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Some people are jetsetters. Some people wear fancy clothes with their hair up in that thing, thick with gel. Some people have shoes so pointy they could put your eye out with one errant kick. These are the Mile-High Club people, the people who make eyes at one another across the aisles of 747s and shuffle off to the toilets to do it, cramped and rocking about to the rhythm of atmospheric turbulence.
I am not one of these people. I am not in their Mile-High Club, nor do I ever anticipate being initiated. See, I take the train. My clothes, my hair, my shoes: all modest, all embarrassingly simple, nothing more angular or edgy than the rounded toes of my flip-flops.
But us train folks have a club of our own. In our club, there is no rush to the john to jostle around on the pee-splattered floor. No. We get one another's phone numbers and later rendezvous at a more hospitable location, a restaurant or a futon. Our club is a more patient brand: ground-bound, old-fashioned, but also dignified. Occasionally, though, it is sordid and guilt inducing.
I take the train a lot, and I've developed a system. I board last, sitting beside the prettiest girl I can find. I begin with small talk: "We are on the train. Let the jetsetters have their Air Miles and oxygen masks. You are pretty, and I may have weird protrusive ears and an excess of shoulder hair,
but in essence we are the yin and yang of long-distance travel." Sometimes it works. I have gotten numbers from, and gone on dates with, train girls I normally would have no business even talking to.
When I was living in Toronto, one weekend I headed back to my hometown to visit my mom. I seated myself beside, and subsequently did my best to woo, the very friendly, Rachel McAdams-esque "Lisa," a student at the local School of Education. On our way to hail taxis, Lisa and I discovered that she and my mom lived in the same neighborhood, so we split a cab back to Lisa's place. The Choo-Choo Club, it seemed, was about to induct a new member.
At Lisa's, I was told to "Hold on a sec," before she emerged from the basement with two long, stout snakes coiled around her arms. We spent the following half hour fully clothed and wordlessly transferring the snakes from her body to mine. They would slither down her wrists, onto my fingertips, and then wind themselves up to my shoulders before making their way back to Lisa. There was otherwise no touching, no kissing, nothing even vaguely sexual, but this was easily the most tantalizingly erotic — not to mention frighteningly bizarre — practice in which I had engaged with another human being.
The next morning, she had rug burn on her face and I had two black eyes.
Eventually Lisa put the snakes away and offered to drive me home. On the way, I asked her why she had been in Toronto, and Lisa said, "Visiting my mom," so I asked, "What does your mom do?" to which Lisa said, "She's in palliative care," so I said, "Oh," assuming that by this she meant that her mother worked in palliative care. Lisa dropped me off, we exchanged phone numbers and a quick kiss, and plans were made to do something the next evening.
The following evening, in typical Choo-Choo Club form: sex. Fortunately, the snakes remained locked up, but when we awoke the next morning, she had rug burn on her face and I had a two black eyes and what I could only assume to be lockjaw. My body ached and there were bite marks up and down my arms. "I can't wait until we get really crazy," Lisa said, rolling on top of me and digging her fingernails into my scrotum.
From this, a routine developed. I had never met this type of woman, a woman who would morph from a dimpled, bashful schoolteacher-to-be into a rabid beast, foaming at the mouth and flinging the C-word around like an East Londoner out on a pub crawl. Otherwise, we talked very little. As I soon realized, it is almost impossible to have a conversation with a pillow pressed over your face.
One Friday night, I got a call from Lisa. She was in town. "Let's hook up," I said, feeling that familiar mix of arousal and fear that prefaced each rendezvous. "I can't," Lisa told me. Then, the bomb, dropping, exploding: "My mom just died."
I think I might have said something brilliant and sympathetic like, "Who?" or "How?" or possibly even both. Apparently Lisa's mom had been "in palliative care" for close to six months. "The funeral's tomorrow," said Lisa. "Do you have anything to wear?"
Have you seen the movie version of High Fidelity? Remember that part when the girl's dad or someone dies and all she wants to do is screw? Picture that, except think Linda Blair in The Exorcist meets the Tasmanian Devil meets Traci Lords after six years of solitary confinement. I know this sounds flippant and
That thing? In my bum?
insensitive, but, honestly, at this stage Lisa was showing no signs of grief. My attempt at consolation — gentle murmuring with a hand rubbing circles on her back — was soundly rejected. That same hand was grabbed and stuffed between her legs, and my murmurs were stifled with a sock and duct tape.
Lisa came back to my place, claiming to be unable to face the outside world, to need a few days off. Fair enough. I called into work to explain that my "girlfriend's" mom had died. This was maybe a month after I had met Lisa on the train, and I'm sure Lisa had no pretenses that we were an official couple, either. Still, we were well beyond Choo-Choo Club now, and my function, I knew, had become strictly utilitarian. So I did my best to comply.
One evening, about three days into our sessions of sex therapy, there was a power surge (I blame the amount of electrical gadgets Lisa had plugged into the power bar in my bedroom) and the lights went out. This happened just as we were finishing. I had taken a sound haymaker to the chin, and then: boom. Darkness. I scrambled around naked until I found a flashlight and illuminated Lisa, who was sitting on the bed gazing at me, that familiar, heavy-lidded look in her eyes. "Hey," she said. "Come here." I stood fast. "Come on. Bring the flashlight." I wavered. "Now."
As I sat down, Lisa took the flashlight from my hand. "Bend over," she said. "I'm going to fuck you with this." My first thought, oddly enough, was whether she was planning on leaving it on, and I pictured my rectum lit up like a cave. I tried to imagine my mom dying and how that would feel, but instead I could only think about how the flashlight would feel. I surmised it would be like trying to swallow a bus. I looked at Lisa, a golden beam of light streaming from her hand. That thing? In my bum?
I couldn't do it. My sympathy only extended so far. So I lied, made up
She nodded her head in the direction of the toilets.
something about hemorrhoids, diarrhea, I forget, and then flopped over onto my back and lay tightly against the sheets. I held my arms out. "Hug?" I offered. Lisa snorted, clicked the flashlight off, then went downstairs to sleep on the couch.
The next day, without ceremony, Lisa left, abandoning me with my own guilt. Would it have been so bad? I mean, a few minutes of pain versus her lifetime of grief — it hardly seemed a fair comparison. Still, I took comfort in knowing there had to be someone out there with a bigger heart and a more welcoming backside than mine.
Shortly thereafter, I took an extended leave from my job and found a cheap ticket to Paris. The limits of the Choo-Choo Club tested, it seemed time to try a little jetsetting of my own. High above the Atlantic Ocean, after a few sideways glances, I made eye contact with a young woman across the aisle. She nodded her head in the direction of the rear cabin, the toilets.
I wish I could tell you that I went back there and became the member of that other, more prestigious club, ravaged some stranger with her legs up on the sink, pointy shoes to the heavens. I wish I could claim that afterward we emerged disheveled and sated, and returned to our seats without exchanging a word. And, while we're at it, I wish I could tell you that my flight to Paris was not made out of fear — fear, my friends, and also shame. I wish I could tell you all these things. I really, really, really wish I could. n°
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|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Pasha Malla lives in Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have
appeared in a number of magazines, journals and anthologies, including
Hobart, Maisonneuve, McSweeney's, and Journey Prize Stories 2005.