Getting Trained

Submitted into Contest #47 in response to: Suitcase in hand, you head to the station.... view prompt

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Suitcase in hand, you head to the station. The words replay in your head: “Mother isn’t feeling well again.” You heard the faraway voice say that on the other end of the telephone–faraway, as in disbelief or shock, and faraway, meaning several states away– north, a place where no palm trees live–Newark, New Jersey. “Please come visit her,” your sister said.

           “Okay. I’ll get on the next train up.”

           The two o’clock had little availability. You just needed one spot and got it. Many people ask you, “Why the train?” Your decision came years ago when you asked the Amtrak agent how much each suitcase would cost you to check in, and he said, “It’ll cost you nothing.” Then you asked about parking rates at the train station, as your trip was scheduled for seven days and maybe longer. “The parking is free,” the agent declared, with a smile in his voice.

One year ago, your mother was in Hospice care, and she got better, so you hope this might be the same scenario. She bounced back before; she could do it again. You consider the Amtrak math. It is worth the twenty-three-hour train ride. The transition time works for you, allowing for time to write, make lesson plans, and edit your novel. And you enjoy meeting new people.

           Arriving at the Winter Park train station only thirty minutes prior to departure, you feel like you’re late compared to the two-hour wait you normally experience at airports. This method of transportation makes you feel as though you’re getting away with something. You show your ticket and check your suitcase in a snap.

     The train screeches to a halt to pick up ten passengers. Train attendant Byron, with a lovely British cadence to his voice, helps you onboard, even offers to carry your computer and bag. You decline. After the train leaves the station, you sigh relief. From the window, you see the restaurant where you ate fish and chips with your mother on her last visit south long ago. There goes the café you used take her to for afternoon coffee. Goodbye Florida.

           During these travels, you become a person oblivious to the state of the world outside: you forget about the cities as the train neglects them, yes, passes them by, so fellow travelers ride through the woods and back roads of America, some on the way to see friends and relatives, and some to go off to schools. Often retired people move around the country this way for the fun of it. Conventioneers get to their meetings, and some people commute to work.

          An attractive, dark-haired young man already sits in the seat next to yours. He sleeps with his arms stuffed inside his white tee-shirt which shows off his great biceps as the air conditioning blows cold. Two small girls play patty-cake across from you. A preteen boy and his mother (you assume) wander down the aisle. A teenager braids another girl’s hair. You love the feeling of walking from car to car whenever you want to stretch your legs and remind yourself how much money and hassle you save by traveling on the ground. The train attendant asks for dinner reservations, and you hold your hand up. Your seatmate awakens in time to raise his.

Later, you saunter into the dining car, you first, and your seatmate second. The smells of chicken and steak mingle like old friends. White tablecloths cover the tables with glass vases with a single flower placed in each. You make sure you sit facing forward, northbound while you eat. The flower flops around as the rhythm of the rails lulls you into a time gone by, an era where heads of state, presidents, and even John Madden, the sports commentator, traveled in this mode. John didn’t care to fly. Alfred Hitchcock solidified your love of trains in his movie North by Northwest where a man wooed a woman. You remember a not-so-famous poem “You Woke Me Up” that says, “like Cary Grant kissing Eva-Marie Saint on the train and on the neck.” Delicious.

“Where are you going?” you ask your dining partner, as you place a cloth napkin on your lap.

"Massachusetts. I started in Tampa. I’m Allen.” His deep voice resonates through your skin.

“I’m off to New Jersey,” you say. “My name is Cecily.”

“We’re not even up north yet, and I’m already freezing. The air conditioning is too cold,” this massive man says. “I left my jacket in Florida.”

“I’d lend you one,” you say, “but I don’t think it’ll fit you.”

Although you are transitioning to a semi-sad occasion, your happiness comes from the time warp; the train’s travel transition is slow instead of the catapult of speed by flying. The nostalgic night of dining along the rails as people have done for hundreds of years elevates your mood to one of even-keeled pleasure.

You order your chicken dinner. The waiter places a ceramic coffee mug in front of you and lets the coffee drip slowly into it from the silver coffee pot.

           “Writing?” the server asks, pointing to your pink journal book with his free hand.

           “Yes,” you say. “And I recognize you from my last trip.”

           “And I remember you. Am I in your story?” he asks coyly.

           “Not yet, but you can be.” You choose a place in your novel where you could insert Marco (according to his name tag). His curly hair, Italian accent, blue eyes, dark slacks, and white shirt add a nice encounter on the journey to visit your past. With dinner done and check paid, Allen asks, “Do you want to explore?” You nod.  

           “May we see a roomette?” he asks the porter as he walks by.

“Yes, of course.” He shows you the smaller one first and the larger one second.

“Are you folks interested in booking one for tonight?” he asks both of you.

           You can’t stifle a laugh. During the meal, Allen told you he is twenty-two years old, going to be twenty-three next week, and you, well, you are more mature. He is 6’2” and wears stubble. Does that make him look older? Does the porter think this person is your son, your boyfriend, your secret lover, or what?

The small roomette’s beds are positioned on top of one another, so no hanky-panky would occur anyway, unless one was highly creative. (Or two were very, very creative.) The lower bed functions as two seats in the daytime and doubles as a fold-down, single bed for sleeping. The second one lowers from above like a magic carpet descending onto its kingdom, hovering in mid-air. The second person has to climb up like into a child’s bunk bed. The larger roomette's bed is a daytime couch. This roomette includes a shower placed over the commode; one thing at a time, please.

“No, not for tonight,” you say too loud. “We just want to see them for another journey.” You mean “and to travel separately.” Did the porter think that this good-looking young man and you have another trip planned together? That is a fine thought. You shake yourself back to reality. When you return to your assigned seats, Allen tells you he lives with his girlfriend in Tampa. His itinerary takes him to Massachusetts to work with his family.

You and your new friend have a verbal blast in close quarters. Sleep grabs you and releases you to the next morning. As Allen dozes, you lean over, kiss his cheek, then exit the train. A slight scent of Allen’s cologne lingers. The riding-on-the-rails experience proves that travelers cross lines, boundaries, ages, and cultures inside the train atmosphere itself, physically from state to state, and in the human spirit. 

June 26, 2020 04:36

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1 comment

Meg L
10:11 Jul 03, 2020

I love the atmosphere of the story. There's a lot of detail, and the story seems very slow moving, which works well with the 23 hour train ride setting. Nice job


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