The Quiet Car

Her eyes are closed. I imagine they are brown, though their color is of no concern to me. Part of the game is trying to piece these things together. When she wakes, I will know and be satisfied.

The small hills of her breasts rise and fall as she breathes. I ache to reach out and touch her hands, curled together like wounded birds in her lap. “It’s okay,” I would tell her as my fingers cover hers. “I’m watching over you.”

In her sleep, her eyelashes flutter and her knees part. It is so hard to hold your legs together once sleep overtakes you.

My gaze travels up to her crotch, covered in sensible wool trousers. She is wearing white cotton panties, I decide. They cover an abundant thicket of pubic hair—black, though the hair on her head is bleached blond.

I admire the smooth, fair skin visible where her blouse falls away from her throat as I tilt my head, trying to see between the navy fabric and flesh. No hint of a bra strap. White, I envision, to match her panties. Old-fashioned and sensible, the way this woman appears to me, with her penny loafers and black leather COACH bag. She wears a delicate gold chain around her neck. Cradled in the hollow of her collarbones, it pulses rhythmically.

Around us, others go about the business of getting to work. There isn’t an empty seat on the rush-hour train into Chicago. I had to arrive early to get my coveted spot in the Quiet Car. There are only two seats facing the rest of the passengers. Riding backward is a small price to pay for the best view of my fellow commuters, who all face forward and sit side-by-side.

Every day, someone new sits across from me. “Excuse me. Sorry,” they usually say, as they take the only seat left, the one that requires them to sit face to face with a stranger, forcing them to shift their legs to avoid bumping mine.

“No problem,” I always reply. I am pleased to make room for all of them. Old, young, male or female. They all hold their own mysteries, their own allure.

Though I could sit in a backward facing seat on other cars, I prefer the Quiet Car. Here, silence is mandatory. This encourages riders to sink into their own worlds instead of chattering to one another, or clicking away on laptops that hide so much of what I wish to see. I do not mind the new electronic reading devices. They are as small as the fancy cellular phones so many carry now, and do not obstruct my view. Sometimes, I catch book titles, gaining new clues about the day’s subject. You would be surprised at who is covertly reading trashy romance novels or guides to bomb building, though I rarely am.

When someone unfurls the day’s newspaper, or unpacks a bag of knitting, my gratification is minimized along with my view, though not always. Sometimes, I find pleasure in the smallest things—plump, young  toes in flip-flops in the summertime, nails painted garish colors; a minute track of stubble on an otherwise smooth calf, or a glimpse of ankle between sock and shoe.

The woman across from me stirs as the train makes our first stop. Her eyes open. Brown, as suspected. I look away, through the dingy window to the murky view outside where familiar faces smile from the platform, waving goodbye to people who are not me.

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