Monday, December 5, 2011

A Rough Sketch of a Woman on Her Way Home

She could hear the rattle of the train, the clanking against the tracks. No matter what volume she set her music to, she could hear the rattle of the train as clear as one would hear it if it were the only sound in the vast expanse of the universe, a deafening noise, a consuming sensation, for she could feel it too, traveling up her spine. She could not taste it as far as she could tell. A taste of must and sorrow and emptiness and cigarette smoke lingered on her tongue, and that very well could have been the rattle of the train in her mouth, but she had no empirical evidence with which she could make that claim. She could, however, see the train rattle, or rather, she could see the effects of its rattling. Various men and women and children bounced, ever so slightly, up and down, their hands shaking against the railings onto which they held as if it would steady them. 

            It had been a tough couple of days, not tough enough to make one question their own mortality but certainly close, though for her a stubbed toe would conjure up those thoughts (of death, the finite nature of life-the-universe-and-everything and other topics of a similar, bleak nature) as well. That said, it had still been tough couple of days. Tough enough to make her cling to her belongings with a fierce intensity, her purse and her glasses and even the clothes on her back, sprouting extra limbs like Shiva if Shiva was paranoid, caucasian, female and human, and clenching her possessions as if she expected the very hand of God to steal them instead of the hand of a coke-influenced assailant as was customary at this time of night. Of course, the strength of her grip mattered little. If God wanted her purse, as trivial as it was, he would have her purse. Still, her grip never loosened, for it had been a tough couple of days, tough enough to make her irrational. Tough enough to make the rattling of the train, that all-consuming sensation, as irritating as it was euphoric. Though she could not form an opinion on the issue or on any issue; she would not allow herself. It was not a conscious blockade, just a side effect. The music had become too loud for thoughts, simple or complex, too loud for thoughts but not for trains. She could hear only the reverberations of distorted guitars … and the rattling of the train. Strained voice, belonging to either Johnny Rotten or Joey Ramone (she had lost focus, thought it must have landed on one of those bands two by this point), and the rattle of the train. And in the clutter, the cacophonous unease, the bastardization of sound, she fixated on a voice, a voice that had never once resided in the throat of a punk musician. Perhaps the voice of a saint, speaking to her with the ease of a close friend, drowned out by mantras pertaining to sex, anarchy and general-could-give-a-shit-mentality and a persistent rattling of a train that was moving but seemed, in her perspective, fixed in one singular location: her head, yet she imagined it preposterous to be aboard a train traveling through her own being. Certain things were not even metaphysically possible. However, that was the feeling, no doubt caused by the rattling, the shaking, the discomfort of the train. 
"Buncha weirdos out here."
            At some point, she believed she needed to turn off the music so that she could hear the voice of the saint, or saints (the number of which was still undetermined), so as not to miss some sort of divine, presumably profound, message. It was shortly after turning off the music, a task completed far too long after the initial thought giving birth to it, that she realized the voice did not belong to a saint or a number of saints but instead to a man clothed in Dallas Mavericks attire and a royal blue bandana wrapped around the top of his head. He had a pair of gold earrings, round like halos and almost as gaudy as the tan shade of his sun warped skin. Also on his face, aside from the earrings and a handful of impressive scars, was a scraggily goatee suggesting he did not own a razor or a bathroom in which to keep it. There was no mistaking him; this man was a pirate, a pirate who enjoyed basketball as much as he enjoyed plundering the high seas and the myriad of other pirate activities. It seemed also that Black Beard, as she had named him, had not only begun a conversation with her but had continued it without her assistance, conscious assistance that is. This man, desperate for conversation, could have continued on without her, but she figured the proper thing to do would be to find her place in a conversation of which she was technically already a part, a fairly essential part but still disposable. It was odd, yes, but not so odd that she would pass up the opportunity to converse with a real life, supposed, pirate, presuming this would be her first and only opportunity to converse with a real life, supposed, pirate—what an excellent status update that would make.  
            “Buncha weirdos out here. On the bus, I mean.” He even sounded like a pirate, which made sense, given that he was a pirate. His voice bore an unshakeable grit that suggested decades of experience, tough enough to turn even the softest of individuals into a pirate. There was scratchiness to his tone as if someone had taken knives to the inside of his esophagus and those wounds had become ubiquitous, evident in all manners of speech as they were on his flesh. He spoke with an escalated volume as well, always having to be the loudest person in the room. Being seated across from him, she caught the blunt force of his speech. Everyone else received the still heavy reverberations. Blunt force described not only his speech, however, but his persona as well, for when he talked, she felt as though she had collided with a wall of sound, feeling her nose cave into her skull and escape at the other end. He did not notice or, rather, did not seem to notice the discomfort he caused those around him. She imagined he would not care if he had noticed, being a pirate and all. 
