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A Steamer Trunk

ISSUE:  Spring 2004

She asked me to go with her to pick out a trunk for her journey. It seemed to me like a strange request as, though neither of us had said it, we both knew that her leaving was the way we were breaking up. Even stranger was that I agreed to help her.

But I thought this might be her way of keeping things ordinary between us for a while longer. Almost from the time we met she’d coaxed me along on her shopping excursions. She avoided malls and fancy downtown stores. What she was after wasn’t shopping so much as salvaging—the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of finding in a rag pile something discarded but beautiful, the triumph of saving it from obliteration. She loved junk stores, thrift shops, yard sales, auctions where every item came, like a stray cat, with a secret history. She saw herself as belonging to a subculture, the cognoscenti she called junkers.

“It’s a gorgeous day, let’s go junking,” she’d say, and we would drive to some small town in Wisconsin or Indiana where she’d heard from reliable sources that the church ladies were holding a bazaar, or sometimes out into the countryside, as far away as Iowa, where Saturday was auction day. Her quests took us from Chicago to Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland—different cities, but the same neighborhood of shabby streets, where Goodwills and Salvation Army stores were located near Greyhound terminals and railroad stations. I wondered about the connection: did people who rode such modes of transportation into cities trade in their clothes upon arriving?

“Try something on, Jack,” she’d urge, and occasionally I did. I bought a dove-colored fedora from the Bogart era, when a hat was still essential to a man’s wardrobe. It served as a receptacle for unanswered mail. For twenty-five dollars I became the owner of a tweed jacket with a belted back, leather patch elbows, and leather piping along the collar. Piping—I’d acquired her vocabulary. It was tailored by Jieves&Hawkes. “One Seville Road, tailors to the First Duke of Wellington,” Bea informed me. She called it my “old sport” coat, as in, “You could have bloody well had it for twenty bob, old sport.” Only after getting it home did I notice it was moth-eaten along the seam down the spine. The single item I got some wear from, before I lost it at a restaurant, was a gray Scardigan, a scarf with vest pockets perfect for a fobbed timepiece and buttons like a sweater. Clearly I lacked not only a knack for bargaining but also the eye for finding hidden treasures.

It wasn’t necessary to either of us that I shop. I was there to serve as an audience for her wandering fashion show, to witness her masquerades and protean disguises. From the time machine of a changing room she’d emerge, shimmying fringe as if she’d just been plucked from a party at Jay Gatsby’s, or in beads, tie-dye, and bell bottoms straight from San Francisco’s Summer of Love. As if auditioning for a ’40s film, she’d pose before a mirror, and whether it was a three-way or just a cracked slab propped in a corner, it was easy to picture a war bride wearing those very clothes, tearfully kissing a soldier good-bye to the strains of “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Bea brought the worn-out shapes hanging from racks or lumped on counters to life. A whirl floated a dress above her knees, one twist to check the alignment of seams on her hose, another to evaluate the curve of her derriere. Flirting with her reflection, she flirted with me. Like any audience, I became a kind of mirror, one that answered she was the fairest, but whose magic went no further. I was a reflecting pool in which there was no danger of drowning. She’d model a camisole against her clothed body, and I knew I’d see it again some night after she’d treated it with potions for revivifying silk. It would smell like a slightly scorched curtain against the sweetness of her skin.

And there she was, stripping just behind a changing-room curtain. If the curtain didn’t reach the floor, I’d see garments dropping beside her feet and I’d think about sneaking a peek. She wouldn’t mind. Once, as I watched her dressing after a morning we’d spent in bed, she said, “That’s what I like about you, sweetheart, you just spent hours with me naked and you’re still looking up my skirt.” Sometimes, aware I was watching on the other side of the curtain, she’d let her panties slip down around her ankles and step out of them, and once she opened the curtain and flashed me. But usually she was careful not to shock or alienate the shopkeepers, mostly older women who oversaw the merchandise. They were people she had to bargain with, people to be cajoled into becoming allies, who could be enlisted to keep an eye out for some particular item she was seeking. She was always seeking something special.

