Fiction/Short Prose

K. Nadine Kavanaugh

Railroad Apartment

Jeremy Simon


~ . ~

Railroad Apartment
by K. Nadine Kavanaugh

There's a freight train stopped out back. The heat's always turned too high in this railroad apartment, but Celi loves it here anyway because it's not hers. It is a space she inhabits by the grace of affection and therefore more appreciated than one claimed only by money. She has a place with her name on the lease, for the privilege of staying in which she scrounges $515/month. There are apartment mates there, two girls she met through newspaper ads, to whom she has neighborhood obligations of washing the cat and the dishes, banging the rug over the side of the porch when the reds and blues dull to gray. Here in Tig's apartment she is responsible for nothing. She neither scrubs the bathroom nor tidies the scattered clothes off the floor.

Celi feels sometimes that she is homeless, caught between two homes, fully welcome in neither. Her apartment mates resent her quietly and efficiently when she sleeps in her own bed. They suspect that she is more replete than they, but distrust her methods. Who could not be satiated in the happy home they have nurtured?

The trains pass regularly here. It is a railroad apartment not only in shape, three rooms opening onto one another in a row, a glorified hallway really, but also by proximity; the train tracks pass not fifty feet from the final room, the living room. From the couch one can watch the trains approach and recede. The noise used to bother her. But then one evening Celi and Tig stayed up all night together, talking and trainspotting, and since then she has found the regularity comforting. There are still, she reflects, moments of peace.

She is coming to an understanding of these. Celi knows when they arrive, but rarely why. Yesterday began well: the sun was out when she awoke, and even with the alarm in her ear that was better. Even the January sun was better than the numbing gray of dirty snow, stone buildings, sky. Yesterday morning, walking to work, she could not be sure if she truly felt a pale warmth on her face or only wanted to so badly that it came, as an epiphany might, from within. She suspected that it did not matter, but was still curious.

Later in the day she had another such moment. On her way back to work after lunch, she sat for the duration of a cigarette on the base of a monument to St. Christopher. The sun was whiter now, the night's rain a black bank eliding the eastern edge of the sky. Her skin still retained the memory of heat, though, so she rested and gazed at the snow and the sad, tired bushes that clumped through. It was all right, for a change, that the branches were leafless and appeared to be dead. When the cigarette was through, she tidily crushed it under her boot and left it, a tiny vandalism to remember by.

That was much better than the day before yesterday. That was a dim day, all gray: a day of irrational fears. Celi had been preoccupied all day with her mother, her ex-lover -- with insanity. She hummed song lyrics that abetted her self-pity and wondered about loss. She considered the railroad apartment and Tig, in whose arms she sometimes woke up. Celi figured that meant that he would leave her, too. This idea filled her with so much sadness that she was caught off guard. It made her wonder if perhaps she did love him. That possibility did not cheer her; it did not change the eventuality of departure.

Celi was ashamed of these thoughts. They were not fair to Tig. It might be her who broke him, someday. Most of all she was ashamed because she wanted nothing better than to run to his apartment, this instant. She wanted to wait for him, as long as was necessary. She would not do that. Instead, she went to work, went home, reheated leftovers in the microwave.

That night she dreamed she awoke in his bed. In the dream it was barely dawn, and she was alone and chilled. Drugged, asleep, she stood and moved across the room, phantom with stacks of books barely seen. The lights were all on in the livingroom, the radio howling the blues. Tig was asleep, fully clothed, on the couch. Naked, shivering, one arm crossed over her breasts, Celi tapped him, said, Come to bed. He stumbled back across the room with her, shed his clothes in a heap beside the bed, and crawled in. With his arms around her, his breathing evened immediately, but it was true light outside before she could sleep again. When she woke from this dream, Celi cried.

Today she sits on Tig's back porch in the drizzle and waits for him to get off work and come meet her as they have arranged. She examines the freight train. She did not notice it arrive. Drops of rain cut the space beyond the sheltered porch. There are, she assumes, men huddled somewhere in an empty traincar, if such things still exist, bumming a ride. Maybe they know where this train is bound. This cannot be its destination. Nothing ends here.

