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The Bostons

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en Limba Engleză Paperback – 07 Jun 2001

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Carolyn Cooke's stories have been featured in several volumes of PRIZE STORIES: THE O. HENRY AWARDS and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. Her highly anticipated debut collection tells hilarious and often savage truths about people struggling within the confines of history, society, and class.
Mr. Sargent, the aging Brahmin aesthete of the title story, scribbles his epiphanies on cocktail napkins and covers them up with his drinks. A Maine innkeeper shoots his wife, who remains bitterly loyal to him until the death of their son. A whole family conspires to keep the birth of yet another dirt-poor relation a secret from his grandmother. On the icy cobblestone streets of Boston and the rockbound coast of Maine, these vividly realized characters try to reconcile habits of obedience and self-reliance with the urgent desire to capture the wild core of life. The result is an explosion of exquisitely tuned voices, as authentic as they are unforgettable.
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ISBN-13: 9780618017683
ISBN-10: 0618017682
Pagini: 192
Dimensiuni: 140 x 210 x 11 mm
Greutate: 0.25 kg
Editura: HMH Books
Colecția Mariner Books
Locul publicării: United States


Bob Darling

Bob darling spent the day and the evening on the fastest train in Europe. At first the train lugged slowly through yellow towns, then it began to pull together its force and go. The landscape slid past. In one stroke the train braced and broke through the air into a river of dinning sound. It climaxed at 380 kmh. Darling heard this news from a German across the aisle, but he’d already sensed the speed in a deeper bone. His body was attuned to the subtle flux of high speed, the jazz pulse, the fizz.
He closed his eyes, registered the scrape of the antimacassar against his brittle hairs, and dozed. Dying tired him, so did the drugs he took to keep from urinating on the seat. But he never let himself go that far, to close his eyes, unless the buzz of speed was in him, the drone of engines, the zhzhzh of jets.
On the seat beside him lounged a beautiful young woman named Carla. She was a baby, vague on facts and ahistorical; she talked too much, she pouted when she didn’t get her way, she disliked opera, and she drank. But she had not given him too many terrible disappointments, and overall Darling felt they had been compatible. Paris, coming up, would be the last leg of their trip. Darling planned the Tuileries, the Orangerie, an afternoon at the Louvre, couscous in the Latin Quarter, two nights at the Hôtel Angleterre.
That would be the end of it. Back home he would see her occasionally in the cafés he had first shown her and they would exchange shrill pleasantries. Sometime, perhaps, in the future, he could take her out for dinner and liquor at one of those subterranean French restaurants in Cambridge and afterward press himself on her. But one day she would move, get a job, find a lover, change her life. She would look at her calendar and think she had not seen him in months, or years. But she wouldn’t call him until she was sure that he was dead.
(What would that be like? What if he didn’t know, if the end of it was not-knowing, if not-knowing was the surprise? What if there was nothing afterward? Where would the information go he had put into his head over the years — the names of kings, the taste of food, the memory of his mother and his father, the fact that louvre is early French for “leper,” that lava is mainly water, loose facts, what Thoreau said: “Our molting season, like that of fowls, must be a crisis in our lives,” the names of women, the names of small hotels? Would the contents of his busy head be wasted, lost?) He opened his eyes. A crowd of old men on bicycles crashed by outside the window and were gone. Carla leaned into the Michelin guide; the lemony point of her nose and the book vibrated perceptibly to the motion of the train. Her eyes were puffy, from sleep maybe. She still had on her dress from the evening before — a strapless — and some cosmetic residue sparkled on her neck. Her sharp perfume hung on the air. She could sit for hours that way, a packet of French cigarettes and a bottle of Perrier balanced on the seat beside her, her bare feet crossed in her lap. She read any trash for hours and ignored the view. Travel, Darling thought irritably, was a vacation for her.
“The Train r Grande Vitesse,” she said now, out of nowhere.
“The TGV, yes, that’s the train we’re on now,” he said.
“You called it the Trcs Grande Vitesse,” said Carla, looking up at him, frowning. “Actually it’s the Train r Grande Vitesse — train, not trcs.” “That’s what they call it informally, I guess,” he said, looking across Carla’s lap at the blur of France. “Very Great Speed.” “Informally they call it the TGV. And I know what trcs means, thank you.”

