Watercolor by Soo Im Lee
by Katharine Tillman
The train was out of control. I was trying not to panic. I was really trying, but it wasn’t working so well, so what I did was, I put my head between my knees and squeezed my ears shut so I couldn’t hear the other people. I knew they were still out there, panicking too, not even trying not to, but bent over like this I could almost not hear any of the screaming. I could pretend like none of it was even happening. Kind of, sort of. Anyway, all I could see, with my head between my knees, was the magenta carpet of on floorboard of the train, so I kept saying over and over to myself, magenta, magenta, magenta.
Issue #9 soundtrack: Sleep In "Treasure"
I thought maybe I might be relaxing a little, till I realized that carpet wasn’t magenta at all but burgundy. Magenta and burgundy, are, of course, completely different things, so how on earth could I possibly get the two mixed up? I wasn’t thinking straight. I mean, burgundy is more brownish and magenta is more purplish and purplish just doesn't make any kind of sense for a train carpet, especially if you consider that pretty much the whole rest of the inside of the train car was that exact same color, right down to the little burgundy lampshades with their little burgundy tassels on the reading lamps they had up next to the windows for when it was night. The train was out of control and there wasn’t anything magenta about it.
Focusing on the carpet wasn’t helping. I decided maybe if I tried to put myself in a whole different place in my head, that might work better. It seemed like the best place to go to try to calm myself down would be my old lunchtime yoga class. Nothing run-away-train about that. So there I was, in knee-to-ear-forward-bend-asana, holding for ten full breaths. Inhale-two-three-four, said the gorgeous blonde vegan yoga teacher, aaaaannnd exhale, two, three, four. She told me to place the palms of my hands under the balls of my feet. I pressed the backs of my fingers into the burgundy carpet under my grey cotton socks (I’d pulled off my shoes ages ago and they’d disappeared down the aisle). I was trying to lengthen out my spine as much as I could without taking my neck out from between my thighs, which basically meant scooching my butt back into the seat as hard as I could, when it occurred to me that real yoga studios never have carpet; they always have hardwood floors. It's like carpet's not tranquil enough or the sticky mats don't stick right or something, but anyway I was right back in the train before I'd even gotten to my sixth breath and it had never been more completely obvious that I had no control over my thoughts or my mind and I would never become enlightened, certainly not before the train barreled into whatever it was barreling toward.
The whole train jumped and my cheekbone slammed into my knee. I sat up with my hands on my face. The right side of my face was doing hurts-a-lot, hurts-a-little, hurts-a-lot. I've given myself a black eye, I thought, great. My ears were unsqueezed and I could hear the woman in the seat next to mine sobbing. She was way past the pretty point in her crying, on to hiccupping and snorting like a toddler choked on its own frustration. Further up the car another woman was wailing like I'd once heard a singer do while a couple danced flamenco in a Spanish bar. A chorus of male voices said What the, What the.
The throbbing lightened up and I took down my hands from my eyes. Suitcases fell from racks, trampled underwear and dress shirts and were strewn across the aisle. A pair of eye-glasses was ground down into the burgundy carpet a few seats ahead of me. A group of men joined up at the front end of the car, trying to bust through the door into First Class. The train rocked and several of them went down. One guy banged his head pretty rough and didn't get back up for a few seconds. Another thing is, burgundy looks like dried blood and magenta looks like fruit punch. What was I thinking?
One of the other guys up front gave me a look like Why are you just sitting there like one of those hysterical women? A look like Why don’t you do something? But, really, what was I s'posed to do, help them bang on the door to the next car? Pretend an umbrella was a crowbar when even I’m not that confused yet? Get out of my seat just to fall and get crack my head open?
I had really wanted a First Class ticket back when I first got on the train. I had seen pictures in the brochure, of the private sleeping cars with their own couches and tables, their closing doors. Maybe all this wasn’t so hard on the people in First Class. Maybe they were just sleeping right on through it in their isolated cubbies. I had settled for Second. I had been more concerned with just getting there than getting there in style. I had thought I’d have plenty of time later on for amenities. After all, this was just one little train trip. I’d be getting off soon, there’d be fancier trips to be taken later. Vacations, even. This wasn’t a real trip at all, just a transfer, a way to get to a place where the real traveling could begin. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember where it was I got on the train, originally, it was so long ago. I was in such an awful big hurry, I hadn’t even been nervous when things started really speeding up. It wasn’t like there was one moment when we all realized something was up, that the train wasn’t stopping anymore, that no one was getting let off. Or if there had ever been any kind of moment like that, a breakpoint between it all being alright and everything spiraling into disaster, it had been a long time ago and no one in the car could remember when it was.
Not that any of them seemed to be thinking straight either. It was one big case of shaken baby syndrome in there, all the getting knocked around that was going on, the pressure building inside our heads from the acceleration. When it came to getting out, the best idea yet came from an old man with a beard who said we just needed to pull the cord. You pull on the cord and the train stops, easy as that. But we looked all over the car and there wasn’t any cord to pull. The closest thing was a blonde girl with pigtails in the third row whose mother had to bite the old man to keep him away from yanking. About that same time, we noticed the doors to the car in front and the car behind wouldn’t open any more. Maybe the people in First Class had a cord but they didn’t even want to pull it because their little rooms were so nice.
I had given up on the idea of ever getting out when the solution dawned on me. The window, of course, I could squeeze through the window. I might have to break my own arm to do it, the opening was so small, but better to get out damaged than to stay on and die.
“Hey!” I shouted, standing up on my seat, “the windows!”
Everyone else stood up too, and started trying to squeeze through their own windows, and, what do you know, it wasn’t even that hard, if you sucked yourself in. And easy as that, we were out, we were floating, we were landing in a field of grass, pretty as a picture, like something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting. And from the field we could see our train car, sitting still as could be, but all the other cars had vanished. There was no First Class, no engine, no conductor, no tracks.
Katharine Tillman studies the mind. Her work has previously appeared in The Sun magazine and Nature Neuroscience. She's been writing about her life on the web since 1997, and you can find out (almost) all of her secrets by visiting villanelle.org.
Soo Im Lee received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from Honk-Ik University in Seoul, South Korea. She continued her education at New York University, graduating with an M.A. She has done numerous one-person and group shows in Madrid, Seoul, Los Angeles, and New York, and has written and drawn for The Korea Daily since 2008. View more of her work at sooimlee.blogspot.com.
Sleep In is Hamish Duncan from New South Wales, Australia. His new release "Carnival" is available through Enemies List Home Recordings. For more, visit sleepinmusic.blogspot.com or the Sleep In Myspace profile.