There would be no hanky-panky when the item we were seeking was a trunk, but I went anyway. It occurred to me that maybe the reason she didn’t think it strange to ask me along was that she saw this as a chance for me to realize she was serious about leaving. Hadn’t she warned me the first time we’d met that she was restless? The trunk would be packed with the garments I’d watched her collect, clothes I’d unzipped and unbuttoned. She was making ready to sail away for Europe as the expatriates had in a distant era, an era when her favorite vintage dresses, styled in what she called Depression Deco, were new. It was an era she felt she should have lived in. Where exactly in Europe she hadn’t decided—some start-over place where the bargaining would be in a foreign tongue and the shopping spectacular. Maybe she didn’t think it strange asking me to help in her preparations to leave because I hadn’t figured out a way to make her stay.

We could have found a trunk in Chicago. At one of the trendy resale shops in Bucktown or in West Rogers Park. Or that creepy shop under the El tracks on Newport where a sorority of malevolent-looking dolls with chipped faces gazed from the sooty display window. Bea went there for hats and for hat pins—a glass case was devoted to pins arranged on black velvet like a display of miniature daggers. It was a shop she mined for the odd objects and scraps that made up the assemblages and Cornell-like boxes she constructed.

But it was a gorgeous day for junking, the kind of Indian summer day that recollection turns into the template for an entire season. She wanted to drive out of the city to Kalamazoo, a town in Michigan, a hundred and fifty miles away.

“Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo like in ‘I Got a Gal’?” I asked.

“Yes, sweetheart, we’re going to the legendary place in the song.”

A year earlier she’d been on a train that stopped there and she’d discovered a Salvation Army store by the train station. There had been time only for a brief look, but Bea could intuit a store’s promise in seconds. What caught her eye before she had to reboard the train were steamer trunks.

That was before we’d met. She’d been on her way to Ann Arbor to visit a friend. An anonymous “friend” in Bea-speak meant a lover. All she’d told me about him was that he was an analyst she’d gone to see after she’d returned to the States from years of living abroad. He’d treated her for a condition she called culture shock and he called depression until their relationship became “something other than merely professional.” He moved with his wife and daughter from Evanston to Ann Arbor, but Bea had continued to visit him until he moved again to Europe. She’d mentioned him only once, back in winter when we began seeing each other regularly, but lately I caught myself wondering if his moves had anything to do with Bea, and if she was preparing to follow him again. She never said where he’d relocated. Austria, I imagined, or Switzerland, or the Italian Alps—somewhere where the skiing was good. Before he left he’d sold Bea his car—at a giveaway price, she assured me—a black Toyota Camry with carrier racks for skis. It was the car I was now driving to Kalamazoo.

I was driving so that Bea could concentrate on the fall colors, which were at their peak. I couldn’t help wondering how often she’d driven this route. When we crossed the border into Michigan with its change to Eastern Standard Time, she asked, “Feel older? We just aged an hour.”

We’d hardly spoken since leaving the city. The radio was playing the Saturday opera broadcast live from the Met—Turandot—barely audible with the wind rushing through the car. Bea, who was trying yet again to quit smoking, lit a cigarette and gazed out the open window.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“How break-your-heart beautiful the colors are,” she said. “And how no matter how often I tell myself that it’s the trees’ way of shuttering up for winter, when they blaze like this I don’t really believe it’s going to happen.”

We were passing stands of hardwoods. In place of a summery green blur, each maple stood out like a competing, giant, fiery bouquet. Even so, the dominant light was the hazy gold of oaks. Their leaves swirled from the shoulder and gusted across the highway in the wakes of semis.

“Turn off here,” Bea said as we came up on the exit for South Haven. “Let’s get away from the trucks. You can pick up a pretty two-lane that goes through the vineyards.”

“How do you know these things?”

“Sweetheart, I’ve hit every junk shop between here and Ann Arbor.”

We drove by rickety produce stands that had survived an avalanche of pumpkins, past U-Pick’Um blueberry farms and strawberry fields closed for the season, and vineyards, with their sere, trellised vines like tangles of fried wiring.

“Reminds me of Burgundy,” Bea said, “except in France there’s more of a roll to the countryside and Michigan wine gives me a headache.”

