Snapshot!
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Tattered plaid pants and a beige short sleeve button up shirt, he entered the train without ever looking up. He had the shoes of a boy who detested Christmas with his family and he hadn’t cared to cut his hair in quite some time. The five o’clock shadow that accompanied his face was undiminished, even in the sunlight, making the boy appear overtly thin, his soul as tattered as his pants. He was reading Tom Robins and no doubt placing his own tired sloping figure next to the girl in cowboy boots hitchhiking alongside a hot and dusty road, probably offering to carry her backpack while fixing his eyes to her smile as if it were the last smile he’d ever see.

You could tell he fell in love quickly and silently and had been left wounded too many times to say it didn’t still hurt. The word Jack was tattooed on his left forearm in a typescript that looked as though a child had scribbled it, jagged and awkward. I began to wonder where Jill was and if she was reading Tom Robbins too. We were sitting across from one another on the train and I was desperate for him to notice me. I watched his every movement like a cat curious of things that fly and things that squeak. Behind my large black sunglasses I could watch him all day with no one the wiser. The boy’s movements were graceful but hung with tragedy and fatigue. A long thin arm raised to accompany his wrist in the thoughtless gesture of clearing a strand of hair from his face. A plaid covered leg gently sweeping through the air to heavily rest atop the other leg, crossed in such a way that allowed his delicate fingers to toy and twirl the fraying threads at the cuff of his pants. All the while he read with the hunger that most people read with when they are trapped inside another world with no wish to ever escape.

I could imagine him swiftly gliding home from the train, arriving to his apartment, fumbling for his keys, and upon entering he would make a passing glance at the answering machine, knowing that the red neon number wouldn’t have changed from the zero it had been when he left, but hoping just the same. He would toss his backpack onto the couch, get a glass of water from the tap, and sit in a small chair that he had placed by the window when he had first moved in, and stare out the window silently until it grew dark. No one would call him all evening and he would forget to eat dinner, an evening like most. I could tell all of this by the way he was sitting and the fact that his face hadn’t changed expression since the moment he had stepped onto the train.

I was suddenly jealous of his tattoo. It looked careless yet careful at the same time. Dripping with past and meaning so complex that he could never explain it to someone without keeping them up all night. I imagined that he had gotten the tattoo suddenly and on impulse, probably out of a fit of anger or sadness that had driven him to the desire to brand himself, perhaps in shame or guilt. It looked as though he had bribed the tattoo artist into letting him tattoo himself. Taking the foreign machine and unskillfully writing out his tattoo until a half hour later he was forever a canvas and his only masterpiece was Jack.

I considered standing up and approaching him, maybe sitting next to him and offering a gentle smile. But the look I half expected him to give me would be devastating and I didn’t think I could handle the disappoint I would feel of never being his Jill.

In the next moment the train had stopped, the doors were opening, and my story of a boy was standing to leave. My heart crashed to the bottom of my chest and my cheeks grew flushed as though I had just been slapped. The boy placed his backpack over his shoulder, with eyes never averting from his place in the book he walked right off the train and out of my sight. As the train pulled away from the station platform I looked through the window searching the crowd for a sad boy in plaid, but my search was left unrewarded.

For the next moment I couldn’t stop thinking about him. His sandy blonde hair and pale tired skin were frozen in my thoughts and all the while I was wishing my name had been Jill so Jack and I could have run away together, making things up as we went along.

The train stopped again, the doors glided open, and on walked a tall slender man dressed in a long black trench coat. His eyes were a brilliant blue, the color of an ocean sky the morning after a long rain, his hair raven black, short, and smooth. The face of this man was angular and sharp, you could tell that he was passionate and intense and hadn’t truly loved a woman a day in his life. We were sitting across from one another on the train, and I was desperate for him to notice me.

Posted 9.16.2003



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