            “What’s that?”
            “Buncha weirdos. Every other train I hop on’s gotta buncha weirdos on it.”
            “Yeah, I had forty dollars snatched out of my hand the other day while I was waiting on the train. Real creep too.”
            “Ooh man, that’s why ya don’t—”
            “I had just got it out of the ATM, y’know.”
            “He musta been watchin’ you, like a vulture, just watchin’ you and waitin’.” His voice turned sinister as he became more invested in the tale, placing himself in a lead role, though which role she was afraid to pontificate.
            “Didn’t even have time to put it in my pocket.”
            “He just snatched it from right under your nose.” He started leaning toward her, now physically throwing himself into the story.
            “And then took off running, fast too.”
            “Betchya wanted to take off after him, huh?”
            “He was gone before I could even think about it.”
            “A friend o’ mine had his phone stolen the other day. Y’know, some dude asked if he could borrow it and then just sprinted away once he lended it to him. Talked about chasin’ him down, but he just kinda stood there, dumbfounded, watchin’ him take off.”
            Another lady (she was seated beside the pirate with a noticeable distance between them of, perhaps, six or seven inches which would have been average had she not been leaning away from the pirate as well) weaseled her way into the conversation; she, too, must have been unable to resist the lure of piracy, “That’s why I don’t give money out to people when they asking for like a dollar or a quarter. They just want to see how much ya got. Sizin’ you up and all.”
            “Can’t be nice to everyone,” grunted the pirate with an eerie enthusiasm.
            “No, you can’t,” replied the new party, “and it ain’t being stuck up.”
            “Just want to get home safe,” she added, finally able to rejoin the discussion.
            “It’s being smart.”
            “Exactly!” the pirate shouted, drawing the attention of the entire train, “Otherwise, you might end up with a knife to your throat,” he had begun to act out all of his words with the skill for pantomime one would expect from a pirate, though, what he lacked in skill, he made up for in enthusiasm, “and then what you’re gonna do. That ain’t no position you can get away from easily, not without a’struggle.”
            “Only humans,” the woman said with a world weariness typically reserved for someone far older, “only mankind can do that.”
            “I don’t think the cavemen even did that kinda stuff.”
            “Animals don’t.”
            “No, they don’t. Go to the zoo. Hell, you want to go to the zoo … go to the West End. That’s the zoo.”
            They continued talking in this manner, about the weirdos and the various methods to deal with or avoid those weirdos, leaning into one another in an oddly sensual manner especially given the conversation at hand. Occasionally, she would try and rejoin the discussion with mild success, but the two were engrossed in each other, in each other’s words, eyes and bodies. Each mention of a weirdo or a weird encounter with a weirdo aroused the listening party. Though, the content had little to do with the arousal. It was the tone, hushed and sexy, that had taken this conversation from general chit-chat to courtship. The pirate’s grit turned smooth, Rhythm & Blues smooth, smooth jazz smooth, baby’s bottom smooth; the list went on. Even she found herself attracted, though not enough to act on it. It had been a tough couple of days but not that tough. Eventually, as the conversation wore onward and she found that her participation in it had dwindled back to its original status of non-participation, she determined that this new party, seated beside the pirate, was not only old in regards to this discussion but also old in regards to her relationship with the pirate. She could not say with certainty her deduction was fact even when she witnessed the two, woman and pirate, embrace in a kiss passionate enough to rival the rattle of the train in sensational consumption, yet she believed her suspicions justified as a result of the action. They kissed with the passion of lovers torn asunder and reunited for one brief and final moment of fervent catharsis, so that neither party would be capable of feeling again upon renewed separation. As far as she could tell, however, they had neither been separated nor reunited but were instead titillated by a shared disdain for weirdos.