(K. Nadine Kavanaugh is pursuing her MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University.)

~ . ~

by Jeremy Simon

I almost ran them over, the dozen red roses lying in the middle of the street. I might simply have ignored the obstruction in my lane if not for its odd, blotchy shape that, just past closing time for the bars, offered poor reassurance of my sobriety. After swerving, I circled back and opened my car door to identify them as roses, still in original wrapping, petals just beginning to open, jilted but unwilted in the downtown of the small, sleepy place I had returned to visit.

I considered the possibilities. A girl from the college on the next block, nearer than any flower shop, must have been the source. But there were no tags on the bouquet, no pedestrians within view; this was not a season for roses nor a thoroughfare for flower trucks. The roses were mine if I wanted them. There was a temptation to run them over, to underscore the intentions of their rejecter or symbolically avenge some high-school hurt. But I could think of nothing that needed avenging, and I did not want to hear the pathetic, crackling plastic, insufficiently protecting the flowers, under the tires of my car. I felt like I should feel lucky for finding the roses, but I was restrained by guilt about claiming roses bought by another man.

I finally picked up the roses; it was a shame to see such value wasted. At that hour, in this off-off-Valentine's context, I wondered if they were less useless. I could sense barely more than silhouettes and weight, their beauty inpalpable in the dark, their actual odor mingled with the remembered scent of the wet blacktop on which I found them. Their debasement and their redness complicated my impulse to give them away. In this town filled with white-carnation friends, the enterprise could easily be shadier than sweet. The roses, left on a doorstep for morning, would require a disclaimer that could make it all seem silly.

The easiest move was the default: to bring them home with me and leave them on the kitchen table for my sleeping host. I did this, stuffing the roses into a watering pot, gawkily so she wouldn't get the wrong idea, scrawling in a note that the roses were nothing compared to the story. We laughed in the morning. Already I'd bought her a toaster, and now this. The roses, now curling and wilder, would christen the dinner party she was throwing for me that evening.

By the time everyone arrived, she of course had placed the roses in a more dignified vessel, but also demoted them to a dark corner. She was single, and maybe she didn't want the bother of confirming it. No one noticed the roses, or at least no one asked. It was probably for the best. I looked over when the party ended, and already their buds had flopped as far downward as their stems would allow, their necks no longer able to withstand the weight.


by Jeremy Simon

All these kids live here! Who would have known? Their shrieks cut through the sound of the soft scrapes on the sidewalk, waking me this morning with news of the weather. The kids were taking to the street as the city grew safe and clean with the snow, eleven inches, twelve inches, thirteen inches. It was hard to figure there would ever be school again.

This is not a city for children to live in. The parks are mostly seams pounded against the edges of the island, meek and missable. There are more jogging paths than places to run. There are no baseball-card stores or ice cream shops in my neighborhood, just sidewalks and stoops. Kids cannot keep a business in business, and the city is all business.

For a morning, this all changed. When I went out into it for myself, the land had already been claimed by tiny bodies: deadweight dragging on sleds behind their fathers, toting rocks up the hill for snowmen's noses, gliding on their butts down stairs packed smooth into slides, crying just because, eating and coloring in the snow with Skittles, hurling snowballs that unpack in midair and disintegrate in the wind. There were no lines in the street; the speed limit was whatever boots would allow. Kids can have so much fun in the street when it snows. They can just stand there.

Until the grownups do their work with the plows, and the snow stops falling. The subway resumes its bass line, and the city's song continues. In a half-hour it will be dark. The snow is crusting and browning, and the adults know it will get worse tonight: they are hacking around their cars with plastic and steel. Maybe the kids have been packed in, or were scraped away by the plows, or maybe they are hiding in the seams, rolling in the still-soft underneath, getting in their last licks before everything gets hard.


(Jeremy Simon is a second-year graduate student in nonfiction in the MFA Writing Division at Columbia University.)