There he was.
I would recognize that red, velvet lined guitar case anywhere. I removed my hand from over my mouth and felt an involuntary twitch in my top lip. I felt the train lurch underneath my feet and then jerk me back. I swallowed hard and felt a dry lump form in the back of my throat. My head began pulsing like a beating drum as I counted how many rows he was in front of me. I whispered aloud, “one..two..three..four..five.”
The cold air from the train cooling system kicked back on and circled my face. I began to quickly grab my things and wait for the portly man standing at the front of the train to give the passengers permission to exit.
Finally, the lights flashed on and illuminated the train compartment and people started standing up and began talking to each other.
Dozens of conversations swirled in and out of my ears from the passengers surrounding me. People talked on and on about what they were having for lunch, and reminded each other not to forget certain items on the train. I could hear the monotonous tick of my wrist watch slowly seep deeper into my temples. Observing more than a hundred exaggerated yawns and stretches from the people surrounding me only ignited my frustration. Finally, the train attendant’s voice came booming over the loudspeaker like a medieval trumpet instructing everyone to exit the train.
My mouth opened and when I closed it my jaw ached as I tried to keep my focus on the guitar case. I saw the case being removed from the floor in the aisle, and thrown over someone’s shoulder. The passengers began to march like ants into the aisle of the train. Scrambling out of my seat I tried to push through the people in front of me, but their stance was thicker than molasses. I bumped into a bald man who rubbed his shiny, rubbery head and scowled at me with disgust. I still had my eyes glued on the guitar case, until a woman in front of me propped up her child onto her chest blocking my view. I trudged through the isle of people back to my seat and stood on top of the bouncy cushion.
“Mike!” I yelled and clapped my hands together a few times trying desperately to get his attention. The women’s baby boy in front of me turned to look at me and dropped the pacifier from his mouth. He let out a shrill cry and the mother glanced toward my direction. I looked forward. No guitar case. I lost him.
When I finally reached the train exit platform I felt a strong hand clasp the back of my shoulder. My heart sped up and I whipped around only to realize it was the chubby train station attendee I saw earlier. He grinned at me through his full red mustache of coarse pine needles.
“Hey there pretty lady, you forgot this.” He handed me my red bag and began to play with a toothpick in his mouth. I grabbed the bag without looking at it and said nothing. As I turned around, I heard the man shout,
“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
In the end it really didn’t matter. My life had been a never-ending roller coaster in the past three months. My free time was usually spent in my bedroom underneath my covers. To avoid life easier I took my seclusion a step further by tacking dark blankets over my bedroom window. I took the train earlier to stop by my aunt’s tenth wedding anniversary party which was grueling at best, and completely draining. I knew that the source of my deep sadness was getting steadily worse, and was probably venturing towards clinical depression. Before deciding to succumb to seeing a psychiatrist that will most likely prescribe me some sort of synthetic happiness; I decided to talk to my older brother Mike about it first.
For weeks I had been trying to get a hold of my older brother to ask him for advice. My brother cared about me, but had a bad habit of being unavailable. He graduated from Auburn University in Alabama three years ago. About two years after he graduated, he decided to move back home to Louisiana; and I was ecstatic. Even though we didn’t end up spending as much time with each other as I had hoped after he moved back; I was still glad he was at least geographically closer to me. My brother and I are very different. He was the typical Alabama country boy through and through. As long as my brother had access to barbecue, beer and anything involving the use of mud he was happy.
When I finally got home, I plopped onto my bed and reached to grab my TV remote. When I switched on the TV, the screen was white and frozen. I got up and hit the top of the TV a few times. I thought about how my brother’s solution to fix all forms of technology was to beat it up a bit. I almost laughed out loud when the TV began to make a sizzling, popping noise similar to the sound of making microwave popcorn. Not really too concerned about watching anything specific on TV, I gave up and laid back down.
Setting the remote on the night stand, I looked over at my brother Mike’s picture. The silver frame holding the photo gleamed in the lamplight. He was twenty-six in the picture and looked like the human version of a Ken Barbie doll. I was only twenty-one, so I silently hoped by age twenty-six I would fully inherit his good looks. His chestnut eyes were dark like coffee beans, and his eyes were a deep blue ocean of secrets. The picture was taken Christmas morning in Disney World a few years back. He looked happy. I threw the covers over my head and closed my eyes. I thought I heard it begin to rain outside as I drifted off to sleep.
When I opened my eyes, I decided to inspect what time it was by ducking my head under the blankets covering my window. It was dark outside and strangely quiet. You couldn’t even hear the sound of a cricket, and even see my neighbor’s lamp post light was oddly out. Everyone in my house must have been asleep because it felt eerily empty. I sighed and was about to pull my head out from the covers over my window when I heard a voice.
“Hey crazy girl, look what I got!”
I wiped the condensation from my window and saw my brother Mike. I was happy to see him, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the shiny red car he was standing by. The red sports car was almost too attractive to be real. It looked elevated with a white light surrounding it. Immediately I pictured the car as a showcase prize on The Price is Right. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Vanna White appeared as Bob Barker’s voice would say, “you’ve won a beautiful red sports car!” When I released the ridiculous grin from my face my jaw was aching. I unlocked the latch on my window and opened it a crack.
