Beautiful Train People

For a year, I wrote observations of people on Chicago’s Brown Line trains. These are a few selections.

March 2nd

I watch them in the reflection of the doors. She is sitting down. He is standing in front of her. She, pale, bare-faced. He, dark-skinned, suave hair. She, worried. Moving her mouth to keep up with the rush of thoughts in her head. Looks down when she pauses, perhaps searching for words. He, at peace. Reaching out to her. Holds her hand. Lets go for a moment to tap her gently on the nose. She wears a collection of rings and a tall black hat that says “Mickey.” He, a gray overcoat and red scarf. She wears red patent shoes. The pleats of his dress pants crash onto the floor. When they aren’t speaking, he leans his ear in her direction. She looks tethered to the world only by his hand. He lets it go briefly, to rearrange the embrace of their fingers. She smiles up at him. The tilt of their heads is a mirror image, this story in a mirror before me. I am thinking of a phrase when the seat next to her opens and he sits down and wraps both arms around her. Inseparable. I am thinking love is patient, love is kind, love is them, leaving the train, him guiding her, rotating his fingers around hers in a dance. Behind them, the empty seats remind me of the promise we share: forever.


June 5th

Successful businessman with the long eyelashes. Soft nose. Eye roll on the phone. He’s in blue. Got the ring, got the watch, got the hair he has left going grey in a tasteful way. Got the belt buckle, got the pleats but wrinkling at the ankles. Got the strap across his chest, got the look of a man with somewhere to be or somewhere he never made it. Got the wife at home, the shared closet. In the morning they pick out their clothes in silence because she noticed the way he looks at other women and other lives, the way he arranges his hair in a peak but won’t brush the eyelash from her cheek, not since he noticed the way she wakes up in the morning, heads to the bathroom without a second glance back at him, touches him just by coincidence, the way she makes coffee and won’t leave a cup for him, not since their last talk, the one about the way he treats her like a stranger, the way she won’t get off his back and expects so much, not since the vacation where they tried to retrace the steps of the last one, getting too drunk and fumbling through another fight, retraced each other in a strange bed. Successful businessman gone numb, gone grey, gone blue.


October 16th

Amelia Earhart is on the train. Tonight she wears a beret. Needs glasses in her reincarnation. Carries a hard drive in her pocket. Her pants billow out above her boots just the same. Shearling, leather, tweed, all getting better with age like a myth. When I was young I believed they might find her. The world was not yet to scale. Oceans were ponds and my grandparents’ home a castle. Now I divide my mind between acceptance and awe. Delusion and fact. Platitudes like the universe works in mysterious ways and the too-cold waters of faith. Amelia waits on an island under a parachute canopy. Amelia waits for her stop and wears a blue silk scarf. I believe it all depending on the day. Tonight, I sit comfortably between certainty and mystery. This is why I love the train. For what Amelia reminds me: It never stops. We merely step on and off.