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Transits.

I

Seven wreaths, green, caparisoned forelocks, garland the upper tier of windows of the Trust Company branch: we are lurching out of Harvard Square. My pen skates toward stability as this bus speeds around its circuit, which also skitters capuccino about the blue rink of my lap. Beside me, a sketcher. His freckles and beard scattered specks and spun strands of ginger, he wears his darker, oily curls like a delicate, hand-woven calotte. The rapid route of his pencil draws my gaze, but the bus shifts, so he shifts, obscuring his designs. Sneakers nesting atop the wheels of his capsized skateboard, before he dislodges them to let the woman pass. The bus rests for a second, his hand revs up. Ah, see, he is capturing in pencil this December scene that enfolds us, when three girls stumble, then topple onto me. I wait, but they proffer no excuses to right their momentary losses of poise, just sneers in triplicate as they cluster at the rear of the car. What else to do but roll my eyes at their crude masks of contempt, while the sketcher simply sketches on.

II

The station is humming with commuters. A roguery swells from each car's half-open shutter like the bulb of an inflating balloon. We creep closer, cropping, as through a telescope: hair--ashen, cobalt, limey, bituminous--cumbers like boulders beneath peaks upon crowns or climbs the sheer, cleft crags of brows or carves a river's passage across the acrylic valleys of shoulders. Necks hunch or huddle in scarves, wool, satin, silk, synthetic. Hands are sliding in and out of gloves, up and down every manner of pole. On straps, a second's nap. Collarbones shimmy about their serge tents of coats, hips tug against their rings of elastic. Feet, in boots, in duckshoes, in galoshes, skip across the linoleum to each car's violent rocking. Closer, until the sounds conjure forms before us: the squeals of infants, their mother's clucks and sighs. Like magpies we hop about then settle in abandoned perches, while others forced to stand now strut, cardinaling and crowing. Nestled, we begin picking through our growing store of sights, when suddenly, the train slingshots its head into the station, to the vibraphonic thrumming of Vietnamese.

III

His usual haunts, visited today on a much later jaunt than usual. First, the straits of the upstairs consignment shop, where he did not browse but paid like a greenhorn for a vest he had set aside. Next the milliner's--and how he had longed to match this word--millinery--to something he could smell, touch, feel! A gambler: only this and a bowler flattered the flourbag of his head, despite the salesgirl's sugary persuasions. Thereupon some strollclip browsing, until a halt before the shoeshop's glass, yet a quick check revealed that his claimslip had absconded and his shoes still sat unsewn, so he struck out on the pavement anew. Over there, the overheated used-book store, where the Baldwin cupboard lay bare, which forced him, like any desperate fictionwriting apprentice, to purloin a tattered Dos Passos. Farther on, more delights behind panes, but for his pocket mint of pennies. Further still, beneath the cafe now crowded with shadows, the market whose produce" sells itself." His loaf, he left! Freighted now with baglets, bags and sacks of books, he could savor the evening's arrival, and the serene, unhurried ride towards home.

IV

Pauses, as we part with Ashmont. Small puddles intermittently dot the car floor, a lacustrine landscape viewed as would a bird. These faces, with their innumerable, inviting referents, like guidebooks read and studied but incompletely understood. At last, a few words alight, the interplay of languages, my atlas. This one crosses her legs, fillips her purse, feigning an air of incuriosity, but the nervous flicker on the screen of her pupils alerts me that she is observing. This one, her seatmate, his head a black floret of jerrycurl, scribbles maniacally on the box between his legs, though this, like his periodic growls and barks, merits nary a slight turn of her head. This one purses his lips in disgust, that one proceeds to her book's denouement, these two declaim with such passion of tongue that the transcript of their conversation floats before us. Then in strolls another, irises, lips afire, who sits, lolls, slackbacked upon my bench. The disinterested one stares, he spins away, I tune my eyes to record. She stares some more, he returns a glare, I am jotting as furiously as I can. He finally challenges her to a bout of pouts at which neither combatant triumphs, though in the end I award him the win since such eyes (on such guys) always sway this arbiter!

V

The thigh, plump and nyloned, assured in its repose, like a newly fitted length of tubing. It rolls, reclines, on its black bed of seat beside me, making sure it has fixed my gaze. Now it freezes, as if captured in an instant print, as it awaits the first hint of my reaction. I turn, yet it does not move. I turn again, it fails to budge. I turn once more, then it jumps just an inch to mystify my attentions. Well, of course I jump an inch too! We both exhale from the severe exertions of this game, then resume our statuary hauteur. O thigh, is it fatigue or fashion that stills you so, or maybe a cheimonic ennui? Are you planning craftily, anticipating warily some imminent, extended exercise? An amble, perhaps, a prolonged peregrination, a run to a far-off station and yet another impatient train? O tantalizing cuisse, my tacit accomplice, what adventures, what diversions, are you dreaming of now?