“Is that why you were on the train today, to go pay for this?” I stepped higher on my tippy toes and whispered, “You lucky bastard, what year is it?”
“C’mon silly girl let’s go for a ride. By the way, what the fuck is up with your window? Are you and Davy Crockett holding down the fort at the Alamo in there?”
“Fuck you, I will be down in a sec.” I laughed and stepped down. Before I closed the window I heard my brother say, “Don’t forget your coonskin cap, it’s a little chilly out here.”
I snuck out my backdoor and walked toward my garage. My brother was leaning on the side of the garage with one leg crossed over the other smoking a cigarette. He was sporting his usual weekend outfit which consisted of jeans, a t-shirt and his signature red leather jacket. I always thought he looked ridiculous, but he thought he looked like the cowboy version of James Dean.
Before I knew it his arms were around me, and I could smell cigarettes, cinnamon gum, and the faint smell of his deodorant. My brother always said he hated cologne, but always bought the strongest scented deodorant he could find. When I was little I always told him he smelled like a pine tree.
As he released me I felt the ground move beneath my feet. My brother’s face appeared blurry like I was seeing him through a magnifying glass. As he began to speak I could only hear loud echoes that drowned my ears. Before I could say one word I was in the car. I tightly closed my eyes and opened them again a few times trying wake myself up.
“Well c’mon girl let me show you what this baby can fucking dew.” The new car scent and leather smell engulfed my nose, and forced me to cough. When I cleared my throat I could taste the smell dripping down my throat and I gagged. I started to hear the faint sound of the car radio crackling and for some reason I couldn’t feel us moving. The only proof of our progression was the swift changing of houses dipping by. All of a sudden, I heard a clap of lightning followed by thunder. It started to rain.
Just as I felt the rumbling of the engine I reached for my seatbelt but didn’t feel it. The black shiny strap glided right through my hand. I reached for the seatbelt again with frustration.
“Sorry sweetheart the seatbelt has a kink or two in it.
“Mike I wanted to talk to you about something.” His jaw seemed to clench as he touched the back of his neck. My brother attempted to turn up the radio but all you could hear was static that sounded like wordless correspondence from a police radio scanner. I held in my anger from his dismissal until we were in front of his apartment complex. Outside the drops of rain were hitting the car like marbles. I looked down at my shirt to realize my brothers Auburn University gray sweat shirt was surrounding my skin like armor. I opened the car door first and heard the chirp sound follow my ears as the car locked.
“So you’re gonna fucking shut out your sister Mike?” I screamed over the rain at him. Just then a flash of lightning appeared behind him and a purple glow surrounded his face to reveal his sadness.
“It sucks that the only person who loves me won’t let me in. I have been trying so hard to find you, and now you’re here; but you still feel gone. Will you say something please?”
“Not out here.” He screamed over the increasing thunder that was now sounding like crashing waves. He seemed to float toward me and grabbed the head cover on my sweatshirt to pull it on top of my soaked head of hair. Silently surrendering to go inside, I walked with him towards the foot of stairs leading to his apartment.
“Got any beer?” I asked him on the first step. Mike stopped and turned around, and for the first time I noticed the rain had not touched an inch of him.
My head spun, and my neck froze.
“Do I ever not have beer girl?” I began to walk up the cement steps outlined in black paint, and felt each stair hum on my way up. I clenched my hand around the black slippery railing and felt a chip of paint scrap along my skin. When I got inside I noticed the only light in the apartment was coming from the kitchen. I slowly stepped over the black onto the kitchen floor.
“You know it was hard being twenty-one, Sam. You think you know everything, and the only things you really do know are the things you’re most afraid to admit.” Mike pushed back his chair as it squeaked onto the tile, sat down and tossed me a cold beer.
Before I could respond I realized I was standing in front of his apartment door alone. For some reason I didn’t question why I was there. I just began to walk down those cement steps without looking where my feet went. I held on to the black metal handrail like it was a hand. The rail was colder and wet from the now pouring rain. I lost my footing and my hand suddenly slipped from the railing. I fell down the remaining steps in slow motion. When I landed at the foot of the steps I wiped my lips, and saw some blood. I could taste the metallic, iron taste in my mouth. A drop of blood fell on my brothers gray sweatshirt and I began to cry.
That’s when I woke up. I was standing in front of my bedroom window and still wearing my brothers sweat shirt. My eyes darted over to my brother’s picture on the nightstand and I noticed it was cracked in two places. I picked up my phone and began to dial my brother’s cell phone number, and then dropped stopped. I dropped the phone and listened to the dial tone beep for about thirty seconds.
That’s when I knew.
Immediately the sun shine peeked through my window and I ripped off the blankets covering it, letting the tacks fly in every direction. I looked out the window and saw a shiny red car slowly pull out of the driveway, and speed down the street.