She was a little bantam, round face, skinny as a refugee, knees like knuckles. Long arms, down to her knees. Twenty, twenty-two. He was not an old man, Darling, but compared to her. In her eyes. From that first afternoon he thought he could get her into bed if he remembered to call her Carla, not Paula.
He had found her, funnily enough, unconscious on the T. There were two girls almost exactly alike. It was late afternoon, still hot; the strings of their bathing suits dangled down the backs of their necks, one suit red-checked, the other pale blue. Darling had his leather jacket with him in spite of the heat; he felt a constant chill.
The girls hung from the hand straps, limp as fringe. First, one collapsed. The shoes of interested citizens chattered like sets of teeth around the head. Then the second girl dropped, straight as a rope. They lay there on the floor of the car, completely vulnerable. But two girls fainting stank of conspiracy. No one besides Bob Darling wanted to be taken in.
He hiked his pants so they would not be damaged bby his knees and squatted to greet the girls when they woke. The first one opened her eyes, and he saw a flattening out of her pupils, her vision narrowing to familiar and unimaginative suspicions. “What did I, pass out?” she said.
“You seemed to fall,” Darling said.
The girl blinked at him. “My wallet still here?” Her hands flew up into the air, then lit on a leather pouch fastened at her waist. “Miracle,” she said.
“You want air,” he said, and stood her up.
She shook her head. “I’ve got to go to work.” It was a shame, Darling thought; the first girl had a little more shape to her.
“What do you do? I mean that respectfully,” Darling assured her, because he thought she might be a dancer, and Paula had been the most marvelously uninhibited dancer. His response to her dancing had always been sexual, but in the most respectful sense.
“Medical records,” said the girl.
The second girl opened her eyes and he looked away from the first girl into her face. She was a scrapper, but not bad-looking.
The first girl got off at Charles Street. Darling marveled at how she woke from a dead faint and bussed the other girl’s cheeks, then went off to record the claims of a swollen humanity to life and health. Sand still sparkling on the back of her neck. That pale blue string.
His prize was the second girl, Carla; she let him hold her birdy arm. He liked to think he knew the why and the how of the city. Did she know the Such-and-Such Café? The apple cake was the thing to eat. Did she like apple cake? He guided her down into the café, an empty room underground where all the waiters rushed toward him.
But Carla didn’t want apple cake. She said she was bored without drinks. She sat across a round table, behind a tumbler of booze.

She would not be shocked by the news of his death, or the idea of his illness. “Things break down,” she would think with a shrug. But Darling was still young enough — and the news was fresh enough — that it came to him as a shock, a surprise. Barely two hours before he found her, his doctor and old ally, Carnevali, had sighed deeply and told Darling, The game Is not Quite up But make your plan.
Appalled, Darling buttoned down his shirt, top to bottom, over his heart, his lungs, his appendicitis scar. Though the day was warm, he put on his leather jacket. He was about to hail a taxi when suddenly he wanted to live among as many people as possible. His eyes flailed like arms, grasping at the grays and browns and bricks of the little Puritan city. He went underground, and waited for the Red Line.