            That was when she bowed out of the conversation altogether, pretending to have arrived at her stop and walking further down the train instead of departing it, though the couple did not notice either way. The faces of the train, not manufactured with the train but parts of it nonetheless, stared in her direction as she walked, not at her directly, but in her direction. They stared, of course, at the pirate and his mate--henceforth known as No Beard as she had recently realized this woman was a pirate as well. She did not look like a pirate, but she possessed the some veracity and voraciousness of a pirate. Not to mention, she had a similar bizarre sense of fashion, dressing in the boldest of colors with gaudiest of jewelry. Her hoop earrings, if lit on fire, could be used in circus acts, and her sun dress was stolen straight from the wardrobe of a Nubian Goddess. And while she knew that Black Beard and No Beard owned the collective gaze of the train, she could not help but glance around with what she considered a mix of paranoia and narcissism. After all, it had been a tough couple of days, tough enough to make even the most adorable toddler seem capable of petty larceny, and how adorable those faces were (the toddlers, that is), pressed against the bosoms of their mothers and attached, zealously, to the pant legs of their fathers. Her paranoia, as she looked upon the faces of the next generation of weirdos, turned sentimental, longing even, then back to general paranoia after she caught the wayward glance of a potential assailant--only three years old, yes, but able to commit atrocities unmentionable. 
            There were a bunch of weirdos, yes, a beautiful collection of weirdos—united by the rattle of the train and a shared metroplex; she noticed each and every one of them as she glanced around the train, and all of them had experienced a tough couple of days at some point in their lives, if not now then soon, tough enough to garner suspicion from her awkward shuffling to a new seat and wayward glances around the train. Do you want to go to the zoo? Stay where you are seated or standing or kneeling or what have you, and it will come to you. Chances are you have already arrived. The zoo moved continuously, floating like a metaphysical rendition of Noah’s Ark. Only the animals were not grouped in pairs. They were grouped in a variety of numbers, and some were not grouped at all. Many believe the zoo to be a stationary location, a place one can visit in order to gawk at monkeys swinging from rope to rope and picking insects off their monkey brethren, but it moved across continents and oceans alike. 
"Do you want to go to the zoo? Stay where you are seated or standing or kneeling or what have you, and it will come to you."
            She was stationary, now seated in her new seat, technically moving, technically always moving on some level or another depending on how you define a person—molecular or otherwise. They were stationary too, the weirdos, pirates included, yet they, and her too, were all a part of the moving zoo. That is to say that she considered them stationary, considered them to be a part of the moving zoo as well, acknowledging the potential fallacy in her silent ruminations, for it is one thing to proclaim someone stationary and another thing entirely to prove it. She could prove very little. Often, she could not even prove matters that pertained only to her. For instance, she could not prove whether this new seat disappointed her because it lacked any pirates in close proximity or because of the obese gentleman beside her with a foul body odor that could have made the entirety of the animal kingdom, of which they both were a part, clench its nose. Likely, both played a significant role in the disappointment, but she possessed no method to prove the theory aside from interrogating her fickle psyche which, in any given instant, could be or could not be a fan of bluegrass and was deemed unreliable by a committee (also in her psyche) because of such.
            As a pleasant woman, though somewhat robotic, called out the stops as they came along in varying intervals, she eyed the passengers as they exited, eyeing those whose ears perked up when the next stop was called. She even made a game of it. While approaching each stop, she would guess who would depart. It kept her occupied while she awaited her own departure, so occupied that she almost forgot about the rattle of the train and the weirdos and the pirates—though, by now, she figured she was incapable of forgetting anything, that the thoughts she had now would be the thoughts she had forever. 
            Eventually, her stop arrived, and she wondered if anyone successfully predicted her departure though she reckoned she was one of few participants in the game. It was an odd occasion, departure, one that still had the capacity to surprise despite being expected. After forty-minutes awaiting its arrival, there was that brief moment of disbelief when the pleasant woman came over the intercom to announce the coming of the next station, “You are here.”
            “I am here?”
            Here, there, wherever, she could only believe she had arrived when she saw the sign outside her window confirming what the pleasant woman had announced, and as she stepped toward here or there or wherever, she imagined that she would leave behind the rattle of the train and that the weirdos would fade into distant memories and blurry faces and that the pirates would set sail onto the high seas, forever leaving her mind. Yet the rattle of the train persisted, bringing the weirdos and the pirates alongside it, and when she laid down that night in her bed, in her motionless bed, with incomprehensible noise sounding from the TV in the corner of her room, she could still feel the rattle of the train, still hear it rattling against the tracks, still see the weirdos lined up along the walls and peering out the windows, searching for something nonexistent, and she reasoned that she would never not feel it, that the rattle of the train was forever a part of the moving zoo, inseparable.
Sean Enfield
31 July, 2011

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