Now age 25 he lives on his mother's couch, in debt and brokenhearted. But all that changes when The Boston 395 train line appears in his living room. The Boston 395 is like no train you have ever seen. Each stop exits into James's life, revealing truths he would rather not deal with. Guided by The Conductor and populated by a colorful cast of characters The Boston 395 will take James - and the reader - to places they never expected.
When it begins it is like a light in a tunnel, a rush of steel and steam across a torn up life. It is a low rumble, an earthquake in the back of the mind. My spine is a track with cold black steel racing on it, a trail of steam and dust following behind, ghost-like. It feels like my whole life is holding its breath.
It's like being dead inside your life. The cold steel of the train haunting the room you have become contained to. It's like being in jail, with all your possessions toppling out of aged cardboard boxes. Your hopes and dreams locked away in the living room, cut off from the world by thick oak doors. But it's not prison, it's just your mother's living room.
If it is a prison, it is a cell with little white doilies and furniture not to be sat on. It is a cell with photographs of your sister and her kids that are to remain locked behind a plate glass display case.
Even dust won't spoil the room's perfection like I have. It chooses instead to hover in the shaft of light from the window, dancing in the winds our passages make as we pass through this space with tight faces and eyes averted.
Leather bound books litter across bookcase shelves, bought not to be read but to be inspected by a parade of your mother's friends as they gauge her life. It is a weekly ritual of friendship and one-upmanship. It is the Carnival, the big show, clowns and bright colors among the smell of dung.
"How are things, Deena?" they ask your mother, in the other room, in the kitchen, blowing steam from the top of delicate white china cups. They hold their teacups in fragile fingers, lest they leave a mark that they were ever here. When you're not looking they rummage through her bathroom trashcan in order to try and pry awful secrets from her life. Your mother knows this; she plays the same game in their little world.
"Things are great, dear!" She smiles, your mother, frosted hair ringing her head, halo-like.
"And that boy of yours--home from the city, it seems? And how is that going, dear? It must be awful for you." Their eyes are dark and beady; their free hands pawn at dark blue jackets, playing idly with the clown sized copper buttons.
"Oh...well...you know...he's just out of school...needs some time to get on his feet...so..."
And so the old people change the topic, referring to it in off-color ways to remind the dear woman of her situation. When the evening ends - when all the wounds have been picked at and recipes traded. When all the subtle insults have been tossed around the room like a hot potato, they leave. Kissing each other on the cheek, saying, "Same time next week."
And when they are gone she closes the door with a sigh, slinking the chain in place to lock out their pitying stares. Often she stands there for a while, relishing the silence, the sacredness of space, breathing deeply, trying to steady herself after their inspection.
I watch her from the living room sometimes. Watch as she tries to feel her feet on the chessboard linoleum. I will watch as she tries to divine answers from the yellow walls, tries to find a solution to their prying from the feel of the rough wood cabinets that line the wall.
But you can't find what you're looking for in the clock face over the door. You can't hear what the stove is whispering to you from its off-white belly. The rooster prints she has collected these many years can't get give her any direction, can't open their mouths and declare a solution.
And why shouldn't they pity her? Here I am, taking up space in her living room, my life boxed up in brown cardboard. She wanders through sometimes, picking randomly at the boxes, glancing at the large yellow circles in the classifieds. She will try and pry into my life awkwardly, at odd angles, trying to be informed, trying to know what's "up".
"We should put up your degree, right here on the wall!" Her smile is crooked, nervous. Her hands play with the edges of her shirt. Her eyes are dark like a moonless night. They wander over my thick, dark wilderness of unpacked boxes, nervously.
"That's all right, Mom. I'll wait till I have a job and my own place!" I scratch at the thinning forest on my head, rub my glasses clean on my shirt, glance back at the wide expanse of the classifieds.
She hums, sighs, and shifts on her feet. She is always waiting for me to say something, to scream out with a cry for help, a desperate whine and an exclamation of victory. She wants anything, really, to know I'm alive, that I'm really here. Anything to know I'm not just displacing air and hoarding time.
I think she sometimes wonders if I am a ghost, like the old man whom she claims wanders these halls at night, watching her sleep. She says she can feel his ghostly hands in the dark, hovering over her body like a breath.
Even in death my father wants to feel her breathe on him as they sleep. Even in death he wants to make love to her, hold her through the night, tell her stories of his day.
Even in death he wants to stand beside her silently as they wash dishes, wants to find a moment when they can drive to the store together, when they can just talk. Even in death he is her lover. Even in death he is her partner.
"Ja...Son, I'm...well I worry and..." She hesitates on her words, cold tears dripping like rum from her eyes. She wants to help so badly and I. I keep breaking her heart. Pushing her away with "I can do this on my own. Thanks." My false-confident smile, my trademark of distance, can only satisfy her for so long.
By the time she leaves the room I am surprised that she can't see the train. It has jumped the track of my spine and landed in my mother's living room. A cold dark thing, black steel and redwood paneling. It is the old type, from the western movies I loved as a kid.
I wait for masked bandits to climb off, firing their guns into the air, hauling out their ill-gained loot. I wait for the pantomime villain to show up, twisting his mustache. I expect the damsel in distress to call my name, begging me to rescue her from the unruly mob.
It has landed in the living room, its cars spread out, creeping through the house. It is half hiding in deepening shadow. There is an engine car in the living room, passenger cars in the hallway, a coal car in the dining room, a caboose in the bathroom.
When I run my hands over it, its cold black steel flows under my palm like the tight curves of a lover. And I shiver. The smell of steam and dust and burnt coal linger on it like an aphrodisiac, an enticement to adventure and possibility. The steel wheels grin at me, nuts and bolts hot from the trip that brought them here.
A red, wood panel covers the passenger car's side, glowing with a fresh coat. Carved into the wood, painted there in gold or yellow, is the train's name, The Boston 395. I trace the letters, caress the numbers and smell the wood with deep primitive breaths. This train has been somewhere, has collided through time and space to arrive in my living room.
It feels like excitement. It feels like adventure. It also feels like danger, feels like a silent night before a storm, it feels like the day you made love to your girlfriend only to fight, with all your shared fears and concerns, the next day. It feels like mystery. It feels like the world as you know it suddenly redefining itself.
It should leave before oil drips on the plush green carpet of the living room. It should leave before its steel wheels dig knifelike gashes across the wooden floors in the hallway, before passengers pile off the caboose, only to find our toilet.
Wherever it has come from it needs to return there.