Transport Phenomenon Short fiction by Writing Seminars faculty member Tristan Davies T he only place to sleep on the night train from Hendaye was on the floor, in a corridor, head-to-toe. The first rocket sounded, propelling a rush of humans. The sea of white and red separated for a knot of six large black bulls, their horns tossing, their hooves clattering on the pavement.
The rest of the day passed in a bull-stew blur, punctuated by exclamations of spraying champagne. As they slept in their cramped line on the floor of the train, Evan dreamed of Megan Lukens. She was his girlfriend in Baltimore and she was a biomedical engineering student. They left their backpacks at their hotel in the Latin Quarter and ate grilled sandwiches in the rue de la Huchette.
They drank wine in a crowded bar, then took a long walk. They slept the afternoon in the hotel, exhausted from the night spent on the filthy floor of an SNCF. A continual crowd passed in the street below.
When they woke, they ed up with two Canadian women from their hotel and a Swiss man. They were going out to an inexpensive German place — liter steins of beer and French cigarettes. Evan watched blue smoke as it rose from between the fingers of one of the Canadian girls.
At first it demonstrated perfect laminar flow until, its velocity decreasing, turbulence set in. She was a pretty girl wearing a service station attendant's pinstriped shirt, the name Bob in an oval of red embroidery on the right breast. She was older than he was, Evan guessed. If only by a year or two. Because Evan would not sleep with many women in his life, after his first child was born, he would often find himself thinking of the women he might have slept with, but didn't.
There weren't a great of them, either. He didn't remember her actual name. Intentional contact.
They didn't speak. Bernoulli's law: Increased pressure in decreased fluid velocity.
Like the smoke from her cigarette, he thought, like a cigarette should. The group paid their bill carefully, the way traveling students will. They wandered back toward the hotel. The Cluny Museum.
The narrow streets. The Canadian woman with the station attendant's blouse lagged back with him. Vectorial, he thought of the street: short straight stretches, a few storefronts of painted glass and cast iron, before the direction shifted, countervailed by some ancient obstacle and redirected.
They followed the external angles. He and the Canadian had slowed to the point where they were barely walking. They were at the middle of a long block lined by tall and narrow townhouses, all four stories tall, with mansard roofing, and dark. She brushed against him.
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He turned toward her. Curl curl v, he calculated.
Their intersection velocity would be the cross product of two vectors. At that moment, he thought again of Megan Lukens. Megan was from Michigan.
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Her parents were both chemical engineers, from the Upper Peninsula. Yoopers, she called them. They wanted Megan to be an engineer, too. She was smart enough.
Among Evan's friends, none of whom were dumb — Soren did programming year-round for a defense contractor and Kurt was as good at physics as he was at mechanical engineering — Megan was the smartest. When they were working through a problem set, she would sit by quietly. When they had exhausted their options, she would pull back her hair and blink her eyes and know the answer. But she was unhappy as a biomedical engineer.
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She wanted to draw. It was never an option for her to come to Europe. Her parents would not allow it. They were good Catholics and Yoopers and clung to the shallow roots they had set below the Mackinac Bridge.
Tonight's conversation: love, sex & relationships
They weren't interested in their daughter traveling with a boyfriend, a half-Jewish atheist, drinking wine at lunch and visiting art museums. Running with the bulls. Doing all the touristy things. Instead, she remained in Baltimore and studied art history. The summer term was the only time she could.
The cars were parked halfway up on the sidewalks. The street was that narrow. The shirt that the girl wore, he realized, was real — not some fake thing from the Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch. He could see that the pinstripes were broken blue, like the faint interlines on 's writing tablet. She stood that close to him. The shirt had the real ghosts of real grease stains, turned yellow after frequent washing. It seemed too obvious, too obviously a trick of memory. An electric bell rang near them.
Evan thought about this as he lay awake. His infant daughter, only three weeks old, slept in her bassinette at the foot of the bed. She made little noises when she was restless. Beeping, Evan called it. His wife slept, exhausted, beside him.
She had had a difficult pregnancy and a complicated delivery. He looked at the clock. Two hours until the next feeding. The night concierge threw open the hotel door. Soren, Kurt, and the other Canadian had stirred her.
She had no interest in rousing again from her hutch for stragglers.
Evan and the Canadian woman paused on the pavement, startled from their moment. The concierge, a crude-looking woman in an apron, hissed at them in a faintly fascist and scabrous French. Still, as an engineer, Evan felt responsible to authority. They went in. Neither of Evan's parents were engineers. They didn't understand his interest in it.
The Canadian woman made her way through the fluorescent-lit lobby. Was it the accent that ruined it for him? The faint hint of Megan's, her accent being only faint itself?