His apple cake lay in crumbs before him on a plate. “Let me show you something,” he said, throwing out a spark of spit. He removed a black leather book and a fountain pen from inside his jacket pocket. A lozenge flew out too and rolled under the table. He leaned over the book, showing it to her. “This is Ned Blodgett,” he said, and pointed to a list of numbers. “First-rate lawyer.” He looked at Carla. “This is his office, this is home — his wife’s name is Paula, you’ll like her, she’s very uninhibited. This is their number in Truro. Ned can get a message to me anytime. Now here is Jane Purbeck, she walks my dog when I’m away — you can call her. This is Jack Shortall, here’s his number. These are reliable people,” he said.
He closed the book and slid it across the table. “You take it. I know all these numbers.” Her hand flickered on the table. “Please,” he said. “Even if you don’t want to leave a message, I will know you can leave a message.” “See your pen?” she said. He handed it over. She opened the address book to a blank page near the Ws and rolled the pen across it experimentally. Then she drew an outline of the couple at the next table, and the table, and a vase with a few flowers in it.
Darling jiggled his leg. “You’re an artist,” he told her.
“Nope.” He watched her bear down on the nib and smiled, sipped his coffee. “That’s a hundred-year-old pen,” he said.
Her face emptied. She slipped the cap on the pen and laid it on the table.
“No,” he said gently. “Take it — use it.” “Thanks,” she said.
Darling scraped his chair on the floor, hobbled it toward her, and told her his name. “You can call me Bob, or you can call me Darling. I mean that respectfully. People call me Darling. Not just women. Men.” “Darling,” she said. “Like the girl in Peter Pan.” “What? Peter Pan?” Darling said excitedly.
“The girl’s name — the one who goes to Never-Never Land with Peter.” “Not Mary Martin?” “No — I meant — the Disney,” she said.
Darling sniffed. “Life is too short to talk about Walter Disney,” he said.
“Fine,” she said. She picked up his pen and twirled it in her fingers.
It was their first frisson. Darling savored it with coffee. Together they watched the couple she had drawn eat chicken. The man ate delicately, pulling the underdone meat away from the bone with the point of his knife and actually feeding himself with the blade. His thin white shirt strained to girdle him, and through the fabric the white loops of his undershirt were legible. The woman ate quickly, as if other duties called her. She wore a transparent blouse, which magnified her white arms and the vastness of her brassiere. Once she stopped chewing, she looked up at him and said something. The man didn’t look at her, but barked out a laugh. “I’m not feeling flush tonight,” he said.
They buttered their bread and rolled it up so more fit into their mouths in one bite. When all the food was gone they wiped their lips with napkins and waited with all their attention until the waiter came and cleared the plates away.
When the waiter came back with pie and coffee on a tray their hands flew up to make room for the dishes, their fingers like birds’ wings. They took turns using the cream and sugar. The woman stirred her coffee and smiled. “Everything I’ve dreamed of for forty years, it’s coming true,” she said loudly.
Darling squeezed Carla’s hand. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Oh God, no,” she said. “I never eat at night.” * And yet — he felt this was somehow a contradiction, about eating — she lived above a busy Indian restaurant in Central Square, in one room of Chinese paper lanterns, museum posters and a futon on the floor battened down with sheets and a quilt and ropes of lingerie and clothes. They sat on the futon — it was the only furniture. There was an old coal fireplace with a flue out one side, but the blue rug ran into it. She served him a glass of yellow wine, a ripe tomato. Everything she had, she offered.
She played Stravinsky’s Firebird on her boom box and rolled pink lipstick over her lips. When she sprang the checkered brassiere of her bathing suit and called him to her bed, he realized he was already there. The slug of strong sensations — desire, hope, virility — brought tears to his eyes, which Carla mistook for gratitude.

He hoped to keep his bag of sensations light. Only the most intense sensations interested him. He had looked forward to this train because it was the fastest train. He had been very clear with Carla about this from the start. He wanted to ride the fastest train in Europe. That was one. Two was, he wanted them to eat the wonderful six-course dinner they served on the train. He asked her all about it before they left town, while they were still in the planning stages.
“Fine, Bob, whatever,” Carla said when he asked.

Some afternoons they sat under a sun umbrella at the Such-and-Such Café. Darling spread out the map like a tablecloth under their cups and crumbs and napkins and brought out sheets of onionskin encoded with train routes and the names and telephone numbers and addresses of hotels which he tapped out palely on his manual, having forgone the pleasures of his pen. Carla gradually warmed to the idea of the trip. She brushed his cake crumbs from the countries on the map.
She had never heard of Pcre-Lachaise. She knew only vaguely of Jim Morrison. Her ignorance was vast, ecumenical. He drew on the paper cloth with a yellow pencil. He sketched dreamily, from memory.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a baguette, a kind of long French bread.” “I know what a baguette is, for God’s sake, Bob.” But he could never predict what she knew. He was impressed, for example, by her seamless demand for caffc macchiato. But she shrugged and said she didn’t know what it meant — she just liked bitter coffee. He wondered whether she had broken his pen, bearing down on the nib, or sold it. He would have liked to show her how the ink went in so that if the pen stopped working she would not worry that she was to blame. His heart ached, imagining her humiliation and shy gratitude.
“You have to speak up — it won’t be any good unless we do things you want to do,” he told her. “We have to plan everything together. You have to tell me where you want to go, what you want to see.” Carla had never been to Europe. “I don’t know,” she said.
But I know! I know! Her white dress was ancient to a charming transparency. He would take her — he would show her.
He had read that the dinners on the train were sometimes oversubscribed. You could eat a croque monsieur in the bar car, but the thing to do was to get the dinner on the train.
“Fine, whatever,” Carla said. “I don’t care what I eat.” He leaned across the table, angry, closed his fingers around Carla’s wrist, and squeezed.
She ripped his fingers apart, a smooth strong gesture which surprised him. She laid her hands on her lap. “I eat anything. Scraps,” she said.
He sat up late that night at home, walled in by forty years’ worth of Michelin guides, tax returns, Boston Globes, Playbills, Symphony programs, creased hotel brochures. He called her at two o’clock in the morning. “Do you want to go to the Sabine Hills or the Villa d’Este at Tivoli? Tell me what you want to do.” There was a pause on the line, a certain flattening out in the expectant air. “Who is this, please?” she said.

