The Train Dream


the train dream short story


Lately I’ve been having this dream that takes place on a train. It’s not a modern train, but rather a kind of special antique that travels to the places we once went together. At first, I don’t know where it’s going, and I don’t understand what’s going on. But I can feel there’s something strange about this vehicle, of which I am now a part. The first stop comes and I get off inside an old movie theatre. It takes a moment for me to realize that it’s the night of our first date. The air is thick, hot, dark and saturated by the sound of waves between oceans. I can hear boats and planes and people; a war of consequence long forgotten. I take my seat and feel your presence in the chair beside me. Only you aren’t actually there. But it’s okay, because I can feel your warmth, and I can remember how it happened, what happened that night, every last detail down to the moment when you realized you forgot my name. Then comes our first kiss, and the air turns to glass. For what noise is war compared to love. After the kiss, things blur and I am torn back to the platform, back to the train that hasn’t moved. It’s been waiting, waiting to take me away, waiting to steal Eden and force my path ahead. Back onboard the other passengers mind their own business. At each stop, I get off again and engage another memory. Dancing on the lake; rolling in the snow; empty rooftop patios; Montreal; our fights; the tiny couch in your studio, sleeping through the night in unbearable discomfort, yet somehow utterly at peace with you in my arms.

The knowledge that heaven exists.

Now, the stops begin to blur, and I am reminded again that something is missing. Of course, it’s you, and me, and us together. I have become a ghost, while you have become the absent icon of this ancient opera. A fear strikes now, the old aching fear of loneliness, and so I retreat to the back of the train and take refuge in a seat out of the way. The other passengers move about and take their exits as they must. Some leave and others stay. The train moves on. When I look outside I can see the shops we used to visit, the changing rooms we used to hide in, the restaurants where you ate the food off my plate. Only they’re all empty now, or the people inside haven’t the faintest clue of what preceded them. But I remember. I remember everything. Time flows forward, but not for me. These memories won’t die. They can’t, not now, not ever. The train stops but I can’t get off. It’s not my place. Not anymore. I’ve lost my guide; I’ve fallen from the path. What will become of me? What do I deserve? Nothing—I fear; everything—I hope.

Up ahead there is a sharp turn, a castle, and a sweeping fantasy. Children play in the street; their faces bare strange resemblance to another old forgotten dream. Senile, I have become, as I stare through the glass in search of you, any sight or sign or clue, but there are none. You are nowhere that I may grasp. You have become a secret, hidden from my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my fingertips.

At long last, the train pulls into its terminal stop. Here, the last of the stragglers debark, and I alone stand at the door. But I’m not ready to abandon the dream. I can’t abandon the fact that you once loved me, and that I once bathed in the richest colours of your soul. The courage you inspired, the weaknesses you cured. You are Minerva, Venus, and Hera. I close my eyes inside the darkness of this empty vessel and see the spark of your new life. In it you are happy, and you have built a beautiful world. But one without me.

Soon the driver brings the train around, circling the terminal to start anew. A new generation of passengers boards and sits and waits. They pay no mind to little old me. The train returns the way it came. All I feel, all I taste, is time spent. I shear my calloused mind; my thoughts rebuild themselves. The ends and means of hope become jumbled along the center of this new avenue. I resign myself to fate. I have survived. At this new moment, the train stops to admit a great many people. Gravity swells, my eyes glance up into the group. I hear a laugh, and there is you. Your head turns, and you see me. Your eyes grow large and flutter while a sly and unforgotten smile spreads slowly across your lips. I have dreamed of this moment; the dream continues. You move my way and speak.

“Hi there. Must be nice being you.”

You pause beneath me and rest your ear against my chest. I shake my head at life. Life, it has just been proved, is nothing more than an inside joke, shared between old friends across short distances inside the carriage of a defunct public transit system.

by Cameron Alexander Murton