VI

Scenes of tripledeckers and factories, schools and apartment buildings, concealed behind the screens of the winterstripped oaks and lighted by an insomniac sun. Features, details flee us, solid colors blend, bleed, run. Our train, in transit. A trio of garrulous schoolgirls switch tracks to enter town with the Quincy crowd when a voice announces "Andrew next." Faces shift witht the subtlety, the dreary gray of the track of tile beneath our feet, turn slowly without acknowledging the rows of others like them, similarly indifferent orbs. A mother and daughter in testifying garb, beside a gauntess in saltcaked brogues. One rider, his hand fanned open in Saigonese elegance, gestures to blurs just beyond the plexiglass. The stark shower of the sunlight briefly whitens the car's west side, which rinses out our eyes with squints. "Next stop, Andrew." The gauntess rises, raises her arms, invoking some unseen god, before shrieking at, then--Oh-spitting on-no!--an engrossed magaziner. He starts, suspires, his torso quaking with disbelief, while the surrounding circle of our faces discomposes as we implore the doors to open.

VII

The tranquilizing murmur of the overhead fluorescence, its electric, antinomian hum. Observe, on the facing platform, the faces of friends, the future, our forebears! There, a man, his head a cap of hoar, cants lazily about his paces. The aroma of lather, the stern scent of leather, my head grows airy as if ethered. Against the train's waxing tide, the lightmusic subsides. How our locomotive sends this vault into convulsions, how we shudder as it slides up! Some awaken, others break from the second circle of their figure-eights, still others cease their maunders to wander back among us. Quickly a flock assembles, for each car's beck lasts but so long. Briefcases, purses, brownbags, satchels suspending from each hurrying frame, the carefully queued shuffle towards the few free lots, doors bang closed to bar the few stragglers. Ensconced, we so efficiently assume our usual routines that the train, now relieved of its brief, supervisory tenure, lumbers almost jealously along.

VIII

A hubbub, some boys, from the station's other end, eclipsed by an advancing roar. The invisible cape of wind aback the swiftly inrushing train knocks us backwards in a splitsecond swoon. "All aboard," all board, aboard. A fellow rider shakes to what eavesdropping limns as the outline of a probing bass--hiphop? rock? r&b? salsa?--yet the inner shades of harmony elude me. His amber nails traverse the black ridge of buttons that rise up the side of his Walkman, but our interest scatters to other corners. Silence. Stares, with that "what on earth are you writing?" glare. We glide across the bridge atop the mirror of the river, we gawk at the shimmer-ice. Through the window, the white frame of snow and the dark filigree of Boston buildings, the background of this tableau an indulgent platinum sky. At Charles. A jug of water cradled between marmoreal fingers which taper into frets of the palest mica. A jerk, before the fingers slide beneath the culverts of corduroy pockets, so that we focus on the basket of the lap. "Park Street, Park Street Station." In the tunnel's darkness the outside rumbles past, then others board or deboard to commence or complete their journeys.

IX

A threnody, for those sites of the past that served as ports, waystations, crossroads! A song for those future venues where the paths of travelers cross, convene: here, their contemporary countenance, the airport terminal! A welter of sounds and voices, acme of disharmony, such hullabaloo, more hooplah, than one can truly bear! Tongues warbling, whistling, wheedling, lips shooing, smacking, shushing, an eardeadening hurdy-gurdy, but nary a word yet uttered! Now monologues, dialogues, pantalogues, rantalogues, admonitions, sussurations, disquisitions, expositions, prattle, persiflage, pure pettifoggery, but never that achieved caesura which each new percussive aria augurs yet in the end fails to produce! And to this inimitable din please add the planes' tympannumbing boom! Besides, the recheecheechereeching of a dot-matrix printer, the ring-ping-puh-ding of the check-in registers, the ding-ding-aring of so many courtesy carts, why not claim it as art! The jingle on the tv sets, the jangling of rings of keys, a dense, defiant jungle of sound! Enough? But more hovers above: papers harripping, speakers waaawwaaaaing, crepe soles seeawkaweeking, and then the underlying gasconade of the airport's nighttime lifeline, its lights, from all sides, in all areas, inaudible, but for the terminal's undying drone.

