Fatal Baby Bug
I hated having booked seats on trains. The fusspots make a worms-meal of it, and the lottery of companionship, especially all the way down to London. To make matters worse I had a stinking hangover and was sweating out the previous night’s fun in beads and muggy splatters.
I’d really won that lottery this time also, around a dreaded table seat I had a friendly drug-dealer, a ballet teacher and a plump girl, I shit you not.
The man was slim and scruffy, rough around the edges in an amiable sort of way. It was the two mobile phones, constant calls from apparent near-strangers and slightly passive/aggressive phone-side-manner that gave the geezer away. That and his constant euphemism of the word ‘stuff’. The ballet teacher, prim and slim, with her hair in a bun and elegant spectacles, seemed not to twig what kind of entrepreneur her new friend was. The same with the plump girl who I failed to learn to occupation of. Her being on the big side, is anecdotally relevant, I’m not just being mean. She had streaked hair, and bright lipstick. She was an open friendly person and I’d like to give her a PC nickname, but nothing else stuck in my head.
I was pretending to sleep anyway, to the rhythm of the train. Half-eavesdropping, half-trying to piece together the night before (this seemed vital at the time, though events that followed buried it in a rum-bullion of insignificance).
I didn’t want to join in the amiable chatter, that was the bottom line. And rather than look sulky and rude, I figured faking sleep was a better option. My life through headphones, filtering out some of the small talk. They spoke about the weather, the government cuts and about ballet. The plump girl saying – “I’d love to try it, but I don’t think I have the figure”
The ballet teacher agreed rather bluntly and I cringed inside, and tried harder to fake sleep. I was slumped against the train window, which bumped at my head and vibrated my teeth. I was listening to The Bug, and trying not to mouth the words, nor wriggle my shoulders in skinny-white-boy appreciation. You should know that I’m nearly thirty, but I still look like a tall twelve year-old. I have the first traces of crows-feet, but I think they’ll only make me look weirder – like an artificially aged boy.
With my eyes closed, all I captured was the changing light which flashed between window panes on the surface of my eyelids. The music mellowed towards the end of the album, and changed without me noticing into some electronic ambient. It was plugged into my brain mush like a drip, so that between its utterances and the muted talk of the people and the nomadic machine, I existed inside a rolling soundscape.
I wake to dusk outside and an empty train as it pulls away from some station. Time expands and contracts in my dozy state. The rain streaks on the pane as the train gains speed, then droplets wriggle and search like eager sperm. Stuffed clouds hang above the demure hues of the sun sinking into a beery stupor. Everything is bleak and magical all at once. Inbetween light, inbetween days, inbetween double glazing.
Rail lines outside are sketched hastily as dashes of light. Marks made on the Earth beneath the gathering twilight. Still the sonic conversation of the train. The hooves, the whistles, metal talks to glass, glass to plastic, plastic to the everchanging airflow inside and out. In my ears and in my spine. My brain is a crossword with only gently penned-in answers that don’t connect with one another.
My eyes flickered open, the train was full again and it’s still day outside. The drug-dealer’s ringtone dueted with the music in my ears. The plump girl was talking about ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’. I was sweating kittens inside my hoodie, but too sleepy and stupefied to care. I stared out of the window, glimpsing farmland and pasture, the ruminations of cows chewing the cud. The light was very bright, so I closed my eyes again. My mp3 player began the intro of The Flaming Lips ‘Do You Realise?’ and my bedraggled inner-self swooned and swayed inbetween sleep and wake.
There is a little cat sat on the table. I recognise it from my neighbourhood, a scrawny near-black tortoiseshell, the type with a harshly rasping yowl, that invites itself into people’s houses when they’re drunk and don’t know any better. My friend nick-named him Sabuteo the magic cat, because he once appeared on my window sill on the second floor and we had no idea how he got there.
He stares at me, with that stare they have that reads your soul and reflects your secrets back in pale emerald irises.
“I think you may be dreaming,” he said. “It’s plausible I somehow got onto your window sill, but this is just silly.”
We discuss for a short period whether or not he can help me with my feeble love-life. I forget exactly what is said, words seem to slip through time and escape short-term memory. But he recommends I read a book called ‘The Master and Margarita’, in general he says I ought to read more, then I might have something vaguely intelligent to say to women.
“Do women like men who like cats?” I asked him.
“They prefer them to men who spend a minimum of seven hours a day playing Football Manager games and then wonder why they can’t sleep,” he replied.
“Hmm, I see your point…” I began to say, but an unseen child pulled the tip of his tail, he made the kind of primal noise that turns those with weak hearts to stone.
The noise made my bones quiver, jolting from sleep, I opened my eyes. The train had stopped. Everyone in the carriage was stood on one side, gawping out of the window, trying to peer over each other to get a better look at what was going on. My face had been resting on the crumple of my hoodie’s arm, I could feel the imprints in my face. I looked at the people, they were the right people, there were no talking cats and the time of day seemed accurate. I still wasn’t sure I was awake though…