I don’t know why you kept asking me if I’d write about you. I told you I never write about my friends without their permission, and even then, it’s usually ten to fifteen years after something happened that I finally get it digested enough to write about it.
And I never intended to write a word about you anyway.
Firstly, nothing happened. Secondly, I don’t take the train from Montreal to New York and view my fellow passengers as raw material to be processed into Chapter Five, paragraph eleven of some imaginary story.
But you kept asking and asking. Are you going to write about me, Ellen?
My name is Emily.
That’s the same as Ellen, isn’t it?
Well, are you going to write about me?
Want a beer?
Want something stronger?
I know what you want.
You want prince charming. That’s why you don’t want me. You want a real man. Are you going to write about me, Emily?
No. What’s that little turquoise pill?
Oh. Is it turquoise?
It’s half-peyote and half-cocaine.
Why do you take it?
Because I’m an actor, and all actors are insecure. Let me have some of your coffee, Ellen.
My name is Emily.
You’re beautiful, Emily. Want to get married?
Are you going to write about me?
So, Obie, here I am, writing about you. And I can’t figure out why, any more than I can figure out why you got into my heart like a desperate, wounded puppy. There you were, a fantastically good looking, grown man, with at least a 30 pound weight advantage over me, the most amazing blue eyes I’ve ever seen, a preposterous mass of golden hair, and crammed full of God knows what on top of those little turquoise pills.
Why didn’t anybody else’s heart bleed when they saw you?
I don’t understand. I honestly don’t understand.
When you first walked up the aisle of the train, I didn’t like you. In fact, I disliked you. You were wearing some sort of a protest T-shirt – Free Marijuana … Kill capitalists … Hug a tree – I don’t remember which. You sat down opposite me, and launched into a diatribe about oil spills, genetic modification, and over-population, going from one subject to another without transition, and making absolutely no sense. But you were funny and sad, and you were so young, and your eyes were so blue, and you seemed to be getting such an inverted kick out of the way I refused to flirt with you that, ultimately, I did crack a smile.
Well, maybe half a smile.
Then you left.
I like beautiful things, Obie. I wonder if you would have touched my heart so much if your eyes hadn’t been so enormous and so blue, if your hands hadn’t been so compact and neat, your chin so squared off and…
About eyes. Am I crazy, or do the worst drunks, pill heads, and speed freaks sometimes have the most innocent eyes? Proud, begging eyes. Eyes that look at you and shout, “I need. I want. I’m desperately lonely. I’m dying inside. I’m screaming. My God, can’t anybody hear me?” And at the same time, eyes that shout, “Get out of here. Leave me alone! Who needs you anyway?”
That’s what your eyes kept saying to me Obie.
“Go away … No stay … Don’t stay … I need you … I hate you … I’m so lonely … Help. Help. Help.”
A few hours later, I almost crashed into you in the aisle between cars. You grabbed onto my wrist and said many things. All were suggestive, offensive, and crass. That was when my heart started to die for you, Obie. When you reached for me the way a man reaches for a woman. We both knew how compelling such a thing should have been (man and woman alone in aisle of international train – fraught with romantic potential), but you were slurring your words and stumbling over your feet.
That was when you stopped being a man, Obie, and started to be a puppy.
When I was about 22 years old, I had a dog named Flint. He was the cutest mutt you ever saw, with the most enormous puppy-dog brown eyes in the world. I picked him out at the pound, because he was the friskiest puppy of the lot. All the others were drooping against the sides of their cage, but Flint was bouncing around like a happy maniac. He parked and yapped, and all the while, his puppy mouth was smiling and his puppy tail was wagging.
Me and Flint became great friends. I used to go to college, and nobody particularly liked me there, except for the guys who rode motorcycles, so I didn’t have any friend except Flint. We’d go for walks, and I’d teach him tricks, and we’d have great roll-on-the grass tumbles, and we loved each other very much.
Then one day, Flint’s leg started to twitch.