And yet, in Europe, it turned out Carla had a terrible talent for knowing exactly what she wanted to do. Right away, in Venice, she saw the Lido from a speedboat. “What is it?” she said, and he told her.
“Oh, I want to go and spend a day,” she said.
The next morning she brought it up again — she wanted to go to the Lido and rent a beach chair. But she had agreed already, he reminded her, buttoning his shirt, to walk with him through the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, and to take a vaporetto to the cathedral at Torcello. Anyway, the last time he had been to the Lido the water was full of white fuzzballs and nobody could swim.
“But I just want to be there,” she told him. She jumped up and down on the bed, then jumped off and ran to the window, and pulled back the heavy curtain.
“I thought we could sit in the Piazza San Marco and eat some calamari,” he said.
“I don’t want to eat!” Carla said. “I could just go out on the boat taxi and meet you later.” They stood barefoot on the rug, facing each other across the unmade bed.
“If that’s what you would like to do,” he said.
“It is, it is,” she said.
And it was done.

He spent the day moving through the crowds at the Piazza San Marco, sliding in a vaporetto through the viscous water to the mudflats, tramping across the Bridge of Sighs. Always water swelled under him in undulating, filthy blackness. He smelled his own sweat through the leather jacket and tasted in his mouth the temperature of his boiling insides. After lunch in a trattoria in Dorsoduro he went out in the air and coughed two drops of blood onto a Kleenex. Embarrassed, he folded the Kleenex into the pocket of his leather jacket and went on to the Piazza, where he threw the Kleenex away.
Hours later he opened the door to his room with his key. The heavy air around Carla was like a fog, an Oriental smokiness. She sat straddled across the bidet wearing just the top of the bikini she had bought in a hotel souvenir shop at the beginning of their trip. (He had been shocked — impressed! — by that impulsive act. He paid a hotel bill, sliding a card from his wallet, signing his name, while Carla went and came back with the bathing suit to show him, black strings in a paper bag. A woman came up beside them with a valise in one hand and a bottle of mouthwash in the other, having some trouble about her bill, putting the mouthwash down on the cashier’s polished desk and raking a hand through her bag, her hair ugly around the neck of her coat, muttering “Merde, merde . . .” Darling took Carla’s arm, wanting to protect her from this woman, and shepherded her away.) Carla’s skin was burned red around the bathing suit top and she had long scratch marks up and down her back. She turned slowly from the sound of running water to look at him in the doorway. Her chin twisting over her shoulder pulled cords in her neck that opened her mouth. She seemed to be manipulated by strings.
Some bleary look in her eyes got in the way of his concern for her.
He folded his leather jacket over his arm. “I may just meet you downstairs,” he said.
Carla rolled her eyes and turned away. He went out, closing the door behind him. He bought a postcard at the front desk and sat down at a narrow table in the lobby.
“Dear Paula,” he wrote. “It is now six o’clock Sunday evening. The clock atop the Italian steps has struck those hours with an ancient quality. An array of birds with a multiplicity of sounds is announcing its departure this evening. The light is muted and pink, the city overall is waiting.” He read it over — it all seemed beside the point somehow. She had been so direct with him in her postcard from Oslo, the small block letters: “You are an elf, darling. But I am not really interested in elves.” He folded the card over and over itself and slipped it into his pocket just as Carla appeared. She wore her thrift store strapless; she had tied her hair back and pushed tiny pearls into her earlobes. Her skin had a yellow-blue pallor which made her seem unearthly, untouchable — it dazzled him. They had Pellegrino water together, then dinner at a place on one of the canals, pasta first, then calamari in ink and, at Darling’s suggestion, two bottles of wine. “How many bottles do we need?” Darling asked Carla. “I mean that respectfully. I want to get drunk too.” They drank fast out of tiny green glasses. Bob Darling shouted, “I’m drunk! Pow! Life is a glorious mist!” He ordered a gondola, then the ancient wood walls began to close around him. He threw money down on the table. A waiter put his arms around Carla’s waist and lifted her into the gondola. Darling’s vision closed down on her dress, which seemed to have no front or back. Someone handed him a plate of cake, and then Carla’s hand. He held them both; the hand, the cake. Looking out over the black water he pictured the way he would open the world to her, the blown glass choker he would fit around her neck, the lire liquid in his hand, pouring into her. He passed the plate of cake to Carla and gripped the knob of her knee.
“You want to know what the janitor in my building said about you, Darling?” “If you like,” he said.
“You told that terrible joke, remember? She said, ‘I don’t trust one single thing about that man.’” She squeezed his arm.
On the way out of the gondola she slipped and her leg sank into the inky canal. Walking up the narrow stairs to their room he heard the sucking sound of her shoe. Then she was asleep, painful- looking, sunburned. He tried not to look at her, at the marks on her back. Instead he lay back on his pillow, unable as ever to sleep in silence, and turned pages in the black book he had bought for her to record her trip. “He was his own whole world,” she had written. “He wore wool sweaters on hot days, bikini underwear. Every day he sent his pajamas down to be washed — why? — and they came back ironed. He saved anything that had words on it — theater tickets, programs, newspapers, napkins — but he never read anything. He carried a skin change purse that I wanted. He could walk for hours without stopping, but only in the city. He gave out his telephone number to everyone.” Her hand flopped out and lay on his arm. He looked at her things from the day tossed out like ropes at sea — her bikini bottom, the black dress, the rich cake nearly intact on a plate, the Oriental smell of her perfume, the ether of liquor. He read more, snatches here and there — her block letters were full of effort but difficult to read. “Asked if he could cut me just a little bit on the leg.” (His eye shot up, electric, but fell again to the page.) “In an umber room/he kissed my mouth/nibbled my mouth like an ant/carried me away/like crumbs.” He let Carla’s hand lie on his arm until it felt heavy, then he moved it away.

