#$#$#$#.. Murder on a Big Train ..#$#$#$#
By Mike Meginnis and Amber Sparks
m: You are standing over a body. The body is a prone woman in a long, yellow dress hiked up to her knees. She wears black hose. The hose have a long, stuttering run all the way from left ankle to left knee. Her shoes are not buckled. Her long, black hair is in a thick braid, three feet long, uncoiled from around her head, winding in and out of the blood that pools beneath her head. Her eyes are open; they are cold and blue. You see yourself in the bathroom mirror. Not the body, which is too low, but yourself, standing there, mute, stunned. In your right hand you hold a yellow bonnet that matches her dress. In your left hand you hold an outdated brass model of the globe, solid. A dark bloodstain on the dark continent. Someone is knocking on the door.
a: Put on the bonnet. Remove the woman's dress and pull it over my head. Let the sleeves dangle like a cape. Do not let go of the world. Hold onto the world.
m: Now the woman is stripped to her hose (they terminate in garter belts mid-thigh), a bodice, and her elbow-length yellow gloves. Her pubic hair is thick and matted like a wild animal's. The knocking grows more urgent. A man's voice: "Is everything alright in there?" Exits are the trembling door, and the small window (just larger than your shoulders, your hips), eye-level from the toilet, through which you may observe the passing trees and their white leaves like many little bones.
a: Use bones as a metaphor. Use bones as a simile. Think of the woman's skeleton, slimmed down to bones in the coming seasons. She will not need this hair. Hack and bite and tear until the braid comes free and the public hair comes free and that whore is as bare as the day she arrived. In and out newskinned and reddened and bald. Pile the hair on your head and pin the public hair to your heart to keep it warm. Keep holding the little world, clenched tight in your palm so the man can't see. Open the door.
m: So the man is wearing a mustache. You can see right away that it's borrowed or stolen. The thing barely fits, it is much too large for his small body. He wears spectacles. These are quite thick, so that his eyes do not seem to be looking at you when they really are. He tries to look over your shoulder to see what you've done but he isn't tall enough. "Is everything all right in there?" he says. "I heard a nasty sound." You are in the bathroom car, of course. Exits are the other doors that lead into the other bathrooms, and the door to the eating car (north) and the door to the body sales car (south).
a: Say "Everything is fine. Please return to your seat. And remove that ridiculous mustache, for heaven's sake." Shut the door behind you and walk south.
m: The man narrows his eyes and waits for you to leave the car, not removing his mustache, not moving at all, arms rigid at his sides. When you enter the body sales car you are assaulted by the smells of perfumed bodies: the sweet of perfume, and the sweaty almonds-and-vinegar smell of the body's crevice between thigh and groin. There is a door to the south and a window that slides down the wall beside it to rest at your eye level. Behind the window there stands a woman with a full head of blonde hair, facing away, or a mannequin with a wig, facing away. Beneath the window, an elaborate list of prices in print so small as to be illegible, and, hanging from a golden chain, a pair of what look like small binoculars.
a: Look at the binoculars.
m: The binoculars are a honey shade of brown with ivory details, including a name printed in a san-serif font on the side: H. M. GREGORY. There is an end for looking through, with normal-sized lenses, and the end through which light enters, with very small lenses, so that the binoculars are like a pair of conjoined cones. The gold chain that binds it to the wall is, on closer examination, a strand of small golden beads.
a: Hold small brass globe up and examine with binoculars. Train sights on the dark continent with the blood stain.
m: The blood has dried into the shape of Africa. The letters stand out in the brass. As your eyes relax into focus and learn to see through these binoculars, you see increasingly fine details etched into the brass -- trees delicately crosshatched, winding rivers, the bodies of dead elephants, alligators sunbathing on rocks, wilted flowers, ants bringing grain and sugar back to their hill. All stained a dark red. The surface does not move, but it does not seem truly still; rather, you feel as if it is holding its breath, waiting for you to look away.
a: Shudder at the sight of so much life, pausing. You had no idea her blood would nurture the stones of a continent so. Throw the globe at the window. Hard.
