Queen of the Rails
My date talks about jumping trains, but I’m busy mastering the tentative hop-step-careful-now required to walk the tracks at night. The air smells like tar and grass, and my tongue still tastes like cheap coffee.
“You know,” he says, reaching back for my hand, “if this works out, you could be my Queen of the Rails. We could go anywhere together.”
I imagine what that would mean. A Queen of the Rails, as I see her, would weave feathers into her hair and let the wind whip her face. She’d hunker down in the dark corner of a boxcar, dry and warm in tatty Goodwill layers, and whisper stories to the cargo. She’d move silently through freight yards, and savor the smell of rusting metal on her fingertips.
I could love that.
My date’s hand feels fleshy in mine, but maybe I could get used to that, too. I look at him, with his nice cotton sweater and his carefully trimmed beard, and try to imagine him as my Vagabond King.
A whistle sounds from behind us, and we step down into the grass. The train takes its time in coming, but when it does, it’s like a force of nature hurtling by. So much metal, so much wind, and, everywhere, the roar of momentum. I close my eyes, my breathing shallow, and lose myself in the noise. I am alone there, truly alone, as I can never be in real life. I am both a queen and a vagrant. I am everything.
I am trembling.
And then the train’s gone, rattling on into the night. My skin hums, and the air suddenly seems so empty.
I look at my date, who looks bored, and let go of his hand. I don’t need him to designate me Queen. I step onto the tracks and look at the retreating black shape of the train.