The argument was about the difference between naked and nude. He started it with her in France, in the countryside, over dinner in a small hotel. His cutlet had a crust on it and swam in a sauce. He would not drink wine from the leaden pitcher.
He pushed his plate away and laid his napkin on the table. “I want to tell you a story about my friend Paula,” he said, careful to use Paula’s name. “She and her husband lived on Mount Vernon Street — ‘the most respectable street in America,’ Henry James called it — or maybe he said, ‘the only respectable street in America.’” Darling paused. “Do you read James?” he asked her gently.
She looked at him.
“You should! You should!” “Why should I?” she asked, slicing into her cutlet.
“The passion!” She put down her fork and laughed at him.
“But listen. My friend Paula gave a dinner party on Mount Vernon Street. We drank champagne, we ate terrible food off Italian plates. We are not a bohemian crowd at all, you understand. But suddenly Paula came into the room and unzipped the gown she was wearing and it just fell around her feet like a puddle. I’ll never forget it. She was naked, she was statuesque, celebrating, inviting, brave. To say she was nude would be an insult.” “What did people do?” Carla asked.
“Of course no one did anything. We were far too respectful. A woman like Paula naked in a room, a grown woman at the height of her power, is almost untouchable.” “Why would she want to be untouchable?” Carla asked.
“You mean, did she want us to see her as an object of art or an object of sex? Isn’t that what you mean, you think these things are different?” Carla sighed. “Poor Paula.” “Poor Paula?” He could hear the mockery in his voice. Spit formed in the corner of his mouth.
The word he used was wrong, she argued. You would never say a child was nude — it would be an offense to the child, it would be obscene. Nudity corrupted nakedness with eyes, she said, climbing up onto her high horse, conservative as a child.
Would she prefer the lighter and more moral state? he asked her, mocking. Which was the more “natural” state? If nudity was more artful than nakedness, wasn’t it also less natural? So it followed, since she was always interested in being more “natural,” that she would rather get naked than nude.
“I’m not interested in being more natural,” she said.
He sent his dinner back twice. It was an impossible place. He went upstairs to the loo; through a hole in the floor he saw the top of her head, saw her spear a corner of his cutlet with her fork. The whole hotel swarmed with flies. Standing over the urinal, he thought of how only sauternes could save you from the richness of foie gras. Poor, poor liver! Their room down the hall — she had flung the casement open and let flies in there. But what could it matter? He buttoned up his pants and to hell with it, did not wash his hands.
After dinner she wanted to go for a walk — through the fields of sunflowers. He tried to think of a way to hurt her so she would remember him, but it was hard to walk without seeing his feet, through the wide flower heads that faced and mocked him. His hand attached to her damp shoulder with a sound of suction.
“Your eyes are so cold,” she said.
“What did you say?” “It’s you — you’re cold!” He took hold of the other shoulder. He felt a wild urge to bite it.
“Do you think you tricked me? Do you think you’re crafty?” she burst out. She pushed him off, away. He fell back stiffly, like an old man, pulling the heavy-headed flowers down with him. The ground sucked him in. He pulled wildly at her arm with his hand, and she recoiled so violently that she brought him upright.