I wondered if I was growing overly sensitive to it or if Bea had always talked as much about Europe. In her senior year at Kenyon she’d gone off for what was supposed to have been a semester abroad and didn’t return until nine years later. She’d enrolled in the Liverpool Art College, the school where John Lennon had met Paul McCartney, and after living in England, she traveled through Europe, with stays in Amsterdam and, later, in Prague. I’d met her last January when Jena, the personal trainer Bea worked with, had the flu and I’d filled in for an individual session. Afterwards, we’d gone to a Jamba Juice bar around the corner and ended up talking until it closed at ten. Bea told me she was doing cataloguing work for the Terra art museum, and when I said that sounded interesting, she said, “Sure, if you like sitting in a cubical at a dead end.”

When I told her I’d recently returned to school and was working on a PhD in American Studies, she said, “Gym rat by day, scholar by night. So, how’s it feel to be a student again? I sometimes think of going back, but I don’t think I could sit in a classroom full of kids.”

I thought about her all the following week, and the next time I saw her at the gym, back working with Jena, I asked her out.

“Why?” she asked, as if such a surprising notion demanded an explanation.

“What can I say? I’ve always had a thing for green eyes.” I smiled as if kidding, but the truth was I’d have sat at Jamba Juice all night to watch her eyes as she talked.

“You’re twenty-five. I’ve always dated older guys,” she said. “Thirty-four’s not old enough to be flattered by the attention of a younger man. I’m saving that for my dotage, at thirty-nine.”

“It’s just dinner. Do people care about stuff like that anymore?”

“And green eyes or not, my dear, isn’t the personal-trainer-older-woman thing a bit of a cliche?”

Now, on M-43, a two-lane, we drove by bullet-hole-punctuated DEER CROSSING signs and came upon a fawn dead on the roadside that two dogs were trying to drag into the woods. We crossed a river varnished with the gleam of trees. A man in a straw hat canoed across the reflections without disturbing them. Beyond the river there were orchards. Outside Glendale, the gas station we stopped at also sold fresh-pressed cider. An old man at the register insisted we try a sample. Bea asked him if we could walk in the orchard behind the station.

“Help yourself, young lady, just watch out for them wild turkeys. They get rowdy this time a year,” he said with a wink.

Compared to the orchards we’d been passing, this one with its high grass looked unkempt. It appeared to be reverting to the woods at its edge. The exposed, gnarled branches of the fruit trees gave it an ancient mien. It smelled faintly of the fallen apples fermenting under the trees.

“Smells like Calvados. Do you like Calvados?” Bea asked.

“Never tried it. I’ve had hard cider.”

“Not the same. I wish we had a bottle now. With so many orchards, you’d think they’d make Calvados in Michigan. There’s an entrepreneurial idea. Bet it would be better than their wine. Imagine if the old man back there had uncorked a bottle of that for free samples.”

“We’re being watched,” I whispered and held her arm to stop her. “Look, there at the edge of the woods.”

Silhouetted against the trees, hunched figures caped in brown, the height of children, stood looking in our direction.

“Oh, my God!” she said, and they vanished into the woods.

“I guess he wasn’t kidding about wild turkeys.”

“I wish I got a better look.”

“I wonder if turkeys eat apples.” I toed the grass beneath a tree to see if there were any apples worth taking a bite from. I gathered a few that looked less bruised but pitched them. The birds and bugs had beat me to it.