As days progressed, it began to twitch more and more.
I took him to the vet.
The twitch grabbed on to Flint like an overnight storm, but instead of passing, it got worse. Eventually, it got to the point where Flint couldn’t walk across the lawn without limping horribly, sometimes tripping over the three paws he could still use.
I’d yell, “Here, Flint,” and his enormous brown eyes would look at me with enormous brown love, and he would leap in my direction, for the love and trust and friendship he knew he could expect from me, but instead of reaching me, the twitch would set a spasm through his body, and he’d fall flat on his face.
And I’d run to Flint.
His little tail would be wagging as he lay there, and his enormous brown eyes would be looking up at me with the same love and trust, but also with “what happened” somewhere in their enormous brown depths.
Flint expected me to take care of him. The vet told me I’d have to have him put away. Put away is a euphemism for killed.
I brought Flint to the hospital.
The last time he looked at me, I saw love and trust and friendship in his eyes. Mostly, though, I saw absolute trust. I saw those eyes declaring aloud, “That’s my mistress, and she’d never let anything hurt me, because she loves me, and we are friends.”
I felt like a murderess. I felt like a betrayer. I felt empty and hollow and useless. Most of all, I felt dead. I felt killed. I died.
And Obie, in case you’re wondering what a puppy named Flint has to do with a pill-popping actor I met on a train from Montreal to New York … you remind me of Flint.
Your eyes, when they weren’t hating me, were begging me for something, and trusting that I’d be able to give it to you.
I could say I don’t know what it was, but I do.
And I would have stayed and helped you, except that I’m too old to kid myself with that fantasy. You can’t help anyone, Obie. People have to help themselves.
I can’t help you, Obie.
You’ve got to do this one by yourself.
If I saw you in a burning building, I could put a ladder up, but you’d have to make the decision to climb down it yourself.
Too many times in life, I’ve put up the ladder, and crawled into the burning building, and hauled somebody out, only to have that somebody spit in my face and run back to another building, strike a match, and…
You’re the first one I ever walked away from.
Obie, I wish I understood it all.
I wish I even understood what it is that I don’t understand. I suppose I could stop and think very slowly and ask myself a lot of questions, and begin to make some headway, but I’m impatient to get on with living, and you’re not a part of my life.
You came back to my car of the train three more times.
The first time, you told me not to let you sit beside me, because there was something wrong with you, and you couldn’t control yourself. So we talked over the back of the seat, and the little turquoise pill began to take effect. You slurred your words, your lips sagged against your chin like a drooling dog, and your blue eyes hazed over … all of the intelligence was burned out. Then you began to howl like a wounded coyote on a moon-crazed night.
A few hours later, you came back. Your eyes were clear, and you wanted to sit beside me.
I said no.
You turned around and left again. And I died.
Obie, what’s going to happen to you? What’s going to happen to those beautiful blue eyes, that square chin, and that mass of preposterous golden hair? Flint didn’t have a chance and he didn’t have a choice, but you do.
Damn it man, if you ever wanted to get out of that burning building, I’d build a ladder for you let alone place it against your window.
When the train pulled into Grand Central, you passed by my seat. Pot head, pill head, speed freak, junkie, alcoholic … I don’t know what you were or will be, but when you came to me that last time, Obie, you were a gentleman. You took my hand. My fingers, really, and sort of pressed them.
“Keep writing,” you said.
Funny, Obie, friends who’ve known me and people who’ve loved me for a million years don’t know how much the writing means. But you did. From the start. From the first time you asked, “Are you going to write about me, Ellen?” to the last.
Maybe some vague conceit made you certain you were a good subject. Maybe you wanted to be immortalized. Maybe you were just being ornery. And maybe some primitive writer’s instinct in me tells me that anyone who wants to be written about so badly deserves his own story.
That’s another thing I don’t know.
All I know is that you won, and here it is, Obie. I actually did write about you.
Now, so long.
And don’t let your story end here.
Copyright © 2015 Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.