The train reeled north at great speed. Carla opened her eyes, stretched her arms, and yawned. She looked out the window. “What time is it?” she asked.
“Five o’clock,” he said. “We have dinner in half an hour.” She sat up now, serious, and rolled orange lipstick over her lips, examining her mouth in a pocket mirror inscribed (from a lover?) “A little bit every day.” She closed the mirror and dropped it into one of her shapeless bags. “Oh, I can’t eat at five-thirty, can you? Let’s go and have a drink in the bar.” It was unbelievable. He could have pulled out her eyes.
“I asked you a month ago about eating dinner on this train,” he said.
“I don’t like to eat at night,” she said.
The train overtook its whistle. All sound now was behind his ears. He had an image of himself in black space, pinned to the back of a rocket. He dropped his arms down like two great weights on the arm rests — to steady himself.
“Please, eat this dinner with me,” he said.
“Look,” said Carla. “Why can’t we just go into the bar car? I can’t stand being crammed in here like a sardine. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to go and have a drink and look out the windows and talk to people?” “I don’t want to,” Darling said. “What I want to do is what we arranged a month ago. I want to eat the dinner they serve on this train. I want to sit right here and eat the dinner they serve on the train!” “I don’t,” she said.
“You wanted to a month ago when you said you would,” he reminded her.
“Bob, for God’s sake, a month ago.” She raked her hair with a hand and looked over the tops of the seats at the people all around them, at the oblivious heads.
“Eat dinner with me tonight. Please, Carla, just do,” he said.
“Why do you want me to do everything I don’t want to do? Why would you want that?” she said. Her eyes went everywhere but to him.
He looked at Carla until she ran out of places to look, until there was nowhere to look but at him. He sat in her path, in the aisle seat. Carla had the window. Her eyes floated over him.
“I don’t see the point of asking me to sit here and eat my dinner on a tray when I’m not hungry and I don’t want to.” “Could you do something for me just because I ask you to, or do you think dinner is too much to ask?” he said. He looked at his fingers vibrating in his lap, melded into a warped hideous undifferentiated hand, a paw.
Her eyes were glass. She looked past him.
He hugged his knees to his seat’s edge and let her climb over him into the aisle. She stood up and stretched herself out limb by limb like an animal. He looked up and she rolled her green eyes across him.
“I need francs,” she said.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the skin purse she had coveted — so she would know he had read what she wrote. “Take it,” he said.
But she gave no sign of remembering. She caressed the skin between her fingers, tears in her eyes. “Look, I’m sorry I’ve been this big disappointment to you on your trip,” she said. “I did my best, OK?” He looked into her face for any sign — any sign.
“OK?” Carla said again.
“Take a ferryboat to hell!” he shouted.
She walked toward the bar car, against the speed and pull of the train. He saw her fingers move over the skin purse; it was the scrotum of a lamb. A steward brought the entire meal at once — chicken breasts in white sauce, green beans, apple tarts.
He sat quietly, penned into his seat by his tray. He looked across the seat Carla had left and at the tray on the folding table in front of it, and beyond that out of the window at the blur of France. He considered moving into her seat, but the empty seat was part of his view: not-Carla. He tasted his unpromising dinner and discovered that he was hungry, but still discerning.
He ate his dinner slowly, looking carefully across the empty seat at the blur, and at Carla’s untouched chicken. All right: it was the fastest train in Europe. The food was above average. Everything was moving. The landscape outside looked as if it were underwater, wet, bleeding green-yellow-blue. He gripped a tray in each hand and in one motion switched his empty tray with hers. He ate the second dinner more quickly than the first, kept the fork gripped in his hand and moved it back and forth between the tray and his mouth until he had to confess he was glad she had left. He scooped up Carla’s apple tart, then wiped the ooze from his lips with a napkin, virtuous. He looked at the outside from the inside of the train. There was no comparison between this train and other trains he had ridden. He was like a fish being carried underwater in a current faster than a fish could swim. A cradle of fantastic motion. He let himself go then, and rested, and slept.

Copyright © 2001 by Carolyn Cooke