Mother died today.
Or maybe yesterday.
I don’t remember.
Wait, no, it had to be before yesterday, because I had tennis lessons yesterday. Maybe Wednesday.
Actually, come to think of it, Wednesday was the International Friends of the Koalas Day Donation-drive Call-A-Thon. And that was after she died, too. I can’t believe I don’t remember. Shit. Was it over a week ago? Last… Tuesday? Jeez. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Wait, if it was Tuesday–
Fuck, I’m late.
The conductor comes up to me. His arms are crossed.
“Sir, you can’t smoke in this car.”
I laugh and blow a big cloud of smoke at his face.
“Existence is meaningless. Your pathetic laws are just a defense against the void.”
Well, I guess I gotta take the next train. Not everyone has the spiritual fortitude to understand my philosophy. This must have been what Socrates felt like.
Glad they threw my bags off after me. Don’t know what I would do without my lucky toothbrush. Life would lose all— uh… never mind.
This train has a smoking carriage. Good. Oh, what a burden it is to have to live beneath the petty laws of human life! Better to be dead, I think. Suddenly, I realize I have to go to the bathroom. Shouldn’t have had so many coffees. Shouldn’t have eaten so many croissants. When will I learn? When will any of us learn?
I remind myself to jot this down to a legal pad for later.
On the way to the bathroom I run into a heavy-set old man in a red sweater. Pronounced veins all over his face. It’s probably cancer. Even though I got to the bathroom first, he goes in before me. What the fuck? I was just finishing my cigarette.
I flick it to the ground and grind it out beneath my shoe. It seems that all that humankind is capable of are random acts of cruelty. I muse on this and wait.
On, and on, I wait. What, is he doing the fucking crossword in there? Not that it matters. I mean, sooner or later, we’re all gonna be dead. No beginning or end. No reason or… rhyme. No bathrooms down there! –occupied or otherwise. You’d be better off looking for buried treasure. Heh. The pressure builds in my colon. Really gotta go.
I beat my fist against the door, and growl over the upturned cowl of my jacket. “Hey, old timer! Hurry it up, willya?”
“It’s going to be a little while longer, I’m afraid.” His reply is calm. Oh, how the falsehoods of religion and bad faith pacify the unclean conscience! To say nothing of senility!
I can’t believe this guy. I check my watch. Battery’s dead. Figures. I pace up and down the train car. Maybe I’ll go out the window. I mean, what does it matter, anyway? What does any of it matter? I knead my fists into my eyes and roll back the bitter tears that burble forth, unbidden, whenever my mind turns to the muggy, unconquerable tropics of these topics.
Why must life be so unfair? Why all the suffering? Don’t we have any hope? Do I have any more cigarettes? This last question excites my immediate interest more than any of the other ones. I pat down my leather jacket for the box. I pull it out and flip the top. Nothing. Coulda sworn I had one left.
Figures! First I’m late to my own mother’s funeral, then I’m out of cigarettes. I prowl around the train car (like a wolf probably, but in a cool way), and my gaze alights on a prim, bored young woman smoking from a cigarette holder. Perfect.
I try to slide the door open. It doesn’t budge. I notice that she’s noticed me. The cigarette smolders between her fingers. I redouble my efforts, forcing my whole body against the door. Still nothing! I knock on the door with the back of my knuckles.
“Forgive me, Mademoiselle.” My voice is probably hard to hear in there, so I cup my hands and yell the rest. “I’m out of cigarettes. Would you care to spare one?” She cocks her head and raises a slim eyebrow at me. “CIGARETTES. GIVE ME CIGARETTE?? SMOKEY SMOKEY!!!!!” I mime sucking on something. What, is she retarded or something? How does she not know what I’m talking about?
“The door opens the other way,” she says.
I look down. Of course. Why wouldn’t it? I slide the door open, step inside, and take a seat. I cross my legs, then my arms. Then I uncross my legs, and cross them the other way. Then I uncross my arms, and cross my legs again (back to the first way). I end up looking pretty cool. Not that it matters. Not that anything matters.
Except, I mean, the cigarette. And getting off at the right stop. Where are we, anyway? I crawl over a suitcase to look out the window. The snow and farmland alternate like mold and cream cheese inside a container of cream cheese that’s gone bad. Wow. I should write that down. I pull out my pen and a notebook, flip over a new page, and start writing. The young woman interrupts me.
“Did you want something, Monsieur?
I slide back into my seat. “No. Of course not.” I exhale forcefully out of nostrils. I need to make sure she doesn’t think I’m needy. “Actually, yes. Gotta cigarette?”
She smiles through pursed lips. “Sure.” She plucks a fag from a container in her purse and hands it to me.
“Thanks.” My voice is low, and kind of muffled because of the cigarette in my mouth. She holds out a lighter to my face, but I make a stop gesture with my hand.
“No need, babe.” I mumble. I got my own right here. There it is. I pull out my badass skull-pattern lighter and spin it in my fingers. I glance up at her. She’s looking out the window again. Whatever. Women never recognize what’s cool, anyway. Not that “cool” means anything either. Or “women.” I sigh so deeply that my cigarette falls out. I pick up, put it back in my mouth, and smoke it.
“Ooh, these are nice.”
She turns to me. “Excuse me?”
“These cigs. Good stuff.” I cough.
“Mmm-hmm.” She seems bored.
I smirk. “Say—what’s your religion?”
“I’m not religious.”
I scoff. “Yeah, right. Everyone’s a little religious… everyone believes in something, even if they think they don’t!”
“Well, I really don’t.”
Dumb broad. She’s probably a Catholic. I snicker, and cross my arms behind my head, which I tilt. “Uh, d’ya know when we stop at Rue de St. Prix?”
“Rue de St. Prix?”
“It’ll probably be on one of the rail-signs.”
I wink at her. “Thanks, babe.”
She frowns a little.
In no time, we’re there. It’s just like she said: the signs tell you when to get off. “Even in the darkest ocean, the lighthouse still shines.” I mutter to myself.
She looks up again. “What?”
I hold my hand in front of my mouth and clear my throat. “Even in the darkest ocean, the lighthouse still shines.”
“What does that mean?”
I smirk. “Oh, nothing. Just a poem I wrote. Gotta go…” I leave, not affording her so much as three glances back as I navigate the corridor alongside all the smelly country people.
I squint up. Harsh winter sunlight.
Where did Ma live, anyway?