Friday, June 26, 2015

Chapter 37 / Train Trip

“Some days”—Andrew stood up and walked around Warren’s office, in a circle past the wall of books, past the window with its skinny Venetian blinds, past the two doors, one in, one out, that prevented Warren’s famous patients from seeing one another.

“Some days I think I’ll blow this whole thing. Some days I almost do.”

Warren listened, alert.

“And some days I feel like I’m talking to God. Dammit, Warren, you know all this already, if not with me than with some other patient. How to you keep from screaming in boredom?”

“By reminding my patients not to avoid the hard stuff by expressing concern for me that while it may be genuine, isn’t helpful, to me or to them.”

“That’s the most you’ve said to me in months.”

“You’re getting good at figuring things out for yourself.”

Andrew sat down, stood up, walked around again. “I had shipped some cartons to Annie before I left, so all I had with me was a duffle bag and my laptop. That was it; all my earthly goods.

“And a huge sense of failure. I achieved nothing in New York. The radio station was glad to give me an unpaid leave. I know I’m paranoid sometimes Warren, but I also have a good sense of nuance. I think they were about to . . . give me the ax. It’s all Middle East now, with some Southeast Asia thrown in. My fluent Spanish, my dozens of contacts, don’t mean a thing."  

“Let me interrupt just to say that your achievements since you left the hospital are immense. Immense. Go on.”

“Thank you, Warren dear. Seriously. Keep reminding me, because I know there’s a story up there, and I have a contract for it.

“So I lock the door on my studio. I get a taxi. I don’t talk to the driver. He can probably see this black cloud hanging over my head and he would say God is good, God will take care of you, so we don’t talk. I give him an extra couple of bucks for shutting up.

“On the train I find a seat on the aisle. I need to walk around, the people near me with their clutter, their issues, are making me feel like I itch, even though I don’t.  

“The train is moving out of the tunnel, then out of the city, so I get up and stand between the cars because I love those old, soft-edged tenements in the late-afternoon light, and I’m still feeling black, thinking about the concrete down here spreading every day to meet the concrete up there, yet there’s some comfort in that old brick, and then the conductor comes along, so I start to give him my ticket and he says, ‘Take a seat, sir. Riding between cars is not allowed.’

“I show him my ticket and he doesn’t take it, he won’t take it until I sit down, so I do that. There are two guys talking in back of me and I think if I have to listen to them for two hours I’ll start chewing up my cigarettes, so I wait until the conductor is well into the next car, and then I stand between the cars again. 

"We’re in the Bronx now and I’m thinking, look, it’s just a pile of concrete, there are other places, you can do this, you’ve got a good idea, a good girl, you can do this. I lean against the car and try to relax to the chunk-chunk of the train.

“And the damned conductor comes back. ‘Sir, you cannot ride between the cars.’

“I look at him.

“My mind is humming like the laptop does when I’ve got too much open on it. Somewhere I’m begging him to leave. He doesn’t. We stare at each other, and I see that he is being brave. I haven’t said a word to him, my arms are at my sides, but I’m a head taller and 20 pounds heavier, and I must be giving him my black empty look, because when he says to me, ‘Sir, if you do not sit down I will have you put off the train at the next stop,’ there is fear in his eyes.

“Of me.

“We stare for another couple of seconds and then I sit down. I am taking the train to my new life. I don’t want to arrive in Yonkers to a police presence. In fact, there are two cops at the station when we get there, but I’m sitting, and I have a ticket. We go on. And every fifteen minutes for the rest of the ride, a conductor walks through the car, making sure I’m sitting.

“In Beekman all the rich people get off, leaving my end of the car to me and two women, each with a little kid. The one is your cute, practical mom, short hair, loose pants and sneakers, and every time her kid, a boy, probably about three, has shown the slightest sign of boredom, begun the slightest hint of a whine, she pulled a new toy out of a big blue bag she has. She has snacks for him, and games and puzzles and little kid books.

“I’m taking notes on my laptop, wishing I could tell her what a great mom she is, but she isn’t afraid of me, and I don’t want to take her there.

“The other girl—she is a girl—wears a white dress and three-inch white heels. And she has brought nothing for her kid, who’s smaller than the other kid, maybe a little younger. Nothing. She sits him at the window, and he runs up and down the aisle.

“I figure the good mom is taking her boy upstate to see some grandparents. Dad will drive up on Saturday. But the other one, is she going to be married in that dress? She’s already a shotgun bride whose poppa didn’t have a shotgun, and now she looks a little spacey in her short white dress, with its long tight sleeves, as if she doesn’t know quite where she is, or who this kid is. 

“When her boy comes over and stares at me I show him a file on my laptop, but he can’t read, it’s no fun. So I find a couple of sheets of paper and an old red pencil. No ink on momma’s white dress.

“He just looks at them. I sketch some stick figures, a dog like Annie’s, with a fox-like face, a cat with whiskers, and offer him the paper and pencil again. He grabs them and runs back to his seat. We haven’t exchanged a word. Annie says kids in Hudson County are like that too. They don’t talk, because no one talks to them.

“When I get off the train they all stay, taking their innocence to another place. For me, Annie is standing at the edge of the parking lot, with the Village Voice open in front of her and I think, she doesn’t read the Village Voice, and then she closes the paper, revealing a huge bouquet of flowers, all yellows and greens and blue-purples, some kind of flowers, which she offers to me.

“I put down my two little bags and pick up Annie and her flowers. I hold her, and hold onto her, I’m home.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer


  1. Oh, I like Andrew. He's the bad boy we can't resist -- not that all of us actually get romantically involved. I like the stories he sees and tells. He's a good story teller. And I believe he's come home, even after all his fears along the way. Please don't have him turn out to have a truly fatal flaw, because it will break my heart as well as Annie's.

  2. This chapter was so moving. It revealed Andrew's angst but ended with his job. Ready for more!