorrow.”
It’s only three hours to Baltimore, two and a half really, everything will be okay… It will. It’s just hard to be so far away, she thought.
“I wasn’t, but I felt like it...and this was my idea anyway...my rules.”
As the train trundled noisily out from under the river, the conversation that had provoked this journey still echoed in her mind.
The car was almost empty except for an elderly couple two rows in front of her, and a young redheaded man across the aisle and one row up. As they emerged from the tunnel, the engine began to pick up speed. The jostling movements became smoother and more rhythmic, lulling her, pulling her deeper into her own thoughts. She closed her eyes and her mind drifted to the ride home from work earlier that evening.
She had been waiting for the subway, and as it approached, an irrational flash of panic crossed her mind. Suddenly, she considered the possibility of someone pushing her onto the tracks. She had read about it happening sometimes to unsuspecting women. She knew this was unlikely, but nonetheless, she braced her feet and moved back from the edge of the platform so that if anyone pushed, she would only fall against the pavement. As she moved back, her imagination vividly conjured the scenario; she could almost feel the sensation of falling, the loss of balance accompanied by a loss of breath, and then the slap of her forearms and palms against the icy gray cement. The cold burned the delicate flesh of the underside of her forearms, and she thought of the cement chilling the blood that ran through the bluish veins that anyone could see so clearly though her transparent pale skin. Just then, the train came to a halt and the doors shot open.
She quickly stepped into the car and sat down. She knew why her mind was cluttered with neurotic fears...a week of not talking to Curtis was getting to her. All week she had felt as though some force over which she had no control was pushing her forward. When she got home, she had broken down and called him a day early. The phone rang three times, and he had answered "hello" just as she had been pulling the receiver away from her ear to hang up.
“Hello,” she responded softly.
“Yeah, it's me...”
“I thought you weren’t going to call me for a week... That’s tomorrow.”
“I wasn’t, but I felt like it... This was my idea anyway...my rules.”
“Okay...” His voice trailed off.
“Anyway, I’m sorry. I just wanted to talk to you...it’s been a hard week for me, I just can’t stop thinking… So I called you today instead of tomorrow...”
“I guess...maybe...I don't know.”
“Don't know what?”
“Don't know what we're doing here... I can't stop thinking either. All I can think is that this is crazy...and I don't know Lizzy... Maybe we should just stop this.”
The train slowed down as they pulled into Newark. She opened her eyes and the train was still. No one boarded her car, no one got off.
The train moved on through the night, and as she looked out the window, she wished she could fill her mind with the darkness, the emptiness, but it raced along with the train. She looked up and saw that the young man who had been sharing the car with her was looking back at her, but he turned quickly away.
“Philadelphia, ten minutes,” said the intercom.
She thought back to two months ago when she and Curtis had met in a hotel in Phily for two nights because it was in-between their two cities. She smiled. She could remember how it felt to make love in that King-size bed. At school, they both had dorm-room singles, which were even smaller than a standard single. She remembered how cold the sheets had felt against her naked back as they rolled over on the bed. Because the bed was so big, the spot she rolled onto had been empty, waiting for her, rather than warm from his body. And she remembered it was so big that they weren’t even touching when they woke up…they didn’t have to.
The train started and pulled out of Philadelphia. She couldn’t remember now why she had cried as she rode home that time. It had been a good visit, a good time. They hadn’t fought once and; although he couldn’t say, “I love you” yet, he had told her that he cared for her very much.
The young man ahead of her got up and walked towards her. Pointing at his wrist, he asked her what time it was.
She looked at her bare arm and shook her head.
He smiled and said, “Thanks anyway.”
As he went back to his seat she noticed that his blue jeans fit him well, and that he was taller than Curtis. She could wear high-heels with him. But even so, she thought, she couldn’t stand to see another naked man, to get to know yet another stranger intimately, to touch someone new. Change isn’t so exciting as it is nauseating.
“You going to Baltimore?”