X

Thaws, as though a thousand unseen faucets had turned on. Serenades of slush and sloshing, saraband of the road, still sullen, sulking in its parget coat. You ford the river of cinders to navigate its middle like Spring's first intrepid herald, past the crumbling, kneehigh pyramids of snow, of snowfleas, in the throes of their final ecstatic dance. I halt, inhaling the new season's aroma, yet you tense, the distant rumble of the train visible in your glance. There, under the wintered hawthorn, that tabby, adept avoider of any weather's vicissitudes, darts from beneath an Oldsmobile, pauses, bares her claws, poses, primps in this afternoon pallor. I drop to my haunches to engage her, you grimace. She paws at purls in a puddle formed from the curb's outflow, as I waddle, carefully, towards her. "Kitty, sss, come here, kitty." She creeps to just beyond my reach, then freezes, before your "The train is coming, come on!" hauls us away. She sits, supposing that we always scurry off so, without taking our proper leaves, to other more important appointments.

XI

Whorls of swallows, sparrows pursue me with ease. Look, squirrels are running their parcourse of wet benches, garbage cans, low fences, trees! Gulls blaze a white path through this barren arbor, where I am mounting the Commons' main hill. Before me, the Obelisk, insolent in its snowless solitude, peers out upon the greening expanse. A pack of pigeons titter then flap off, regardeing this: "Notice: No Loitering." Like the monument the stone memorializing the nurses of the Armed Services has shed its snowcape, though some of the ground lies still encraped where the men are jabbering in Spanish. Whose guitar strums that redolent tune? Dogs caper in the sunlight further on, beneath the brickred blazon of Beacon Hill. Here you slidewalk as one often does on ice, following the drabbled trail which empties into Arlington. Lovers pass, gloves entwined or rubbing thighs, berets, ski-hats bowed in thought, sunglasses hide the bright blooms of eyes, torsos tremble in their drapes of down or wool in this Aprilled air, calves sigh, until a caravan of cars cleaves our vision. Along the wrought-iron fences, stalks have begun to poke up from the snow like rattoons, reeds, though this is the Public Garden. Wendell Phillips orates in cast-iron before the colonnade of abjuring elms, the stern tribunal of Four Seasons's facade. Gulls return, in swoops, bearing their song of the sea. And here Thomas Cass, here Kosciusko, here William Ellery Channing! At last, before the draggle of automobiles, O solemn elms, this is where my journey ends! Alas, into the cafe's gauntlet of coffeesippers, gazetteers, unaware of this afternoon's drama.

XII

He enters, into our cycle of chatter. They rise in unison, exeunt. Three suitcases of coarse linen sprawl out, a leg lavishes its affections on them, till their owner snatches them up and storms off. Four places away, he crouches beneath a canopy of dreadlocks, looks out upon the whirring solemnity of the tunnel. Index and thumb consult the compass of face, whose eye's-needle charts a map of my expressions. Torso, arms, legs, feet ensheathed in black, so much black that rills like candlewax from the less-black naugahyde seats, as if he did not desire for us to see him except as shadow. I want to say, "I'm writing about you anyways," but we turn suddenly to the windows behind him, to the semi-stuck door, and no wonder: the blaring box of dancehall trails its owner out, to the inspector's supercilious stare. Beyond the curtain of poles, doors, this other brother in uniform flips through a newspaper amused, something soundless to us piping via his headphones. Our caboose's unsteady slither strains my concentration, so that I fix on the newsprint to focus my thoughts. The windows, like the glass in a projectionist's booth, flash two transposed images: one, we who idle in this car, just light and all that your sight filters through, translucent as newts; the other, the city that courses, clamors in concreteness beyond us. Now, the necklace of lights adorns my Dorchester Avenue, the yellow gloat of Field's Corner Station, then that double tableau to which we return, that plays like a dream in real time.

XIII (Chicago Coda)

On the narrow, rickety platform, where we shiver awaiting the trains. In the distance, headlights--how many?--two, like the first glimmers of an idea or crisis. A roundelay, from competing recorders: remind me, which city is this? The chilly air scours our uncovered necks, hands, the virgin felt square of our foreheads. The heated booth quickly fills. Someone jostled out into the slap of the air scurries back, her scarf now a helmet about her head. Hands cup, clap, as if they were locofocos, trying to strike a palm-sized flame. We quiver, seesaw from the ball of each foot to the other, dance around to deny the frost. One locomotive, but the wrong one, then another. Ours? Not yet. You grow antsy, prance around the planks to the silent, wintry score, the economy of your movements better testimony than anything heard. Then you whisper, "John it's so cold I want to cry!," and I'd reply, but my jawbone has frozen. Finally our express slinks in, embarrassed, empties, is off. Onwards, all, to Evanston!
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Keene, John
Publication:Callaloo
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:2557
Previous Article:A costly telegram to the Dark Room collective.
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