Twenty five thousand. Three zeros. She visualized the number trailed by a three dimensional dollar sign, big and bold in that sharp casino font, resting neon in the void behind her eyelids. She thought about her rent and medical bills, vaporized, pow. New car with functioning air conditioner and aux-compatible stereo. Maybe buy her mom something gorgeous and fork it over the table at a fancy restaurant that requires a reservation. Steak. Save ten thousand maybe, don’t get too crazy. Trip to Europe.
“They love it Sophie,” he said. “They were carnivorous over it, pack of wolves, I’ve never seen them so excited over a draft, are you sitting down? They want to give you twenty five, two five.”
“You are sitting right? I’m serious, you’ll fall and crack your head”
And so she bought a ticket for the first train out of town the next day to meet with the carnivores and chew fat over her screenplay. She did not sleep. Her feet could hardly keep up with her as she left the house, a very tiny bull in a less than china apartment, heartbeat synced with the equally excited labrador dancing behind her from room to room as she packed a weekend’s worth of clothes and beauty paraphernalia. She threw her body onto the backpack and slid the big zipper home. Jackson leapt onto the bed and lapt at her face until she screamed laughing and tumbled off onto the floorboards with a wump. I know you want to come Jack, she laughed.
The young writer wheeled the old rustbucket into the only empty parking space outside and squinted hard at the stations blinding white concrete. She rocked her favorite baby blue dress and a smile wider than Texas. The parking lot was covered in food litter and oil stains and was patrolled by a lumbering security guard who didn’t wave back to her as she skipped across the lot. She figured she must look crazy, skipping downtown, but didn’t care and really couldn’t be bothered to be bothered at a time like this. She nearly slid into the pavement and turned back to look at what had rolled under her boot. It was a small syringe with an exposed needle. She wasn’t sure who to tell or what to do with the ghastly instrument and so decided to just keep walking. Downtown San Antonio was noisy with construction and traffic, and she waited to cross the street under the walk sign while a small horde of tourists jaywalked in front of a lifted F-150 with a green light. The driver pulled the switch on his aftermarket freight horn and one of the tourists spooked so hard that he dropped his phone on the street. She was used to that sort of noise and just decided to jaywalk herself while the two men started their yelling match.
Inside the station was very well air conditioned and was exceedingly populated with homeless loiterers, understandably she thought, as it was peaking three digit fahrenheit outside. A serious looking woman sat behind a bulletproof kiosk in the center of the room and spoke through a miniature intercom system very loudly as Sophie approached. Somehow, she was still hardly audible, but it was some version of ‘state your business’
“I’m here for the five fifteen train to LA” she said.
The woman muttered something into the microphone. A homeless man had wandered up to the glass and was arguing quietly with the mayor Markwell, who had been dead for over a year now, berating him and challenging his decision to buy new cars instead of water fountains.
“Your ticket” rattled the intercom.
“Oh, of course, sorry” Sophie squawked, sliding her backpack off onto the counter. A man across the room groaned loudly. She slid the ticket through a metal slit and it drifted down to the desk in front of the woman. The clerk slammed a rubber stamp down onto the paper and splattered it with a red ink ring containing illegible letters or numbers and then crammed it back through the port. Sophie thanked the woman and looked around the room for somewhere to sit but saw no such place and decided to stand. She watched as a very short man in sandals repeatedly pressed the lever on a water fountain that did not work, gazing down into the dry metal bastion. She thought about little Sophie opening the refrigerator doors over and over after midnight, somehow expecting it to magically populate with snacks and how her sister used to playfully tease her over the delusion. The vending machine in the corner of the room was completely empty or she might have bought him a water bottle, or something. She thought about her failed writings.
Twenty two minutes later, the serious woman announced over a loudspeaker that the train was boarding and blasted Sophie's wandering daydreams to bits. Her heart kick-started as she marched directly to the terminal listed on her ticket, out the door, and then onto the first passenger car on the platform. This particular line ran from east to west and was already half occupied with tired looking passengers, some of which were exiting as she sat, and the train car was both humid and clean. Sophie stared out of the window at a concrete wall covered in cracks and running with black tar as the train rearranged itself and prepared for departure. She pulled her backup onto her lap and took her journal and pen from inside and began writing.
April 22, 2006
I have just boarded a train to Los Angeles! I am meeting with my editor to celebrate the success of my screenplay, ‘Overture.’ They have offered me…
Her grin was enormous. The train had begun moving and she took a deep breath. The city faded to countryside. A woman had sat next to her and was sobbing quietly. Sophie gently closed her journal and asked her if she was okay, but the woman didn’t respond at all, as if Sophie had asked nothing or could offer her nothing. Sophie watched for a moment, and then let her be.