m: The globe cracks the glass from its center to its corners, so that the glass is fogged and schismed with breakage, but the window does not lose a piece. The thick head of hair turns around, revealing an old woman's face with a hairy mole on its chin. Her hair seems so much younger. She says, "Back already? Was she done with you so quick?" It is possible she only seems old because of what you have done to the glass; her skin might be quite smooth.
a: Speak to the woman. Say "Not so quick at all." Say "She was a tough nut to crack." Laugh at your own joke. Laugh because there is no joke. Laugh because what else can you do? The woman's body on the floor, it was supposed to be you, it was supposed to be you, it was supposed to be. Laugh because the train has gone through a tunnel and the world has gone dark for a moment.
m: "Well are you coming back in or aren't you?" The old woman's eyes move to indicate the door beside the window, as if she can see the side you see from where she stands. The brass globe rests against your toe, where it rolled. Someone is knocking on the door behind you — the one you came in through. The door is bending outward at its middle they are knocking so hard.
a: Open the door beside the window.
m: The smell of perfumed bodies becomes much stronger. The flowers, the almonds, the vinegar. There is a dimly lit hallway, very long, with doors lining its right side, and matching windows lining the left. There is no door that could plausibly lead you to the room that holds the old woman (or the young one) with the thick blonde hair. Someone continues to beat on the door behind you, though you don't believe it is locked. "Is everything all right in there?"
a: Think: nothing is all right in here. Think: why does everything have to be all right? Things can be wrong. Like this hallway. Like the woman with the blonde hair who is nowhere and nowhere. Walk, yes, run, down the hallway and open the last door on the right.
m: You observe as you run down the long hallway that each door has a number. 1, 2, 3. Your door is number 50. The last door belongs to the most complete body. (A woman's body is more complete than a man's, with its proper breasts and hair, its womb and many many many nerves. (The most complete man's body is probably in room 49.)) The room is empty because the most complete woman's body is on the floor, dead and perhaps finished bleeding, in one of several bathrooms in the bathroom car. And so there is a chair where you might sit and wait. There is a hammock hanging from the walls, where you might lie and wait. There is a gray box affixed to the wall beside the door, with a narrow horizontal slot. There is a novel on the floor, beneath the hammock. There is an empty bowl. There is a cup, half-empty, half-full of some clear odorless liquid. Or it may be that it only seems odorless, drowned in this other smell, which seems more and more normal. ... You hear, at the other end of the long hall, the door opening. You hear the old woman say, "Please consider our menu."
a: Examine novel.
m: The novel is called Murder on the Orient Express. On the cover, a suitcase sits on a table by an open window, with stickers representing different places that the suitcase has been, and so does a knife. The table, the suitcase, and the knife are glowed by the moonlight that streams through the window. There is blood, too, on the table, though the knife is clean.
a: Take Murder on the Orient Express.
m: You now have Murder on the Orient Express. You hear a man's voice down the long hallway, though you are not sure what he says.
a: Quickly drink from the cup. Wait.
m: The slight burn in your throat and the warmth that blooms in your stomach tells you it was likely vodka -- cheap vodka. After a brief wait, the box affixed to your wall prints a ticket, which hangs from the horizontal slot in the box's face, like a tongue. The ticket is red like a raffle ticket. The ticket is blank on the side that you can see. The underside is not visible from where you stand.
a: Go to the box and take the ticket.
m: The other side reads a name: LAUREL. You have the ticket.
a: See the name Laurel and begin to weep, softly, then throaty and full and a wall of wail in your mouth. After a moment, eat your sorrow and spool down onto the floor in confusion. Feel the cold, for the first time since you were born. Say, "Computer: who is Laurel?"
m: The gray box prints a string of three red tickets, which hang from its mouth.
a: Nod and understand. Strip off the hair, the gown, the bonnet, the heart blanket. Stand bare and cold before the tickets. Take them and shove them into your mouth, one at a time. Chew. Swallow. Swallow. Swallow.
m: As you eat the tickets you see their faces: "You" "are," "Madame." Someone is coming down the hall. Did you kill the girl on the bathroom floor?
