We had recently moved into an apartment only a block away from an elevated train track. At times, the trains roared loudly, as if surging through our living room. Sometimes the train’s rattle was subtle, like a gurgling brook. Sometimes we didn’t hear the train at all.
One night, a few weeks ago, I got home very late from work. All of the lights were out in the apartment. On the kitchen table, I saw a cigarette still smoking in an ash tray, though I didn’t see Triny, my wife. I figured she must have just gone to bed. I undressed, closed the lights and settled into bed.
But I couldn’t sleep. The quiet made me nervous. I flopped on my stomach, then turned over on my back, unable to get comfortable. All I could hear was the screeching sounds of the trains pulling in an out of the station. My nerves jerked my body out of bed. I walked over to the bedroom window; the street was soundless and empty. Not a soul outside. I gazed out at the dark street.
I went to the kitchen to get the clearest view of the elevated train truss. Even though slightly hidden by trees and shrubbery, I beheld the shadowy outline of a hulking train as it thundered by. I knew there’d be another train in a few minutes. I don’t know what possessed me but I quickly got dressed and put my sneakers on. Then I kissed Triny on the head lightly so as not to wake her and ran out into the dark night. Her hair felt cool and soft on my lips.
I was still tucking my heel in my sneaker as I ran to the station. Out of breath, the train lights flickered, now only just another stop away. Then, as the train pulled into the stop, its silver exterior sparkled in the station lights. Water poured from the top of the train, spilling down the sides. It must have just rained.
When the train doors opened, I stepped in. I had to cover my eyes to adjust to the flood of the brilliant light that washed over me. There were people sleeping with their mouths open, their heads leaning to one side.
I watched my apartment building drift away as the train took off. I wondered if Triny would notice I was gone. I hoped that she wouldn’t worry.
I sat down next to tall thin man, who held a book wide open in front of him. The book’s title read ‘The Ancient Curves.’
The man put the book down for a minute and looked at me.
“Do you know what time it is?” he asked. His eyes were watery and gray. As he spoke strings of saliva webbed his mouth.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Where are you headed?” he asked this time.
“I’m not exactly sure,” I responded.
“This book explains how time works,” said the man, pointing to ‘The Ancient Curves.’
I nodded wanting to hear more.
“You see,” he now opened a page of the book. “This section refers to the great parabolas which traverse times and places.” He pointed to an intricate picture that showed an entanglement of snakes, wrapped around each other, their heads facing different directions.” The image was immensely detailed with incredibly fine curves and lines. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could have drawn anything so tiny. The deeper I inspected the images, the more intricate the designs became. I then noticed the designs were moving, curling and weaving inside each other, like the living roots of a vast forest floor.
Gazing intently at the book, the man suddenly slammed it shut in one clapping motion, making a booming sound, like the closing of a castle door.
“So sorry, so sorry,” he said. “I must be going; the book is yours now.” He left the book on the seat. The train stopped suddenly; he exited as soon as the doors swished opened.
I picked the book up, caressing it, turning the pages, completely entranced by the pictures. From what I could tell, the illustrations depicted narratives of time travel, showing tunnels warping and twisting into each other. There were no words in “The Ancient Curves,” except for the title of the book. Yet the book appeared to possess incredible knowledge of the cosmos.
Then the train came to a sudden stop, jolting me out of a trance. What stop was this? I peered out the window and now noticed that the train was no longer moving on the track. The train seemed now to be sitting atop a rafter, propelled by a quietly humming engine. I panicked. Examining what used to be the tracks, I observed a long waterway. I gripped onto the train seat, as if trying to holding myself from falling. But falling where? And into what?
Then the train lunged forward, floating with the current of the water.
As the train made its stops, people came on and off speaking in different languages. This wasn’t like trains I had been on in big cities with populations from all over the world. It seemed more like I was visiting others in their native towns. An old Chinese man walked into the car with fishing gear, wearing a straw hat, but no shoes. He took a seat on the train, blinking rapidly, embracing his fishing equipment, checking the stops on the board. Next to him was a woman robed in a bright red and pink dress, wearing a thorny elaborate beaded hat. I thought that maybe she was from Thailand. The entire train was now filled with people who seemed to come from everywhere.
Suddenly I saw that the river channel we had been on now ran into a wide body of water, like a sea or an ocean. Where was I going? And what was happening? How will I get back home? I felt oddly safe, however, and believed that I’d be able to return. I couldn’t explain why.
