The window fogs beneath my breath; a blank slate. Here I write your name. Always your name. The upholstery is not unlike that of any other train: rough and stained and seeping with other people’s secrets. This gives me a nonsensical dose of hope, leaving the taste of lemons and honey behind.
Somewhere out there you might be sitting on a train, looking out the window, thinking about me too. Maybe you smile without opening your mouth, your lips the seal of an envelope. I loved to kiss words from you this way. But maybe there is another pair of lips performing this same kind of ventriloquist act and you let her, even though it was our thing.
Maybe you tell her about that movie and you both laugh and nod and she slips her legs around you and the train moves slow and rocks you back and forth. You are in love with her, and you kiss more words into her.
“Can I sit here?”
The voice comes from a twenty-something who slides into the seat next to me. His eyebrows are thick and his lips are full, as if every part of him is filled up with youth. He looks younger than you ever did.
“Jess?” he asks. And I look, like maybe I’m responding to my own name.
“Grace,” I say. I’m not sure why the lie slips so easily from me, except that your name is still printed on the window.
“Where you headed?”
His question makes me remember why I hated having you as a travel companion. I just want to absorb the feeling of leaving, the abundance of possibilities out there in the world; quiet.
“Bit cold for that,” he says, pointing to the snow beyond the train window. “Me, I just like to ride and write. No place in mind, no place to go. Just the ride,” he says. He pulls a leather notebook from his bag and scratches a few lines onto the page.
“What’re you writing?” I ask. I don’t tell him I’m a writer, that a similar journal hides in my purse. Because when I used to talk about writing, you never said anything. You just poured cream into your coffee and smiled while stirring everything up, like maybe you were looking at the entire galaxy instead of just a cup of coffee. Instead of looking at me.
“Notes, ideas, sentences. Whatever.”
I nod and retrace the letters of your name on the window. I hear the scratching again and know he’s taken himself back to the page. I close my eyes and pretend it is the sound of waves. I imagine you with your windows open, the way they always were back home. Maybe they wrap around your new house like the symbol for infinity, window after window; forever. Or maybe they are like an ampersand now, a broken reminder that nothing lasts, that there is always an and when it all ends.
“Infinity sign or ampersand?” I ask.
“Ampersand, always. Just look at it,” he says, sketching it out on the page. It looks beautiful, like a line embracing itself. “Self-love,” he says.
“No, not like that. Like it’s just you and, whoever, whatever you want, you know?”
“Yeah, I like that.”
“So where are you really going?” he asks, his pen holding place in the notebook. I stare at the cover, trying to find the words hidden within.
“Away.” This is the first true thing I tell him, even though I don’t know his name.
“Away happens to be my favorite.”
You never said anything that perfect. Maybe you are better with words now that I am gone. And maybe the phrases you give her blossom into beautiful sentiments because they have filled you with something new.
“I’ll just call you Away, then,” I say.
I smile at the way he says his name, like it is the most precious thing he owns. “Mine’s Grayson,” I say, letting another truth pass over my lips.
“So, you hate your name?”
“Ah, no, actually. But—”
“No, wait, let me guess,” he says, turning in his seat so he faces me. From this angle his vintage-style tee looks shabbier beneath his jacket; well-loved. An image of a baby cherub peeks at me with eyes like his, round and grey. “You hate your dad? Or mom? Or your ex hated the name? Or you like to lie to strangers? Must be getting close,” he says.
“Are you speaking from experience?”
He pulls out an iPod and hands me an earbud. We sit like that for too many miles, the landscape zipping by in a collage of greens: dill and meadow and sea mist and cabbage. They remind me of your eyes until I look back at Shaw. He mouths the words to the acoustic song that blares through the headphones.
“Indigo dawn,” he says out loud, no longer lip syncing.
Soon the song ends and he finds another and closes his eyes. I write Shaw’s name in stiff, sword-like letters on the window before adding my own. I pull my journal from my bag and write indigo dawn and same sun, a partial lyric from the current song. I make them into a story and when I look up, Shaw is watching me write. And then he kisses me, and he tastes like cigarettes and gin.
When the train stops, Shaw grabs my hand, and leads me out into the station. He pulls a joint from his pocket and we smoke and kiss beneath the sign to Fairfield where no one can see us. He traces the back of my neck and I feel the word writer.
If you looked through that train window now, all you would see is a pair of empty seats and the remnants of names criss-crossing the glass like constellations. And maybe that is the way it should be.
Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Samuel Zeller