It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
There's a rattle through the substructure, and I tuck the paintbrush behind one ear, tilting my head. The leaf on the canvas curls up and blows away; I ignore it, listening for other things. The engine's running more or less smoothly, the wreck's been repaired, there's been no trouble for weeks, now.
I listen, I close my eyes, I try to tune everything else out. Under my feet the vibrations sound again. I think it's a problem with the tracks, not the train.
I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.
I walk through the forward compartments as the canvas breaks apart behind me, scattering into autumn-toned winged shapes that burst into flame when sunrise reaches them. I draw the blinds in the club car, hissing.
Vibration's stronger up here, as I sink into one of the padded seats. Ghosts of stewards past drift through; I wave most of them away, requesting just a pot of coffee. Maybe cream, if we have it. I never know if we do.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
I drum arpeggios on the tabletop, stop only when I realize I'm leaving bloody fingerprints between the notes. The blood's not mine, I know that, but it doesn't make it easier to bear. I gesture for a napkin, or at least a glass of water, but no one pays attention.
They're ghosts, after all. It's not like they have a vested interest.
Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene
I sigh, rising as the coffee makes its ponderous way to the table, and I tell the pot to behave, that I'll be right back. I move towards the engines, trying to remember where the vinegar was when last seen.
Of course the pot follows me, and I accept a cup, grumbling about intransigent china services. It ignores me, trundling along, rebounding from various jagged memories as the shaking of the train dislodges them from the walls. I shoo everything else away until I reach the linen closet. I nearly walk past before pausing.
And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.
It's too stupid. But I check anyway, opening the narrow door. I mean, really, having a linen closet on a train in the first place? Makes about as much sense as the rest of it, but nevertheless.
Three items on the third shelf from the floor: a bottle of household vinegar, a small yellow plastic soapdish, full of bright pink soap fashioned in the shape of infant hands, and a small bottle of holy water from Lourdes.
I take the first, ignore the second, and am baffled by the third. I've never been to Lourdes.
Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane's awake--
I take the bottle back to the table, nicking a sponge from the small outgrowth of them just past the bathing room. Leaving things as they were, to die or flourish on their own, has made the train somewhat extradimensional; I'm trying to decide if that's a bad thing or not.
Framed prints of sunflowers in Oz snag my eyes as I walk past; I disengage them, blinking, and walk on.
She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.
I sit down again, uncapping the vinegar, soaking a small section of the sponge. The scent of memories fills the air briefly: summer warm and fallen apples, grapes heavy on the vine, apricots turning to wine. The bloodied prints sponge up easily, faint crimson smears the only evidence remaining.
I pull the paintbrush from my hair, idly daubing leftover rust-gold in spirals, adding the scent of oils and pigments to apples-in-wine. The coffeepot peers over my shoulder, obviously disapproving. The sponge, released, just shrugs and hops off the table, squelching off down the corridor.
If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.
So there's a higher percentage than usual of ambulatory inanimates. Things should settle back down, given time. I tuck the brush behind my ear again, wondering what would happen if they don't. Train's already sympathetic; do I struggle with it becoming symbiotic, too?
I shake my head. Too little coffee for such thoughts. I reach for the cup and find it empty. The emptied cup wanders towards the window, nudging the blinds open. Slatted sun and shadow angle across the table, adding sepia striping to the gilded spirals.
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.
I sigh, the cup sighing a little sigh to match mine, and turn my head. I'm watching the landscape scroll past through the opened slats in the blind. The sky ripples like canvas, and I'm nearly able to see the reels that gather up the trees and river, just out of sight. I listen to the echo of words I never spoke aloud.
I won't tell you it won't take time, more time than you wish, and that you'll stop aching.
Sometimes you never do.
Sometimes you just have to cope with it...
"More coffee?" I hear, and I turn. The pot stands, squat and mistrusting, on the counter that runs the length of the club car. I shake my head.
I have to sleep sometime. Might as well start now.
And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear...
(Lyrics taken from the Leonard Cohen song, "Famous Blue Raincoat", though I had the Tori Amos cover version in mind when writing.)