It didn’t matter what time of day; the rhythm continued in the background. It would quietly fade away the moment the mind couldn’t grasp it in the forefront. The mundane hum drum of metal wheels over rail. It would fill gabs in concentration and conversation, while the clutter of a day would be carried away towards an inevitable platform.
Her chocolate iris grabbed his attention and threatened to pull the waking dream back into the gaps. Her eye held wide for a few moments. When it became clear the he was as unsure of context as she was, it narrowed into a friendly cringe. The other eye hid itself behind the pages of her book; the original pages and its additions shadowed half her face from view. The sensation of being pulled out of sleep came over him once again when a crumpled ball of paper landed in his lap. The chaotic spread of paint across the page matched the colour on her hands and the cuffs of her shirt. Its origin became undeniable when he unrolled it and could see the intricate spotting of paint, each dot as round as the paint stains on her finger tips. There was no image in the dots, just slow rolling hills of shading. It was clearly done by someone deep inside a thought who kept their hands busy. The murmur of train tracks must have walked her mind somewhere else as well. They had been lying across from each other in one of the train’s booths. A rolling door cut off the rest of the passengers, and their rummaging. Feet towards the window and watching the countryside roll past. The summer heat made close association for an extended period tiringly hot. They reached out across the divide every so often just to reassure the other that their current arrangement was practical in nature and not symbolic of some nefarious game. So calm had their post lunch meandering been, that it had been hours since either one of them had uttered a word.
“Abelia Marion?“ he asked. The other of her chocolate eyes appeared from behind the messy painted pages. Her eyebrow raised placidly.
“What is it Jon?” She replied, looking back at her page.
“How well are you dealing with the heat?” he said after a pause. She threw her notebook across the divide and onto his lap. Jon turned to the page that had squares of parchment paper separating it from the others. Between the sheets was what he understood to be a painting of their exact scenery. A train window that opened up into a vast expanse of countryside. But where the literal version continued into a never ending green expanse of hills and woodlands, her version turned a scarlet red at the horizon. They lapped over one another in gradients of colour, rendering clear the landscape without the need for detail. When he looked close at certain dots he could pick out the folds of her finger prints.
“Not terribly” he concluded at last.
“How many do you think there will be?” She said many minutes later. The city at the end of the tracks had for many weeks now been the site of movement that cast off the old rigged shell, it was now amorphous in nature. Although vulnerable to disturbances, it had developed a tendency to refuse compliance with whichever group tried to re-enclose. The people simply refused. There was a feeling that it may never be contained again and the thought of being in its yoke excited the two of them so much that they abandoned their lives. For many months the public places of their city had been moving, the backrooms had made their way back out into the streets.
“You would know better than I would” He replied, passing her book back to her. Marion thought about what he said for a few moments before turning her attention back into the painted pages. After another prolonged silence he became aware of the stiffness in his legs. He had being lying still for hours and need to stretch his legs in the hall. She poked her head out from behind the pages while he struggled with the door, it hung to the frame and refused to give way without unnecessary force. When it at last popped from the frame grip it made a bang that turned the heads of the few people walking past outside. She chuckled at the embarrassment that flushed through his face. He glared at her over his shoulder. She smacked his behind with her book, propelling him through the door. He made his way towards the back of the train, dropping his head down while he passed through the staff quarters. He got a strange look from a young boy sitting immediately before the door, but it was more amusement than alarm. When he popped open the last door on the train, and walked out onto the tiny end platform, that sound of turning wheels and rocking cars became more pronounced, it was closer to a roar now. He sat with his feet dangled over the back, a foot or two from the ground. From here he could see the landscape roll past on both sides of the train. Already disturbed by the head of the train, all wildlife had fled from its mountainous sound, just the trees held fast, tied to the ground and unwilling to compromise.
They swayed between breezes but never broke, if they ever did it would have been the first time Jon had seen it. He had vivid memories of entire trunks of trees fleeing the earth under the barrage of a cannonade, but couldn’t recall ever seeing one fall. He remembered as a child seeing an oak lie flat across a gravel lane the morning after a storm but couldn’t remember if he had seen it from his window or not.
The wheels of the train must have carried his mind off again. He shook off the dream and pulled from his coat pocket a small tin of cigarettes, putting one between his teeth. He had to press himself up against the back of the train in order to find air still enough to light the match. Once his nerves had calmed and his mind cleared a little he waited patiently for the curve of the tracks to line up with the setting sun. He caught it just as the last sliver of the sun disappeared behind the horizon, it glowed crimson, faded into violet and ended in blackness. It was exactly as Marion painted.
When he returned to the booth she had fallen asleep, her heavy coat draped over her torso. Her paints and book had been carefully tucked back into her bag. Her eyes opened slightly to look at him. The sun had faded entirely from the sky an hour earlier, leaving their booth a muddy black. He pulled his pack from storage and lay it on the floor beside the window and dropped his head onto it, pulling off his jacket and laying it over himself. Moments later he felt her lie next to him.
He only noticed when a bump in the train knocked his head against the wooden floor boards; the sun had risen again. He had turned around in his sleep and the sun had risen just high enough to blind him the moment he opened his eyes. Once his vision cleared and the pain behind his eyes faded he noticed she had moved. She must have slipped out to walk off the stiffness. There was no way he was going to fall back asleep and so left as well.
He passed from car to car on his way, arriving after minutes of rocking around and bumping into strangers. The dining car was near the back, by the staff quarters. White table clothes covered tens of tables, a little more than half of them had passengers around them. He sat down and looked for Abelia but couldn’t find her at any of the tables. She would want to eat and drink when she got here so he order extra. In the meantime he re-read the pamphlet that he had tucked away in his coat. All of the pages were creased and labelled with pen marks, phrases underlined and entire pages noted around the edge. A second sheet was folded up and tucked into a marked page. He unfolded it and scribbled another note into the last unmarked section near the bottom right side of the page before folding it back up and tucking it away again.
He had been listening to the rhythm of the track and staring blankly at the door to the staff quarters when she opened it and walked in. He could smell smoke on her breath when she sat across from him and before she could say it two plates and a small pot of coffee appeared before them. It wasn’t long before he caught himself drifting into the sound of her voice, the churning tracks pulled him away again.