…$25,000. I have never been so excited, or proud! This year has been very hard for Jack and I, but I knew my hard work would pay off, it always does. ‘Overture’ was a passion project, unlike my previous works, and I loved it, and that's why the movie people love it! Rudy told me to write what I know, and he was right. I haven’t even told him yet!
The butterflies came back, along with a small migraine. She tried to flag down the car’s attendant for water with a quick wave, but he ignored her and walked down the aisle fish eyed.
“Excuse me,” she said, and the woman next to her perked up.
“What?” She snarled.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I was talking to the man.”
“Of course,” the woman said, and jammed her head back into her hands with a sigh.
Sophie wanted to cry but composed herself with some quick blinks and a deep breath. She fished her cell phone from her backpack and checked the time. Somehow an hour had passed. She had no texts, but sent a very loud one to Rudy. The train was passing an old military town, and from the window she could see rows of decommissioned tanks and planes, an outdoor museum perhaps. She called her agent but he did not answer.
I should be landing in a few short hours. In LA everything will be different. Maybe I’ll just cash the check there and buy a new place and fly Jack out and let my truck rot in that parking lot! It will be easy to make friends in LA, and maybe I’ll convince Rudy to visit or move and try to marry him or something haha.
She closed the journal and put it back in her backpack. She watched the scorched landscape fly by and started to feel the fatigue from her sleepless night. She pulled a sweater from her bag and bundled it behind her head.
Her dream was oddly geometrical and nondescript, she woke up to her phone buzzing with texts. They were from her agent.
can you answer ur phone please
I just got asked to leave the meeting
some corporate hatchet man showed up and started tearing the edit to pieces
saying it was too slow and wrong target audience etc bullshit
these guys were eating it up too for no reason
they loved you 10 mins ago i dont know whats happening
im in the lobby like a jackass
are you on the train? how far are you
theyre still in the room
sophie call me please
They cut the deal entirely, im going home
The last text had been sent an hour ago. She scanned the chat log over twice more and then checked her missed calls. Two from Rudy and twelve from the agent. She did not move. The world flew by her lone periphery. The woman who had sat next to her was gone, and the train seemed much emptier now.
Time passed. The train stopped in a town she did not recognize. She decided to get off and find her way home, there was no use riding to LA for nothing. A young man boarded the train and sat next to her directly and said hello and asked where she was going but she couldn’t respond. Her lips felt numb, mouth dry, and her voice was sealed by some internal mechanism tightening in her chest, the boy just looked at his hands. She tried to stand up but her feet wouldn’t budge and she set the backpack down awkwardly between her and the boy and looked down. Her boot was locked in place, penetrated by a rusted metal bar. She began to panic, and looked up to see another passenger locked in place by her hands, and another by his neck, these were the persistent passengers who had never gotten off. Help us! She pleaded to the boy, but he had already departed. A large man stumbled drunkenly down the aisle and she reached out for him but he only frowned and stepped around her. Don’t touch me, bum.
It had begun snowing outside, and she was cold and hungry. She had traded her few belongings over the months for a blanket and she could feel herself wasting. A woman who had traded glances with her across the car for weeks had been coughing much more seriously than before. She let out a final spasm and lost her balance, collapsing onto the floor, her bolted hand and foot twisted awkwardly under the weight of her limp body. The attendant came by and began unscrewing her while young passengers chortled and plugged their noses or stared down idly at their devices. Old Sophie could not intervene or protest in any way, she was far too exhausted to struggle futilely from her iron bondage. Her bladder was full and uncomfortable and stinging. She let it go and two men next to her, that she had not perceived, picked up their duffle bags and stormed out of their seats, berating her and stomping. Trash, they called her, garbage. She thought about little Sophie, she wanted to call Rudy but her phone had been stolen months ago. Beyond her dirty, fogged window, a flash of white light swept the landscape and burned her face. She tried to scream but could not. The sky splintered into a heraldic red sea, twisted and deep and broken. The train slid loudly and slammed sideways to a halt. Sophie and the other veterans hardly moved, affixed as they were, while the other passengers lurched forward, smashing into seats and out of windows and into one another with lethal force.
When the train finally settled Sophie was lying against her window, staring up and out of another at a burning skyline. Her hands had been ripped from her shackles and she prodded at her aching body and head. She cried and called for Jackson and was glad that he didn’t come. The train was either burning or near a blaze and she could feel the caustic chemical smoke in her feeble lungs. I wanted it to be this way, she thought. This was a better ending, she concluded, the movie people will love this, they’ll love me. My first real work in years, the fridge will finally be full. Little Sophie jumped into bed and pulled the blankets over her head.
Goodnight! She called, goodnight!