Well, it’s a sneak preview if you read this Thursday night or Friday before 5:30 P.M. and then go to the opening show at Gallery 9700F (the art installation gallery some friends are running in their apartment and I’m writing for). If you’re not going to the gallery, or you read this after you’ve gone to the gallery and read it there, then it’s not a sneak preview. Some background: the gallery shows are going to be based around the five senses this semester. This first one is the sense of sight, and the installation is this amazing cube with boxes and strings and view cutouts. This piece I wrote is also about sight, and it’s the first serious thing I’ve written in a long, long time. Maybe years. I hope you like it. __________________________________________________________
It’s all in what you see, really. They had been riding the train today, back to the suburbs from their trip downtown, when he saw her.
He rode this train every day to and from work and the trip had become so routine he didn’t notice anything about it anymore. Never read the signs, never paid any attention to the colors, noise, or people around him. Just got on, sat down, got off. Twice a day, every weekday.
But her, well, he would have noticed her. And he did this time, long before she turned around. As his wife and children sat next to him he stared at her back and remembered what it used to look like. It might as well have been thirty years ago as he slid his fingers slowly along the plastic of his seat, tricking himself into thinking it was her back, her collarbone, her legs, her arms. He swore he could feel the electricity thrumming through the rails beneath him. He watched as with each stop they passed she dropped pounds and stood a little straighter. The skin on the backs of her knees and her elbows tightened and became taut, filled with youth. Her hair lost the few strands of gray it had, began to lighten, and settled in a shade of eighteen-year-old blonde. People he never noticed got on and off the train.
Their stop came and his family walked onto the platform and towards the stairs. He looked back and saw that she was following them. He’d been right, it was her. The face bore the same signs of youth he remembered. The same dark eyes, the same straight teeth, the same skin with just a hint of a flaw here and there. As he walked with his wife and children to their car she followed, and when he opened the door she slid into the middle front seat between he and his wife. She talked to him the whole way to his house.
It was late when they got back and the kids were already asleep. He watched as she followed them all inside and sat at the kitchen table in the dark. He and his wife put the kids to bed and he went back downstairs as his wife changed out of her clothes and went to sleep. She was still there in the kitchen, so he poured them both a glass of water and sat down across from her. She looked just like she used to. They talked for hours.
It’s all in what you see, really. They had been riding the train today, back to the suburbs from their trip downtown, and she saw everything.
She didn’t ride this train very often; she worked near their house. Her husband rode this route every day to work, though, and she wondered if he ever got bored with the same routine year after year.
She spent the half-hour trip looking around and trying to take it all in. The orange plastic of the seats, the cream of the painted metal walls, the dark brown of the carpet, stained from years of dirt, food, and children. She saw every single person who got on and off the train and noticed the colors in what they were wearing. She saw the woman standing with her back to them and noticed her faded blonde hair, her skin with its slight sag around the knees and elbows, and the waist which betrayed its age in the extra weight it carried on the hips. She thought about the train’s speed and sound. She kept an eye on their children. She saw everything.
When their stop came she and her family got off and walked to their car. The drive back was a long one, and watched the scenery outside the window as her husband never said anything to bridge the empty space between them. She turned the radio on and watched the rear view mirror as her kids fell asleep.
When they got to the house she and her husband put their sleeping children to bed, and her said he was going downstairs to the kitchen for some water as she brushed her teeth and went to bed. She fell asleep quickly and slept through the night. If she had gone downstairs to check on her husband, she would have found him sitting at the table and staring at the wall, in the dark and very much alone.