“In Prague, there was an orchard where I used to walk,” she said. “It was up a steep, winding road that leads to the Castle. I’d go just before evening, and spread out below you could see the gleaming domes and spires of the city. The orchard belonged to a monastery. I never saw any monks, but I’d wonder if they were watching the people walking among the trees from their cell windows instead of meditating on the Virgin or the suffering of Christ. The grass grew so wild that walking was more like wading, and there were pear trees, too. It’s where I’d go when I needed to feel calm, to get my perspective back, and remind myself of the privilege of being alive. I was keeping a sketch book. I had a set of French colored pencils with the most subtle shades and I’d try to sketch something every day, the way one keeps up a journal. I’d sit on a mossy stone bench and draw, and imagine how someday I’d page through my pictures—hopefully they’d seem more alive than touristy snapshots—and maybe I’d remember what it was like drawing while the bells from all over Prague chimed. I wanted to be able to draw shadows that somehow conveyed the echo of bells in an orchard. One early evening I stopped to sit on a ruined stone wall and on the other side noticed a movement in the tall grass: lovers, nearly hidden. They didn’t know I was there. I’d seen couples in the orchard occasionally, holding hands, nuzzling, but nothing like this. It was sort of a holy place, you know. I was about to creep away when I realized it was two men—two boys. I think they were English because there were a lot of English tourists in just then, packs of young men on Wenceslas Square at night, drunk and loud, behaving like soccer hooligans. All I could see was one boy’s red hair, his head slowly bobbing up and down in the grass, his unbuckled trousers down, and his bare, white, pimply bottom rhythmically bobbing as well, and I could see the other boy’s tattooed arms reaching up from the grass, his hands gripping the cheeks of the red-haired boy’s bottom. And—I’ve only told this to one other person—instead of stealing off and leaving them their privacy, I stayed and sketched them, maybe only for moments, but moments expanded by a concentration I wish I could summon up on demand. I drew the lichen-gray limbs of the trees above them and the shadows, and the braided greens and yellows of the grass, that boy’s red shock of hair and his too-white bottom and the wide, black leather of his unbuckled belt. Retelling it, I can hear the jangle of the buckle, but that couldn’t be. I remember thinking, what if from a cell window a monk is watching? He’d have to confess his sin of voyeurism, and so should I. The sound of bells seemed to float as light as tinsel in the twilight. There was the same smell of fallen apples.”

When I kissed her she tasted of cider.

“Want to lie down in the grass?” she asked.

A little after three in the afternoon, Michigan time, we arrived in Kalamazoo. The highway became Main and after an Anyplace USA strip of malls, we passed tree-lined neighborhoods, then a hilly, old cemetery with a touch of the gothic about it, and not far beyond that, a drab downtown boasting more than its share of churches. There wasn’t anything especially legendary looking about the place.

“Rose Street!” Bea pointed—she’d been on alert for it—and we turned left toward a red brick railway station that seemed built to a scale smaller than that of the city which had grown around it. The station still suggested the charm of an era when it must have been something to ride trains across America. A few doors from the tracks was the Salvation Army shop, exactly as Bea remembered.

I parked in the station lot and fed the meter the few quarters I had; I knew they wouldn’t be enough. The station also served as a bus depot. Passengers were climbing into an Indian Trails bus, and as we crossed the street to the Salvation Army, a voice on a PA system announced, “The Chief Shermaneto now boarding with stops in Grand Rapids, Cadillac, Traverse City, Petoskey …”

The Salvation Army occupied a storefront beside the Michigan Gospel Mission, a tan brick building that resembled a transients’ hotel. It served as a shelter. Beneath its sign—a giant unlit neon cross—people who looked as if they’d otherwise be homeless loitered. The air about them smelled doused with an aftershave of cheap liquor. Some wore clothes like those in the window of the resale shop. Outdated suits and dresses on hangers framed the display window like drapes; there was a baby stroller crammed with used dolls and stuffed animals, and an opened ironing board stacked with chipped dishes behind which a mannequin of color stood wearing a blond wig and a ratty fur coat; there were clocks, paperbacks, a bass drum, mismatched luggage, but no steamer trunks. I wondered if they’d been sold. Bea had her shopper’s game face on—a transformation I’d seen before. Oblivious of the people loitering in front, she studied the shop window, then entered the store and went directly to the rear. She came back out looking victorious.

“They haven’t sold a one,” she said. “I think I’ll just browse a little.”

“Take your time. I’ll be out here.”

A little browse could mean an hour. Bea circled the objects of her quests as if only vaguely interested. Pretending to be undecided was part of her bargaining strategy, though it didn’t look like much bargaining would be necessary here. The open doorway of the store exhaled mustiness on a beam of dusty light. I thought of the man in the straw hat we’d glimpsed, gliding through shafts of sunlight on a river whose name I’d have to check a map to learn. Leaves floated down around him and drifted on the water’s glossy surface. I wished that Bea and I were drifting on that river.