She looked up into the deep brown eyes of the man without a watch. He smiled and his canine teeth were slightly longer than normal, which was kind of sexy, she thought.
“Really, I was just hoping you would talk to me. I’m sick of looking out the window at nothing... I’m going to Baltimore too.”
He pointed up to the ticket above her head that betrayed her destination. She smiled and moved her coat over so that he could sit down.
“Wilmington ten minutes.”
Wilmington always reminded her of her last boyfriend Rob because he had lived there for six months while they were together. She had visited him there every weekend.
She had met Curtis in the middle of the second year she had been with Rob, while visiting her parents in Los Angeles that summer. It had been the summer before Curtis's last year at Johns Hopkins and hers at Columbia. They both had internships in the LA office of Athena Films.
She'd been working there for a week when he walked in wearing khaki cotton slacks and a pastel plaid shirt, hair clipped short and neat. This preppy little guy seemed to be from a very different world than hers...one of tennis and blond hair and third-generation namesakes. She stood there in her standard New York black, noticing that he was barely taller than she, and thinking that he wasn't the kind of guy who would like her. Not that she wanted him to, but just that he wasn't likely to. What kind of guy would that be anyway?
“Elizabeth, you want another drink?” he asked mildly, two weeks later at an Athena party.
He was holding out a full glass of white wine. His voice had the muted southern tones of a yank living too close to the Mason-Dixon. She looked down at her glass. It was empty.
Voices and laughs swirled around the room like the smoke that burned her eyes and filled her lungs. She had promised herself that she could go home when this glass was gone...then she could say to herself she had tried to be social. Truth was, she hadn't spoken to more than four people all night, so she took the wine and pulled out the polite smile she used on such occasions.
His eyes were liquid and clear and she could see her reflection in them as he began flirting and complementing his way into her solitude. Her thoughts drifted from his words into those eyes as she marveled at how long his lashes were and how brown his irises.
She couldn't remember how long it was after that night that they had made love for the first time...but she did remember how final it felt to sleep with another man. She had told Rob over the phone that she wanted to see other people only days earlier. But had he understood that she would really break her year and a half of fidelity? Had he understood that she would fall in love with someone new? Had he known that when she came home to New York, she wouldn't be coming home to him?
As the redheaded man sat down next to her, she noticed that he smelled vaguely of musky cologne...not at all like Curtis’s Ivory-soap-clean scent.
“So are you going or coming?” He asked, turning toward her intently.
“Coming. Just visiting a friend. And you?”
She was surprised at how steady her voice sounded.
“Going. I was just visiting my family in New York. I just hate these train rides—they make three hours seem eternal.”
The train slowed down for Wilmington and she thought that these three hours had passed very quickly. They would soon be in Baltimore. He had told her that he worked for a television station in Baltimore, that he had gone to college at Tulane in New Orleans.
As they exchanged stories, she noticed that he had a small dark freckle just at the right edge of his lower lip. She liked the way it moved when he talked and got lighter when his full lips stretched into a smile. She thought it might be nice to touch the freckle, or to kiss him there. She tried to picture Curtis' lips; they were thin but always a deep red as though he had been biting them.
“Baltimore, ten minutes,” sounded the loudspeaker.
He asked her if her friend was picking her up or if she wanted to share a cab. She said she was going to the Hopkins area. He said he was too, so she said sure. She leaned over to get her bag from between my feet and put my coat on in my seat as the train slowed to a stop.
“Penn Station, Baltimore!”
They walked out together and she noticed again how tall he was; five-foot-ten or eleven. He opened the cab door for her. His stop was before hers and; as he got out, he said that it was nice to meet her. Then he slipped a piece of paper with his number on it into her hand.
“Call me sometime… Please, I want you to.”
With that, he slammed the door shut. It was dark outside, and she couldn't see him as he walked away. She could only see her reflection in the window. Her bangs were pushed back from her forehead.
In that instant, her face looked pretty in that dark glass. She smiled and the cab drove on.