Now feeling like I was travelling in a boat more than a train, I looked out into the water’s endless blue. I could tell it was always summer here. The sun brightly sparkled on the ocean surface. Small white clouds etched against the sapphire sky. There were seagulls flying overhead. I could smell the salt from the brine. For a second, the world felt like it was on a tilt and that I might slide off of it into some unknown oblivion. For just a second, the water around me threatened to upend and pour over me, drowning me into its infinite azure bosom.
Like when a plane flies so high, or you look from a mountain top, the world opened up, and I could see everywhere at once. I reached out and found myself lifting off into the sky. And somehow I was now moving, no swimming, in the air. I knew that this wasn’t a dream. There were others swimming in the air, too, including the Thai woman and the Chinese fisherman. Like a school of fish there were countless human bodies swimming. Some were breast stroking. Some were doggie paddling. I saw the tall thin man who handed me the book, lying on his back leisurely stroking the water. Where had I left the book?
Seeing a large grey boulder in the distance, protruding from the ocean, I swam towards it, the sun glinting in my eye. I swam faster and faster. I was exploding with a joy that completely engulfed me. I wanted to scream with laughter. I could hardly catch my breath. I tapped into something here, something that was only made possible by revelations I’d read in “The Ancient Curves.”
When I made to the boulder, I climbed on top of it. I observed that one patch of the horizon exposed a portal that pointed back to my house. Unlike the summer blue of this world, the portal showed a slightly gray sky. As I peered into the portal, I found myself suddenly airborne. I was now glimpsing into the window of my apartment building. And there was Triny. She was up, feeling around the bed. She looked worried, perhaps wondering where I’d gone. Seeing her this way made my heart felt heavy. I had done this to her.
I must have lost concentration. I was no longer hovering outside my bedroom window. I was now transported to a muddied landscape. The sky was belly-fish white. There were snarling dogs prowling the grounds and showing their fangs. A sudden glare from the moon made the landscape visible. I saw dog turds, torn clothing, and clumps of hair. I almost stepped on a chewed-up human skull. It must have been in a place where a terrible battle had taken place. I observed a small blue haze, a window to another world, and escaped as fast as I could.
Once again in the blue mist world, I spotted the grey vapor tunnel again. Triny was calling out my name. Her arms were outstretched towards the sky. She was crying. My heart felt heavy and saddened. I had to get to her. I reached into the gray mist, my hands piercing the slimy liquid sphere in which she was bounded. I was able to reach Triny’s hands; they were on fire with warmth. We held wrists tightly. I wouldn’t let go, even though my arms felt like they were going to fall off. I pulled as hard as I could, as if holding onto the reins of a train of powerful horses.
Wrenching her out, I then found myself flung on the floor, on my backside, my palms turns backwards. Triny was across from me – in the flesh.
“How did you find me,” I asked.
“I saw a blue haze just outside the bedroom window,” said Triny, her jade colored eyes bright and wide open. She was smiling.
“That’s funny because I found my way to you because of the gray mist,” I said. “I was so worried that you might have thought I had slept-walked into a bus.”
“My god, no,” said Triny. “I just didn’t know where you were. I was missing you.” She paused. Then added, “I thought you didn’t come home; that maybe you went home with someone else. I don’t know.” She started to cry
“You couldn’t be more wrong,” I said, holding her hands in mine. “You know that I can’t live without you. I need you.” I stood up and reached out to help her up.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” said Triny. We held each other closely, like we might fall off of the earth itself if we didn’t.
Then Triny silently pointed to the patch of blue sky above the trees. A pair of chirping magpies flew past us and landed atop one of the branches. As I turned to look, I saw a rainbow bridge arching across the sky. Leaning together to see the rainbow, Triny and I edged closer. I felt the heat of her cheek graze mine; our bodies now pressing against each other. Our lips touched. We held hands and started kissing. Almost on queue the sounds of birds peeping filled the air. The rainbow then disappeared and the sky turned slightly less bright.
Eventually, we found our way back to the boat. The boat wended its way across rivers and bodies of water until it became a train. Then we were home again.
Now when I hear a train rumbling outside my window, I imagine the gurgling of a brook, or the swirling of birds in the sky. I see frogs chasing insects. I see the broken bits of tree branches and leaves floating on the water. I feel the ocean that surrounds us all. And, with me always, is Triny. We’re holding each other tightly like the world depends on us.
Mike Fiorito‘s book Call Me Guido was published by Ovunque Siamo Press in May 2019. His two short story collections Hallucinating Huxley and Freud’s Haberdashery Habits & Other Stories were published by Alien Buddha Press. He is currently an Associate Editor for Mad Swirl Magazine.