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Isabelle Ghaneh :: Train Ride

The house was all Suzy had to offer to the world as a status symbol, when you came right down to it. After all, who was Suzy Simmons? A big boned fat woman of 40 with a nondescript mechanic husband who never spoke, a rambunctious four-year-old, and a rented house in the shabby section of a town gone to seed.

And that wasn’t like to change till Joe’s dad obliged them, and kicked off to his future life in the great beyond. It didn’t appear that would happen anytime soon. The old man still held on tight to life, no matter how much he wheezed his way through it. Without Joe’s dad’s small inheritance, Suzy and Joe stood no chance of getting a place they could own. Suzy wanted a title, she wanted it bad.

Suzy wanted a lot out of life. A house was just a small part of her hungry appetite. She wanted her youth back, she wanted to be thin and she wanted to be beautiful. A big do-over, filled with chances.

Some days Suzy walked with her son, Joe Jr., showed him the leaves on the ground, pushed him on a swing, listened to his playful babble, and was okay with life. She’d be grateful that she survived this far, and didn’t have to work as hard as she used to.

Other days Suzy looked at all the beautiful women in celebrity photos in magazines at the supermarket she shopped at, or gazed at the professional women coming off the train, and she’d feel sad that she would never be one of them. She didn’t have a creative bone in her sturdy body, and math and science were just words to her.

She‘d been lucky to meet Joe, lucky he didn’t mind her overweight body, lucky he had a job, lucky she got pregnant, lucky he married her. Joe didn’t earn a lot and he didn’t say a lot. He didn’t beat her, drink too much, or stick a needle in his arm, either. He worked, he came home, he read his mechanic magazines, and he went to sleep.  I wish I could be that uncomplicated, Suzy often thought, looking at Joe.

It was amazing, Alicia, Suzy’s cousin, thought to herself. Location changes everything, including perspective. Reality comes and goes, like the view out of a train window. First it’s clouds, trees, and grass, and then it’s buildings, fences, people and windows, and then they all merge into one big blur.

Alicia, the domestic partner of Adam, a stockbroker, was the mother of Sweet Melissa, their five-year-old daughter. Adam wanted to name their daughter Amy, so her first initial would be the same as her parents. Alicia balked at that, why she couldn’t say, but it gave her the creeps when she thought about it, so she went with Melissa, after her favorite song, an old Allman Brother’s tune. She called her daughter Sweet Melissa whenever Adam wasn’t around, switching to just Melissa when he was.

Alicia was riding with Adam and Sweet Melissa to New Jersey, for an outing with Suzy, her son, her husband and her husband’s dad. Alicia’s father Ed, Suzy’s uncle, would meet them there. They were taking a train ride with Santa, to celebrate the holiday season.

“I wonder when Suzy and Joe will get their own house,” Alicia said to Adam, humming to himself.

“Suzy’s a weird name for a fat woman,” Adam replied.

 *

Everyone was gathered in Suzy’s small kitchen, so that Ed could drive them all to the station in his big new Hummer. Ed was an alcoholic in Suzy’s estimation, since he drank beer from the time he got off work until he went to sleep, seven days out of seven, but he had a good job anyway, thanks to his wife, Clarinda.

Clarinda was the daughter of a very rich man, and she wasn’t around much. Clarinda had married Ed when she was young, and while her family had eventually taken him under their wing, and provided proper employment for him, once her youthful infatuation passed, Clarinda had no real use for Ed.

Clarinda led a totally separate life from Ed, but they had never legally divorced, why, no one could ever figure out. Maybe Clarinda just never got around to it.

Alicia had never had to work, not really, thanks to her mom’s money. Her good looks and her mother’s connections got her invited to a lot of social events. At one of those events, she met Adam.

Ed thought Alicia was a goddess, just like Clarinda, his far-away wife, and he bragged about Alicia all the time. Suzy thought most of what her uncle said after he’d had a few beers was just gibberish. But Ed got it right about Alicia, she was a real stunner.

Suzy tried not to feel jealous of the love Ed had for Alicia. Suzy’s own father had barely known her name, and had instead left her, her mother, her older brother and sister when Suzy was as young as Sweet Melissa. He got in touch with them for a yearly ‘hello it’s daddy how are you’ Christmas call.

Suzy went to Joe Jr.’s room, where he and Sweet Melissa were watching a toy train zip around the tracks.  She walked back into the kitchen, just as Ed went over to his lovely daughter Alicia and put his arm over her shoulders.

Alicia stiffened, got up from the kitchen table she was squeezed at, and stood and stared outside the kitchen window. Suzy looked at her. Ed’s red face smiled. “Let’s go,” he said.

Suzy looked out the Hummer’s window, missing her own youth, which she had never been able to enjoy the way the magazines and TV shows said you were supposed to. Suzy had never been a cheerleader, made the most notable list of achievers in her local community, or been a trendsetter.

Suzy had weight issues from birth, and she never felt heavier, fatter and uglier than when she was with Alicia. Life had left her out of the lotto sweepstakes, when it had given Alicia and all the girls like her an enormous bonus from birth, one that would keep paying dividends up to the day they started in on the Botox, liposuction and face lifts, which would enable them to preserve their lovely looks into old age.

The Hummer pulled up to the station. Everyone walked to the platform. Santa was waving next to the train. Suzy and Alicia turned at the same time to look at Santa’s large pleasant face, and his bright smile. The closer they looked the more menacing his smile became, and the wider his eyes got. So wide, his eyes started to look evil.

As evil as the smarmy laughing eyes of Leslie, Suzy’s tormentor throughout high school. Blond lovely Leslie, her small cat-like tongue licking her lips in pleasure every time Suzy came lumbering into the music room. Leslie’s quick little hands and nimble fingers could expertly tap out the sounds of the keyboard, a gift Suzy’s clumsy square hands never could equal.

As evil as Ed’s grin when he had too much to drink, and he grasped Alicia and held her close, very close, too close in fact, squeezing the breath out of her.

Suzy looked at Joe’s dad. Just one push, one push and I get the house. One push and I walk into the nursery school and wave the title around the room. I can plaster it to the chalkboard, next to Wendy the Weather Girl’s forecast of the day. She glanced at Alicia, staring into the clouds overhead. One push and beautiful Alicia splatters into a thousand Gucci pieces, all silvery and glittery like her hair. 

The happy train came to a halt. Everyone got on.

“Does she have her toy train?” Alicia asked, looking fixedly at her little daughter, bouncing on her seat.

Adam nodded. “Right here,” he said.

“Good,” said Alicia, who then turned to stare out the window. “Good.” 

“That’s so important,” she murmured, and Alicia reached for her daughter’s hand, squeezing it so tightly Sweet Melissa yelled, and finally pulled away.

 
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