“Vavavoom! Your girlfriend a model, bro?” a guy in a greasy University of Michigan sweatshirt asked. He had a gray ponytail and a sad, droopy mustache that his broad grin defied. He wasn’t bashful about his missing teeth.

“Actually, she’s an artist,” I said.

“She don’t look back,” he replied. “Bob Dylan, ‘She Belongs to Me,’ off Bringing It All Back Home.

“I caught the reference.”

“You dig my man Dylan! We got the same birthday, May 24th, though I must admit Bob’s aged a little better—still got his teeth. Say, bro, see those golden arches?” He pointed to the McDonald’s up the street. “Could you help me put enough together for a Value Meal? I know that junk food ain’t healthy, but I ain’t had nothing to eat all day.”

I handed him a dollar, then started across the street, back toward the station; continuing to wait outside the resale shop would make me irresistible to panhandlers. I thought I’d get some change and feed the meter.

“Bro,” he called after me. “If you’re going to tap a kidney, be careful. A college kid from Ann Arbor got stabbed to death in the station john. Yelled for help but no one paid no attention. I wasn’t there, but I seen his father when he came from Chicago just to see where his son died and what kind of people didn’t help him.”

“Thanks,” I said. I vaguely recalled reading the story, but not that it had happened here.

A train horn hooted from a distance as I crossed the street. The warning gates hadn’t dropped yet, and I walked to the tracks and looked toward where the headlight of the engine was approaching from a long way off. The train blew its horn again and I thought I’d sit on a bench in the sun and watch it arrive. At the other end of the bench, an elderly man, buttoned into a worn topcoat despite the mild weather, was feeding a hamburger bun to the pigeons. I didn’t notice until I was seated that he was having an argument. “You tell me crap one more time and we’ve had it. Come back here, you horny wobblehead! You goddamn filthy pooper! Who you think you’re walking away from?”

The crackling PA announced the arrival of Amtrak Train Number 365, the Lake Cities, with stops in Battle Creek, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit. Passengers gathered on the red brick platform—a different crowd than passed through airports—travelers with destinations no more than a few towns away, receiving family send-offs; grannies with shopping bags for luggage; college kids toting backpacks. I felt as if I was waiting to board too. To the flash of warning lights and ding of bells the gates lowered, stopping traffic, and the temperature seemed to rise as the train rushed in, trailing diesel fumes. It was the smell that permeated Union Station when I used to ride the City of New Orleans home from college at holiday break. I’d board in Chicago at night, and by Kankakee spontaneous holiday parties would be in swing, people who’d been strangers passing bottles and caroling in the aisles as the train rocked over the dark, snowy prairie. When I’d get off at Carbondale, I’d wonder if those parties continued all the way to New Orleans. The Amtrak, dependably behind schedule, always arrived after midnight, and my father would be waiting at the station to drive me home. In my junior year, my parents agreed to a divorce but decided not to tell me until I was back at school after the holiday break. I guess they wanted to have one more Christmas with us all together. I wouldn’t have known if my older sister, living in Boston, hadn’t called a few days before I was scheduled to go home. She thought I should know, but also thought I should play along. The train was jammed that year, and I was lucky to stake out a seat in the Sightseer Lounge Car. We left Union Station late with a party already in gear. At Champaign a girl from the U of I got on and asked if she could wedge in with me. “Laissez le bons temps roller,” she joked, obviously drunker than I was. She was going to New Orleans to party over Christmas break, she said, and I told her I was going there too. She was armed with her own condoms, and somewhere before Centralia we squeezed into the bathroom together. At Carbondale, I looked out the Sightseer window into a wispy snowfall to see if I could spot my father’s car. Around 6:00 a.m., when the train pulled into Memphis, everyone was asleep, including the girl leaning against me. She barely stirred when I slipped out of my seat, picked up my duffel, and got off the train. At a pay phone I called home.

“Your father was waiting at the station,” my mother said. “You didn’t call, we were worried sick.”

