The Girl on the Train

He stared ahead, his eyes fixated on the girl standing at the entrance to the carriage. The train jostled her back and forth, but she just leaned against the partition next to her, rocking side to side on her feet. She was wearing the kind of unique but at the same time completely common outfit of someone who was trying to look like an art student from an 80s movie; short denim skirt with tights and a black bowler hat with a wide brim.

She had gotten on the train a few stops after him. He was going home, well, to his parents house, for Sunday dinner. They weren’t really a Sunday dinner sort of family but he hadn’t seen his dad since he’d gotten home from the hospital so he felt he was required to go along. Also, his mother had been watching a lot of interior design programs on television. She’d seen something the Americans called a ‘breakfast nook’. He had no idea what this was. And, of course, a breakfast nook required a breakfast table. He didn’t know what that was either. A small table? What makes a table specifically for breakfast? All he knew is that his mum had bought one and although its assembly would be pretty straight forward she didn’t want his father bothering with it so soon after his back operation. So a Sunday afternoon had been arranged when he would do his sonly duty and eat his mother’s food and put together the aforementioned table. Hopefully it wouldn’t take too long. It was while he was pondering how long the event would last that the girl had stepped onto the train. And although she was directly in his eyeline, and thus likely to capture his attention, his reasons for watching her were rather more complex. She reminded him of someone.

A few years previous he had met a wonderful girl, or at least she appeared to be wonderful to him at the time. She was pretty and smart and spontaneous, or at least she seemed to be. You know how it is. She had dressed in a similar 80s art student type manner, and at the time he naively thought this was because she was very interesting and cool. She wasn’t. He found this out much later on though. For the first few months he had been ecstatic to be with her. She seemed to be able to do no wrong. Then things got more serious. She began to reveal more about herself, and alluded to something in her past, something ‘a bit odd’. She was clearly testing the ground, seeing if she could trust him. Then one day she opened up. She had been born with a ‘special medical condition’; with ‘something that resembled male genitalia’. Basically she’d had a penis. Or at least that’s the way he heard it, and the word set off sirens in his head. She talked him through it, how it happens, how her parents decided what to do etc. But the words penis! And, hermaphrodite! had continued to flash in his mind. It was only on his walk home from her flat that afternoon that he began to assimilate all that she’d said.

It turned out not to really bother him. After the initial shock it didn’t seem to make a difference. But then time had gone on. And soon he began thinking about underdeveloped penises. Which no one really wants to be thinking about. Then every time he saw he kept imagining her underdeveloped penis. This got worse and worse until he decided to talk to his friends about it. They were very understanding and began suggesting that perhaps his fixation on this aspect of her past was clouding his judgement and he was inadvertently sabotaging their relationship. This all sounded very sensible and grown-up, so he tried it out. Being more grown-up that is. So he kept seeing her, but he kept thinking about it. Until one day she was talking and it occurred to him that it wasn’t him that was sabotaging their relationship. It was her. Yes, he was thinking about penises and hermaphrodism a lot when she was around, but frankly he was only thinking about this because everything else about her was incredibly dull. He hated to say it, because she was a nice girl, but she gave off the impression of someone who was incredibly artistic and interesting, but without any of the talent or wisdom to back it up. He could, of course, have just been searching for a grown-up reason to break-up with her. Which he did, twenty minutes later.

Now there was this other girl in front of him. And whereas once he would have gone mad for her cool and creative look, now, he wasn’t bothered. There was a girl at work who had to wear the same tailored suits, which by the way, she hated, everyday, who never talked idly about the stuff she’d like to do or could do if she wanted to, and he fancied her rotten. So why was he staring at this girl? Well, he wasn’t staring at her exactly, he was staring at what she was holding. And what she was holding was a sizeable remote control, the kind you might have for one of those small airplanes you see people with in the park. But, importantly, she had no airplane with her. In fact, she had nothing else but a small handbag. Where was the airplane? Why would you have a remote control but not the plane? Plus, she didn’t look like the kind of girl to own such a thing. It was all kind of strange, but kind of interesting.

She got off at the same stop as him, and walked in the opposite direction. He allowed himself to stop on the platform and stare at her as she disappeared into the small car park and up a path. Where was the airplane?

He spent the afternoon eating, mainly. The breakfast table was an afterthought. His parents had sat down in front of the television and quite forgotten about him. Sensing boredom on the horizon, he had drawn their attention to the large box in the hallway. They attempted to discourage him, they hadn’t found a space yet etc. But he reasoned with them that this is what he’d come up for. And, like most people have to do with their own parents, he had to wrestle for the opportunity to be responsible. Why do parents do that anyway? Maybe they think they’re bothering us? But it more often comes across that they don’t trust us with important things. As it turned out, the breakfast table wasn’t very hard to put together. It was literally a small table top and four legs. But the simplicity of the task was exaggerated by the fuss his parents made around him. Where was the screwdriver? Where shall we put the packaging? Where is it going to go? In the end he felt like he had just annoyed his parents by putting it together. Chaos had been created, and in its wake there was packaging that couldn’t go out on the curbside (in case kids messed with it…?), a dresser that had been moved to make space for the table, and all the things that had been on or in the dresser, piled up in a corner of the living room. Breakfast nooks, he thought, were a stupid idea.

As the sun began to set he made his goodbyes and began his walk to the train station. They could have driven him to another station, they could have dropped him off but would have parked somewhere else, they could drop him off later… In the end they had confused themselves and he’d gotten out while they were still deciding what to.

The train journey home had been nice. He had watched the early summer sun set and a nice cool breeze had blown through the quite empty carriage. His body carried a nice, warm feeling. The feeling that comes with being exposed to sun, and travel. A warm, tired, but content feeling. By the time he reached his stop it was dark. He stepped off the train alone, walked into the car park and headed for the road. As he walked through the car park he noticed a row of empty spaces to his right, and in the corner of his vision he noticed something odd, something strange, on the ground. He looked, and stopped. There, in front of him, sat perfectly in a parking space between him and the platform beyond, was a small red and white helicopter. As he stared he heard a click, and as he startled the helicopter rose into the air. It halted, a few feet off the ground, and seemed to stare at him. After a moment it turned sharply, rose up over the train station, and off into the dark night.

Keywords: Remote control, hermaphrodite, breakfast table. Provided by David Neilson.

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