Last Train to Clarksville

 

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Words don’t exist for that look when they first see the gun. That’s my job. No, not the telling, or even the killing, because I’ve never pulled the trigger. No, it’s finding that precise moment when the vision of a descending scythe brings knowledge and they make that leap for life. A gun, a watch, these are my tools. They’re all I use.

From beginning to end, the whole story, the telling of a lifetime passes in a moment; it’s the reading of a narrative told in the eyes.  From birth to surrender, it’s all there: the pain, the plan, the end of waiting, closing in on that final moment.

If it’s exhaustion, they’re thinking of rest; if it’s torment, they’re looking for peace; if pain, they want release.  And some are just plain, damn, no-good curious, full of deadly wonder, itching, inching for the abyss.  Me, I’m just doing my job.

But why here, and why this man this time? And why me? I have no idea how I got here, who assigned me, or how it pays in living wage. There’s always money in the account, but no one to ask. I do remember waking on a bench in a train station years ago, surprised and excited to be alive. But that’s all. No memory of family, of home or occupation … nothing.  That, and my watch had stopped.

I have since searched the records and officially I’m a cipher. No one misses me. No one filed a report. Most odd, really, because when I look in the mirror I see a beautiful woman with startling eyes of intelligence blazing. I see inviting. I see welcome and warm interest, politely discreet, potentially brazen.

I see maid and mother, blade and balm, both calm and storm under carnelian clouds of cascading red hair. Impossible to miss in a crowd.  It may be skin deep, this beauty I wear, but this is how I find them, tickets punched, on their last ride to claim their right of departure. Oblivious to curiosity, to hope, even to beauty, in a cold world hungry for fire, these people never notice the heat.

And now again, another man this time, this one sitting before me. I look up to read his eyes. Timing is crucial here, this moment the very crux of our aligning. Often, the ones most ready to go are the ones most hidden and careful. If they are to be retrieved and salvaged, pulled back from the edge, the synchronizing needs to be furtive, the watching as if from ambush.

I’m surprised that he looks familiar. Also, he’s younger than expected with a vulnerable, wary, protected facade not without its charm. The eyes are light grey with pale complexion and dark, dark hair surrounding. Black Irish I’d guess, heavy-lidded and tragic.

What a proud, destroyed, provocative document this face. Here, profiled in living biography, a dossier complete with storylines and graphics in novel form for the been-there and knowing eyes to read. Here conveyed is the abandoning, the fey desolation, the resignation and wounded confusion to see.

Look closely, there, and there. See? The worn eroded shadows, the unused lines of happiness that recall an easy smile of old. A woman such as I would sacrifice much to fold such a smile into her life. But it’s the recent lines, the fine new lines cut from acid anguish that render best his heartache. And the eyes, long lashed by harrowing sorrow, they’re haunted eyes. They follow at a distance, then flee when discovered.

One would guess a formidable intelligence behind that forehead, yet lines there are that gouge that brow deeper and wider than moats. Etched in flesh, the ruts cut raw in the relic, fresh carved furrows, rows hard chiseled, scars against the grain of laughter.  What failed love did this?  No other business could have incised him so. And why does he look so familiar?

He looks up briefly, gives a crooked smile, returns to his paper … and I know. I have my proof and I am not wrong. Because I know that smile. Because it is a smile that breaks my heart every time I see it.

Introduce a gun into a conversation and first thing, all eyes go wide. Without fail. First, the shock, then reactions veer wildly, emotions vary. The most common is fear.

For some, it’s the kind that trickles down a leg from foul and lumpy shorts. Some fall to their knees in the dust, others are in the gravel groveling. Some would resist. Thoughts of family, of love interrupted, feeling harvested out of season, everything planned now left undone. There are many ways to greet an unexpected death, but there’s none harder to witness than that broken tender smile of despairing welcome.

And that smile is the object of my mission. If I time everything just right, so that our conjunction is fixed and centered, it’s a passport back to life.  From time to time I wonder about my watch, where and why it stopped, what the hour and minute mean. In a more usual world I would have junked it, but for me and my purpose, a broken watch is perfect. It is timeless, and useless is why I use it. It’s how I’ll capture his attention comes his time to face the gun. Yes, it’s all in the timing, but that smile is how I know.

I look around me in the sometimes and wonder why, in the midst of spite and in spite of everything, why the joy of beauty isn’t enough. It’s the manna of life freely given and free to all everywhere. In a bleak and bitter world, it’s the gift of a door that’s always open. It only takes eyes and a willingness to see. That’s it. That’s all. Period. Take tonight and this train to …? Funny, I don’t remember … don’t think I even checked, just followed the call of that terrible smile.

So, what is it about that too-old smile on his too-young face? I’ve never been this at ease with my target, never as sure of my timing, never more sure of success. I’m never wrong about these appointments (not any more, tho I don’t always succeed), so what is it?

It’s warm as a womb in here. There’s the soft glow of his reading lamp, and for the moment he has escaped into his paper. It’s cozy as a cocoon in here, and that much nicer because it’s cold outside. There’s the narcotic pulse and cadence of wheels carrying people home, ferrying them out of Night into Dawn, dream delivered into Morning of another Day.  “ … and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel … ” Just so, Steve and Arlo. Just so.

It’s not possible, and I know this, but I could be happy with this man. Soon, in a few moments (I can feel the approach); I’ll know it’s time. I’ll look at my watch and frown (he’ll see out of the corner of his eye), raise it to my ear, give it a sharp rap with my fingernail, once … twice … three times, then ask him for the time. He’ll put down his paper, see the gun, and his eyes will go wide. And then that smile, that warped all too-willing smile, the welcome of release.  I’ll stand, put pistol to his heart, pull his eyes to mine and hold them … and hold until he sees.

I don’t know why, but there is that about a woman’s beauty that opens the eyes to life. Mother Earth, the life force … I don’t know, only that it works.

Once I see my success, I’ll return gun to purse, break contact, turn and leave. It’s not easy for them after that, but they survive. They go on, most of them, and forge their own reasons to live. This one will thrive.

Soon. Very soon, but not yet. I turn to look out the window, into the night, thru the glass darkly. There are wraiths and shadow people out there. Sometimes I believe that … there’s one now!!  … but it’s my reflection in the window.

Strange, to be so beautiful after all these years … my watch, I suppose, shades of Dorian Gray. Something. Something … so familiar … then I know!  The colors are wrong!  He’s a man and I’m a woman!  … but the lines, the eyes, the smile are the same!

Quickly I look. His watch is stopped. There’s a gun in his hand. I did read him! Why didn’t I see this? How could I not see this? His finger tightens and I know we’ll cross over together. This time I pull the trigger.

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One comment on “Last Train to Clarksville

  1. Sue Curry says:

    That describes it.

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