You touch the screen of your book, but quickly forget the novel sensation as your attention is drawn to the nape of your neck. The all-too-familiar feeling originating there informs you of another body part–the eyes–but those which rightfully belong to another. You address yourself in the second person saying, ‘You know this room is empty,’ but remain at the sensational level, unconvinced. Without turning around you attempt to construct the features surrounding these eyes, but you can only see the back of a head. You feel in your neck either an intensified gaze or a perspectival enlargement of the eyes, as if they are moving closer to you. Likewise, the back of the head which watches you seems to decrease in size as it approaches. As this distance shrinks–as the eyes grow larger, the head smaller–you become certain of the presence you would wish to dismiss. At the final moment before contact you move your finger with a shudder and continue reading.
The Daughter of Alice Rosenbloom
We speak to her.
We ask of fear–
A golden egg;
Of play, the Buddha, eating chocolate;
A null set and letters lit by the moon;
Laughter, dance, and ritual;
Of a body wrapped in carpet and left in the hall;
Grass, make-believe, and cigarettes;
Legs, alphabet, and teeth;
My dear friend resting upon stone;
Old trees, softness, dirt, and language;
Of a boy making the sounds of a cat;
A man running quickly;
Black sandy pebbles, paranoia;
Stacks of turtle shells;
Three crickets and a smile;
And of distance;
And song and breath;
Of the texture of many different rocks;
Of mud, cards, and a strand of hair.
That I might have held her to me.
It is nine-sixteen and my hands are made of trains. Or rather, my fingers–emanating from the central hub of my hand. We might as well call this the train station or if we are feeling bodily–the torso. My train station is as stiff as my back, strained from the resolution of proper posture. Individual trains lurch according to their schedules in different directions. They move up and down along the foothills. They creak and make popping sounds. The accommodations are sub-par and the view is splendid. It is nine-twenty-four and my hands continue to be trains.
I am riding in a train. I am sitting before a table which folds out along its length. I am riding in a car labeled “2.” A woman six rows away smiles at me. I contemplate gasoline while waiting for new thoughts to arise. I will make eye-contact once more from the vantage point of these “new thoughts,” but I shall make no discovery except to notice her absence. She has left me for what is either another train or a car or both. It is nine-forty-six and my hands are counting numbers.
I occupy one of four seats. I occupy one of two seats which face two more seats. My backpack occupies one of two or four seats and collectively we occupy two of two or four. My coffee is taken without room for cream and sits upon the table which folds out along its length. The table currently occupies one of four intended configurations. The table cannot occupy more than one position regardless of whether it is in a train or car or both. It is ten-twenty-four and my hands rest upon the table.
The woman returns and my thoughts also return, but to the subject of gasoline and potential energy. These are new thoughts and also old thoughts and I refuse to consider the woman either new or old. I consider the woman to be the same woman even though she has changed her hair. I do not make the mistake of thinking she has new hair, but I refuse to consider her hair the same–it was not before in a ponytail. It is ten-fifty-two and my hands continue to be attached to my torso via my arms and their constituent components.
To my right is a graveyard for battleships. I estimate between one and two dozen. Each ship is crowded with communication and detection towers of various sizes. I am once more reminded of gasoline and potential energy. In a graveyard we might say there is no more relevant potential energy. We consider the work exerted prior to internment and the potential work achieved if not for that internment, but I will not call it the potential energy of the object. It is eleven-oh-five and my hands are opening and closing.
There is an advertisement near a staircase (the staircase descends to the first level of car “2”. I am on the second level where the accommodations are sub-par and the view is splendid) that reminds me to “Get Connected / To More Than Your Destination.” I look for the woman in order to make eye-contact and smile, but she is looking at the factory passing on her right. The factory has many pipes and smoke stacks which remind me of the battleships, except for the smoke and the steam. The woman grows more attractive the further I move from my point of departure. I do not think of gasoline and potential energy, but of potential energy and crude oil. I also contemplate refinement. It is eleven-eleven and my hands rest on my lap.
