I’ll be on the train. It’ll be an underground train, like the subway, but in an airport. One door is both the exit and entrance with a few people trickling in and out. The train’s name will be Bart and my father will have warned me about it. The train will have pastel colors of gum, crafted into inappropriate pictures of body parts and messages in another language.
I’ll know that if I was in another world I’d call it art and take a photo to show my kids.
I’ll be standing. Sucking on a mint and molding it to the shape of my tongue. Dust will be falling from the ceiling and landing on the cloth seats. Somebody else will have warned me about the cloth seats, too. Something about if you sit on them, years of sweat and sex and old man cologne will blow up in your face like a pop-up card.
In the next second, she’ll stand beside me. It won’t be anything big. Just her, entering the train and walking over to grasp the overhead handles. No physical contact or glances or words exchanged.
She’ll be pretty. Short, white hair and earbuds hanging limply from her ears and tangling in her sweater. Two red studs like the eyes of a monkey. My kids will grow up in four different states and they’ll know that she is what Utah would look like.
I’ll wonder why I feel this way. It’s not love. Or at least not the type you can find in half-dead roses at the florist beside the highway. And definitely not the kind next to a coffee machine in an office that leads to a wedding in a motel and three ungrateful children.
It’s odd, this feeling. Giddy. I’ll think about how I used to smile at people riding the train. I’ll want to smile then. It was a basic skill in kindergarten, learning how to smile. I’ll remember the classroom with the round glasses and aloe vera plants named wild things from a 2000’s Marvel movie. But it was so simple, just turning the corners of your mouth up into a crescent shape like the moon in early December. I’ll have stopped smiling by then, when I’m on the train. And it won’t be taught to my kids anymore. That’s what I’ll know while standing there.
What I also know is that the year is ending. Time is skidding to a stop, only to be picked up again at midnight. Midnight, so close I can almost touch it. Three cracked hands on the clock, almost vertical. It’ll be pretty ironic, really. I’ll be on the Bart train, heading for Terminal D, in the last seconds of the year. And I won’t be thinking about who I left behind.
‘I met a girl on the train,’ I’ll tell my kids on the phone.
‘Why did you leave?’ they’ll ask me.
‘She looked Italian.’
‘Everyone is Italian,’ they’ll respond, and hang up soon after.
The girl will be running her hands down the pole on her left. Her fingers will be small. She’ll only have four fingers on one hand. I’ll love it. I’ll want to cradle the stump in my palm and ask about the tractor accident. Will it be because of her eyes than can only see straight forward? Or because she wasn’t paying attention and looking at the weeds with yellow, withered faces?
She’ll be holding one pole. Five other poles will be placed haphazardly around the train. All with dirt in the cracks and scratches. All cold and metal. All like maps of past events. A map of fights and colliding suitcases and underground trains controlled by robots.
The girl will close her eyes and I’ll see how her eyelashes curl and twist like spider webs onto her cheeks. They’ll be fake, obviously, but I’ll want to touch them. I’ll want to act childish and knit my fingers behind my back and ask if she wants to be friends.
But she’ll be a stranger on the Bart and soon I’ll be late for my flight.
She’ll tap her shoe in a diagonal rhythm. The cord will wiggle and bounce against her chest like a white snake. Six knots will be pretzeled into it and because I’m a mother hooked onto a fishing line, I’ll want to take and unknot it.
Jazz will drift from her earbuds. It’ll be the type of music that’s whitewashed by lyrics. The type where the male singer moves his voice up and down the spectrum and sings of rainbows in the shower. I’ll hate it, for sure. But I’ll also love it. And the way the girl’s hips will sway while her boarding pass flaps in between her fingers.
In another world, I’ll know that she’d offer me an earbud and we’d listen together. But that would take minutes and I’ll only be watching from a distance while time fades into the distance like an escalator. A stairway to heaven.
There will be exactly seven ads in the train. One for Geico car insurance, with smiling actors and a green gecko. The second for a dating app, like hell anyone will try that. Third for Mattress Firm, the fourth for a suitcase company. The fifth is McDonald’s with bright colors to catch your eye, and the sixth for men’s coats. The seventh is for a makeup company with the slogan ‘Look how you feel.’
Does that mean I should look gray and lost and tied to tracks? Or free with face-paint of butterfly wings like the stuff we used to get at kindergarten birthday parties?
Suddenly, the girl will grab my wrist. Not too hard. Eight of her nails will dig into my skin. The last one will have ripped off one way or another.
It’ll only last a moment. Our breaths will mix like chicken soup. She’ll lock her hand behind my back and press her lips against my cheek. I’ll almost swallow the mint I’ll have in my mouth. Alarm bells will go off in my head. I’ll be able to remember the clocks and their ticking, vaguely, like the chugs of an old train. It’ll be the new year. And I won’t feel different at all.
This will be a problem. I’ll have snuck away from my hairy husband in bed and our three red-nosed children, just to stand on a train and get kissed by a stranger and feel the same. I’ll look at the girl and she’ll avoid my gaze. She’ll be Utah and I’ll be Minnesota, miles away and cold.
There will be nine ways to continue but only a few will float by at the time. The first one being to go and disappear. The second one being to return to my family. And the third one being—nothing. Something I won’t be able to think off.
Fairytales are something I read in kindergarten. I’ll feel like I’m living it, having the female character choose to be free and wild or return back to her children who don’t love her in a house that smells of garbage.
It’ll be a terrible metaphor. A common one. I’ll be caught in it, though. The train being life, speeding up and me either grasping a ride or stumbling into the past. I won’t want to be controlled by it yet I will be. Everyone is.
Even the girl who avoids my eyes and listens to jazz like the world can fall apart at her fingers. So I crack the mint in my mouth into ten tiny pieces. I’ll gulp nine into the stone-shaped lump in my throat and spit one out into my palm.
It’ll get forced into a piece of gum and barely stand out. But I’ll have made my mark. The gum won’t be sticky anymore and I won’t be afraid of its messages with bite marks. Or beautiful, cussing graffiti that’ll wrap the Bart in a sense of home.
Before the doors close, I’ll sprint out, dragging my suitcase behind me, and hop onto another train that looks exactly the same.
Utah will be watching, one earbud dripping onto her shoulder, wondering how someone so tortured could escape something we learned as early as kindergarten.