I mumbled something about unfinished term papers and oversleeping, then told her I didn’t think I could make it home for the holidays. She began to cry, and I said, “Mom, I’m sorry,” and she said, “No, no, we’ve always said school comes first. Call later to talk to your father. He’s sleeping now.” After I hung up, I watched the City of New Orleans depart, and I waited for the next train back to Chicago, which meant I had to pass through Carbondale again, sober this time.

I watched the Lake Cities slowly pull away from the Kalamazoo station, heading for Detroit. A few people walked beside the train, waving up at its windows, their lives suddenly moving at a different speed from those inside. At the other end of the bench, the old man was silently tearing off crumbs of bun for the pigeons. When I glanced at him, he nodded in recognition, then began repeating, “I flunked, I flunked, I flunked …”

I left him the bench and went into the station. It smelled of popcorn and hotdogs under heat lamps. The men’s restroom was beside a darkened Western Union booth. The restroom door was propped open, and I wondered if it was being cleaned or if the door was now kept permanently ajar. It was empty, just a restroom with a freshly mopped floor—gray tile, white grout. I didn’t want to think about that kid’s father or what he must have felt looking at that floor.

I got out of there fast, crossed the street to the resale shop, and stepped inside. In the vintage clothing shops located in trendy city neighborhoods, the competition was punked-out college girls from the burbs, but here, Bea pawed through piles of used clothes beside women who looked as if they didn’t have the choice of shopping elsewhere—people who’d pay with food stamps if they could, seniors stretching out their social security, welfare mothers with their kids in tow. I watched her sorting through blouses, but the shopping trance was gone from her face. She obviously hadn’t found that one discarded treasure everyone else had missed. She looked up and smiled. “Where’d you go, sweetheart?”

“Watching a train. Any luck?”

“Just what we came for. Come give me an opinion.”

The trunks were stacked along the back wall. I’d imagined them as black footlockers with brass latches, plastered with stickers from foreign places. These were made of wooden slats, ingrained with dust, and the canvas beneath the slats was stained as if they’d sat for decades in the rain. Bea raised the lid on one to an eruption of mildew. The same must faintly permeated the entire store. The used clothes would be infused with the smell; perfume couldn’t conceal it. It would have to be laundered out, steam cleaned, excised with solvents before the clothes were fit to wear. I’d noticed the odor in other such shops, a waft from an invisible border where the scent of the past and the smell of poverty converge.

“Can you imagine they’d have five of them? What do you think?” Bea asked.

“They’re huge. And a little the worse for wear, no?”

“Sweetheart, if we were entrepreneurs we’d buy them all to refurbish. Do you know what trunks like this sell for in Chicago?”

“I guess we’re just not practical people,” I said. “So, what would one of these be worth?”

“Ballpark, maybe seven hundred. Depends on how old and who made them. This one’s a Seward. Leather handles, oak slats, linen interior.”

The interior looked as if carnivorous moths had gnawed their way in. I couldn’t imagine the clothes she’d spent so much energy salvaging, the dresses, skirts, and blouses collected with such discrimination, and the underthings—satin, gossamer, crepe de chine—all stored away together in that moldy trunk.

“I don’t see any indication of the model,” Bea said, kneeling to examine it. “They had names like Empire State Express, Fulton North River Steamer, Gibson Girl. I mean, think of where some of these must have traveled—on stagecoaches, riverboats, trains, ocean liners.”

“You’ve studied this.”

“I catalogue art, remember? I’ve always loved steamer trunks.” She pointed to the largest of the trunks. “I’m thinking this one.”

“Yeah, I could see boarding the Titanic with that. Kind of like bringing your own lifeboat.”

“It might be a Truesdale. Look at the patent date on the lock.”

Its ornate lock was tarnished black. Engraved above the keyhole was “1882.”

“Do they still have the keys to any of these?”

“No, I already asked,” she said. “Doesn’t matter, it’s perfect.”

“You’re going to buy it?”

“Actually, I already have.”

I should have pulled the Toyota in front of the store, but I didn’t realize the trunk was as heavy and ungainly as it was until I’d dragged it down the aisle and maneuvered it through the door and out onto the sidewalk. “If it’s this heavy empty, what’s it like full? I have a new appreciation for the term stevedore.

