I woke up with a start. I was overtaken by the feeling of falling, only to find I was in my seat, neck stiff, cranked at an awkward angle as though I’d been staring out the window at some blur of passing interest. I thought of my father dressing me for my Grandfather’s funeral, and how babyish I was, complaining about the fit of my child-size suit. With a yawn I stretched my arms over my head and stood up. The train was no longer moving.
I looked around the car, suddenly overtaken by a sensation that I was being watched. I heard the slightest tremble, a living sound. I checked off each seat as I made my way toward the rear of the car, my fingers caressed the grimy material of each seat. Perhaps infiltrated by the dreamless dreams, my imagination played simple minded tricks and pumped visions of grotesque clowns and deformed circus monsters slowly leering up the backside of the chairs to lock their blazing eyes on me. A childhood fear manifested once more. I fought the absurd notions and as I neared the door leading to the following car, a small girl, no older than five or six clambered over the back of a seat and fell, sack like, onto the floor of the next row. She grunted and groaned, obviously in some kind of pain. Anticipating I might scare her further I approached with careful, slow steps, palms up in front of me.
“Hello there,” I said. The small girl poked her head to the side of the chair and into the aisle. Her eyes grew large. It made me self-conscious. “Are you alone?” The little girl nodded and moved behind the chair once again. I could hear her sniffle, and it broke my heart. I was overwhelmed by a memory – my mother unable to open the bathroom door as I cried from the inside. The door locked somehow and my tiny hands couldn’t reach the knob to unlatch it – and as quickly as the memory came it vanished.
I closed my eyes and set my hands on my knees to regain my equilibrium. When I opened them again I was once more in my seat. My neck craned at the same painful angle as previously. I stood up and called to the girl. I marched down the aisle, driven by need to converse with someone. My senses were overdriven by a violently loneliness.
“What are you doing?”
I turned around to face a girl in her mid-teens. If you asked me in a dream I would have known this person, but her identity eluded me.
“This is the last stop.”
I coughed into my hand, and spoke to the girl. “I know,” I said.
“What are you waiting for then?”
I ignored her question temporarily and looked for the little girl. She was gone, not in this car anymore, anyhow. “There was a small girl here earlier.”
“A small girl?”
“Yes. Younger than you.”
“Well, that’s good I suppose. I’d be offended if you called me a small girl. I’m fourteen.” She spoke with the impertinence of youth and walked toward me into a bright beam of light coming from the windows. “I’m the only one here.” She looked like someone I know, or an idea of someone I knew. “You should get off the train. It can’t go until you leave.”
“What will you do?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders. “The same thing I always do.” She pointed toward the exit behind her and moved out of the aisle. She was in a rush to see me out it seemed. I even thought I could detect a sardonic glint in her eyes. “See you later.”
I climbed off the train into the wild grass of the overrun station. This was a place long forgotten. The sun was directly overhead. Occasional gusts of wind bent and swayed the grass. I looked back toward the train to see if the girl was watching me. She was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea what to do now that I was no longer on the train. My mind was a blank. There was no sound or movement for the longest time, just me and the grass and sun. Inclined by my bodies need to move, my legs propelled me forward through the grass. The ground sloped downward and the grass grew in places to the height of my shoulders. Echoes of claustrophobia murmured in the back of my mind, though I was calm. I pushed through the thickening grass and came to the bank of a large lake. I had no idea it was there. Its vastness stunned me. The other side was indistinguishable, lost in the haze of sun and water. I walked along the edge of the lake, feeling the breeze that seemed to only exist next to the water. My thoughts kept clogging with memories I thought long dead, things I thought were gone forever. My forearm ached with the memory of when I broke it falling out of a tree. I was climbing as high as I could in hopes of impressing a girl from the neighborhood. I could see her face clear as day, though her name escaped me. I returned to the middle seat in the back of my mom’s old station wagon, the sides lined with wood paneling like you only see now in classic 80’s road comedies – our car spun out of control and my mom looked back at me and in her eyes I saw and remembered all over again what it meant to be loved, the love that cooperates to make life the bittersweet thing it is. The memory went to black.
The small girl and the other from the train, their faces flickered and faded. A small headache began to bulge behind my left eye as I worked the images of the two girls over and over in my mind, knowing somewhere in there I knew who they were. Overwhelmed, I bent down and splashed cool water into my face.
I was pushed from behind and went sprawling face first into the lake. The cold sucked the breath from my lungs, and as I ripped my head from under the water I saw a young woman standing at the edge of the lake laughing at me.
She pointed at me with a bare, tan arm. Her fingers composed of native elegance. “You’re all wet.”
I stayed where I was, treading gently in the water, no longer in cold shock. Something about what she said, the words and the tone – I knew her. Before I could respond she turned into the grass and disappeared. Her footsteps made soft noise in the brush and then the silence of the breeze returned. I had an inclination like when I was a boy at the river with my older sister and her friends, to swim to the other side of the lake. I swirled in the water, tracing the symbol for infinity on the glassy surface, feeling young again, and silly.
I closed my eyes and was falling, now through a darkened sky. Stars expanded and retracted in kaleidoscopic patterns – before going black.
I floated in the black space for a long time. I didn’t possess the resolution to try out my voice in the unperceivable void.
I opened my eyes and saw a middle-aged woman sitting across from me. I was in the dining car of the train. The woman looking at me was my mother. She reached across the tabletop and snatched a French fry from my plate. She said, “Eat your burger before it gets cold.”
I looked down and saw a huge juicy burger sitting in front of me – blue cheese and crispy bacon, lettuce and tomato. The same meal I ordered every Friday when I was a kid, after a long week of school when my mom took my sisters and me to our favorite diner in the city. I couldn’t help but smile and follow mom’s orders. I picked up the burger and took a big bite.
“Chew your food. You never chew. You’ll choke someday.”
We both smiled.
She plucked another fry from my plate and held it up in front of her face, the flat of her thumb resting on her lip. She was thinking. “Do you remember anything about your sisters?”
“Sure.” I wasn’t sure. My memories seemed to be in a vacuum.
“Do you think about them?”
“Of course,” I lied. I wasn’t sure how often I thought of my sisters. They could be in the background of memories as they played out their trip to the waterfall of forgetfulness on the river of my mind. “Why?”
“I’m just curious. They ask me about you all the time. They want to make sure they don’t forget you. You were their favorite little brother. They always say that.”
“I’m their only brother.”
“They know that.”
The two young girls I met in the afternoon entered the dining car. The small girl walked up and sat next to my mother. The young girl followed her and pushed in next to me. My mother gave no sign she noticed either girl. We sat in silence; I suppose each in our own thoughts. My appetite left me. My burger sat on the plate getting cold.
The girl from the lake walked into the car. She stopped when she saw us all sitting together, and now I remembered her name. I stood up, somehow too quickly. My head went dizzy and I pitched forward. My face slopped into the hamburger, and the last thing I saw was my mother, the small the girl and the young girl picking at my French fries.
When I opened my eyes I found myself underwater. I broke the surface gasping for breath. My sister stood above me at the edge of the lake, a giant grin on her face. Over her head I could make out the clouds of exhaust pluming from the retreating train.