The train slows perceptively but our next stop is as far as our previous stop. I am informed by the intercom and the man on the other end that we are now directly behind our “sister-train,” which has been delayed. We are to expect delays as well. It is eleven-thirty-two and my hands cast the shadow of a turtle.
The train is moving faster now, though not yet as fast as it has previously. As we pick up speed it looks there is a great difference between the plants nearby and the trees in the distance. The flora appear in a sequence that I group into a single set. I imagine the greenery cycles in the fashion of a treadmill. This leads me to the absurdity of a train on a treadmill and I look up once more for the woman who is smiling at me. I smile and display my white teeth. I lower my head a few degrees but I do not lower my eyes. It is twelve-sixteen and my hands are pale and freckled.
I remember my destination and three trees in the courtyard. There is a plaque beneath each tree dedicated to the memory of a recently deceased individual. They are not buried there. I begin to suspect these individuals spent much of their time on trains. Up and down the coast. Each inscription ends in a period like a caboose. The trees are not my destination, but they are nonetheless at my destination. I refuse to consider my own mortality. It is twelve-forty and my hands are folding and unfolding a sheet of paper.
At a slower speed and in the opposite direction a canal makes its movement. I see no one moving with it. There is a small fire burning in the distance with a yellow kind of smoke like leaves falling in the opposite direction. It looks to be dwindling. Before long the fire will go out, but the smoke will linger. It is behind us now. It is one-oh-six and my hands are drawing conclusions.
The train is arriving at its, or rather, my destination. The intercom announces the name of my stop, unintelligibly, but I know where I am. My backpack is in on back and I pretend to look for the woman. I move down the steps and pretend not to see the courtyard. I step off the train and pretend it has nowhere else to go. I look at my feet and pretend I have another destination. It is one-twenty-three and my hands continue to be trains.
Let’s not go so far as to say “she’s unpleasant to look at,” but one finds their cortisol levels tend to rise in her company. She enjoys bright colors, the kind you have to raise your voice to be heard over. It’s all but impossible to avoid running into her at the break room where she will start a “conversation” about her addiction to coffee and how it makes her a good person. Her laugh does not need expounding. Of course she forwards all those e-mails. She has toys on the edge of her cubicle walls which have been in the exact same position for the past eight months. You pass L—– in the office every day, many times. You have seen her at the grocery store twice. She is only slightly overweight and reminds you often.
You leave your cubicle after a long day of work. You argue with L—– in the elevator of the parking garage. You commute home. You pour yourself a beer. You watch half a network movie and fall asleep. You wake up and walk to the bathroom. You look in the mirror. You have become L—–.
You commute to work in traffic.
We need to get in line.
My father told me,
“Son, you better hurry up and wait.”
I’ve been trying ever since.
It’s become more difficult since he passed away.
What is that on your head?
Is it a hat?
It certainly looks like a hat.
I’ve seen you around, but never in a hat before.
Well, nevermind that.
I want you to smell this.
Don’t be shy.
It’s just freshly ground coffee.
Smells like morning.
“Rich, bold flavor.”
Put your nose in it.
It sure smells great, doesn’t it?
Anyways, I was wondering–
Just an errant thought–
Could I borrow your french press?
At first it is a pleasant warmth in the belly. The growing weakness of sore muscles in a dry sauna. In the twitch of a moment the hunger will humidify and turn to moisture in the lungs. This dampness builds with an exponential surety. Everything swells, seams stretch into sky. Clouds of distant thought open and vibrant colors pour from gaping mouths in rivers of wild flash-flood revelry. Color leaps with abandon and the last traces of soporific grayscale are washed away from the faces of immigrant cooks.
The shining fish will eventually, and with look like rage, burst from their net in a fearsome, kaleidoscopic instant before continuing their journey upstream toward natal waters. It is something like a sunset.
Once the sun has set there is night, and quickly deepening. No fish, no kitchen, no toque blanche stacked atop sweaty, balding heads. Even to recall a pleasing memory of the fish becomes difficult. Salmon? Trout?
The fish have gone, but the memory squirms in my hands like a phantom limb.