“It’s time to put that physical fitness to good use,” Bea said. “This is what all those thousands of biceps curls were for.” She was kidding, but what should have been obvious to me all along wasn’t clear until that moment. She’d asked me to come with her to buy the trunk because she knew it would be too heavy for her to manage on her own.

When I tried to heft it onto my shoulder, the frayed leather handle snapped and a corner of the trunk hit the sidewalk. Bea stifled a scream.

“Sorry,” I said. I steadied it by the remaining handle, balanced the weight, and with Bea following behind, started across the street.

“Hey, bro, need a hand?” the guy who shared Dylan’s birthday yelled.

“Thanks, we can manage,” Bea said, but he was already in the street, making a show of stopping the traffic that had slowed to allow us to cross.

I navigated the curb, stepped over a bumper-high fence, and passed before an idling Indian Trails bus that filled the parking lot with fumes, then carefully set the trunk down beside Bea’s car. There was a parking ticket under a wiper on the windshield.

“That thing ain’t gonna fit in there,” the Dylan guy said.

“It goes on the carriers,” Bea said. She’d brought carrier straps and rope.

“I’ll help you load it on, bro,” the guy offered, and the two of us lifted it up and fit it on the carriers.

“We can take it from here,” Bea told him.

“Thanks for the help,” I said. All I had were twenties. When I handed him one he refused to take it.

“To live outside the law you must be honest,” he said, not bothering to reference the quote. “I can’t make change, bro.”

“No problem,” I said. “Don’t spend it all on Desolation Row.”

“Thanks, bro.” He took the bill and shook my hand. “You folks have a safe trip back to Illinois. Vavavoom!” He smiled, displaying missing teeth, then bowed to Bea and limped across the street back to the mission.

“That was generous. He some long lost friend of yours?” she asked.

“My brother,” I said.

“I was afraid he was going to come back to Chicago with us.”

Bea and I strapped the trunk to the carriers. I ran ropes from the front and back bumpers to further secure it. It felt rock solid on the top of the car. I took the parking ticket off the windshield and tore it in two.

“Hey! that goes on my license,” she said.

“Worried about being wanted by the law in Kalamazoo in case you’re ever back here?”

“Why would I come back?”

“You never know. You might need something else. A used ironing board or a drum, maybe.”

“One never knows,” she said.

“Or they might try to extradite you from … wherever.”

“If you pay the ticket right away, it’s probably only five or ten dollars.”

“Yeah, but how long did you bargain in there to save a fin?”

“You just gave a bum a twenty for nothing. Why are we sparring over a lousy parking ticket?”

“Sparring? Who’s sparring?”

“I just don’t want them dunning me in the mail, that’s all. Give it to me.”

I handed the torn ticket to her along with her car keys.

“My turn to drive,” she said. She gave the straps holding the trunk a final test twang and, satisfied, got into the car and turned on the engine. I stood in the lot on the driver’s side of the car. She rolled the window down. “It’s solid up there,” she said, as if I was still inspecting. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go eat somewhere nice tonight.”

“I’m riding the train back,” I said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m going to take the train.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

I didn’t say anything, just looked at her, looked at her eyes and remembered how I’d watched them that first night we’d sat and talked, and afterward how much I’d wanted to see her again. I’d never stopped wanting to see her again. Unlike that first night, this time she held my gaze.

“You know you’re going to be so ashamed when you realize how petty you’re being that you’re not going to want to call me,” she said. “Maybe that’s the idea, huh?”

“Sorry I won’t be able to help you get the trunk down,” I said.

“I’ll manage.”

The PA broadcast: “The Chief Shanoe now boarding with stops in Lansing, Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, Alpena …”

“This isn’t you, Jack. And someday the real you will wish he knew where to call to say, ‘I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry and that it’s never stopped bothering me because there were so many other ways, sweeter ways I could have … we could have …’”

She looked away and rolled the window up, then backed out, her eyes on the rearview as if refusing to look in my direction. But at the last moment, she half turned and gave a little wave over her shoulder. I waved back, then watched as her car pulled out of the lot, slowly, as if she was balancing the steamer trunk on top. Her turn signal blinked and she made a left onto Rose. Then I went into the station to buy a ticket and wait.


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