a: The memory isn't there! Sometimes I think I am her. Sometimes I think I was channeling her, before, when they would seek her out, afternoons on the chaise lounge and her sleek thighs, their gloves and pipe, the stains that spattered the bearskin rug. She had a map of the dark continent; it would seem to shimmer with mystery, with black diamonds, you could almost see the explorers criss-crossing the country on foot, you could almost see Hannibal massing his troops, you could almost see the young men as they trembled in the firelight and fumbled with her blouse, her garters, her stockings, her knickers. Her young men? The woman's young men? How does she know such things? How do I? WHO IS COMING DOWN THE HALL?
m: If you can wait then you will see who is coming. (The vodka's warmth spreads from your stomach to your chest, and to the very base of your guts.)
a: Lie on the hammock and wait. Feel warm and full and suddenly calm. Think about the woman bleeding on the floor. Wonder how long it takes to leave the body bloodless. Wonder if you should cover yourself before the footsteps reach you.
m: The body will not bleed until it's bloodless; the heart stops trying. The feet, for instance, keep their blood, even as the head empties itself. And so one part of a dead body might be quite cold, and another part still warm. If the brain has died and yet the heart is still trying then the blood will flow until the heart gives up. Blood changes color as it meets the air. They say it is black in the moonlight but I've never checked if it's true. And yet I must have bled at night, some night. Perhaps the moon was empty. (Empty as opposed to full.) The footsteps draw near. It is the short man. You recognize him now as the famous Belgian inspector, Mr. Hercule Poirot. Or perhaps that is only Poirot's mustache on another man. Still: he holds a magnifying glass, and the small brass globe. "Your madame has called you," he says, and then he sees the mess you have made of your room, the abandoned hair and clothes. "Laurel?"
a: Jump down from the hammock. Blush and pick up your dress from the floor. Say, "I was expecting someone a little taller, Monsieur Poirot." Say, "I was expecting someone a little younger, Monsieur Poirot." Say, "Who am I?"
m: "Your madame says the girl in this room is named Laurel. She says you were rented out by a young woman who did not give her name; the woman paid to hire your whole body, but did not specify what she would do with it. That would suggest the body on the floor in the bathroom car is the other young woman, murdered by you, Laurel. Or it might suggest that you are the other young woman, who did not give her name, and who has now exchanged places with Laurel, though hers was not an enviable condition." He observes your stolen hair on the floor.
a: Your memories are tangled now. Your memories are lace and cobwebs, ivory and bone fragments. Laurel--she said was tired of men--she was tired of living bodies--she rented yours plastic and hollow and new, and new--she was unclean--she was--she did--she whispered--she cut--she--she hurt--she hurt--she was not a good woman--she was not good--she was--exits and exits and she was all exits and no entrances no exits but up and through and in and out and then it wasn't you but her but her but her--You throw Murder on the Orient Express at Poirot and run out the door.
m: Where will you go? Poirot follows you, shouting, "I WANT YOU TO LOOK AT THIS EVIDENCE." What will you do?
a: Run to madame. Madame will protect me. Madame will save me. I will be Laurel for her, pretty new Laurel with the dark hair like diamonds, the dark hair like black ropes.
m: You stand at the entrance to the long hallway, looking into the madame's window pleadingly. The madame turns away, so that all you can see is her very thick blonde hair, or her wig. It is still. Mr. Poirot comes now to this room and corners you, against the wall. He holds the magnifying glass to the bloodstain on the brass model globe. "I WANT YOU TO LOOK AT THIS EVIDENCE. I WANT YOU TO EXPLAIN IT."
a: You are defeated. Slide to the floor. Look at the evidence.
m: You see the trees etched in the brass and dyed with blood, you see their seething crosshatching. You see the dead elephant bodies swarmed with flies. You see the alligators, sun bathing on warm rocks. You see the ants carrying grain and sugar to their hill. And now it is all moving. And now you are closer and closer, until you seem to be among the trees, until you seem to be knee-deep in swaying grass, until your legs itch from the ants that crawl over them, and the blood-red sun above beats down on you. A thundering voice asks you to explain the evidence before you.
a: Say, "I only wanted to leave this small world! I only wanted to be the love outside of it! I only wanted to be real." Say, "I only wanted to be the thing outside of the box." Say, "Goodnight, Gracie."
Bio: Amber Sparks's fiction has been featured in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Lamination Colony, Wigleaf, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and elimae. Her chapbook, "A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World," is in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty, published by Tiny Hardcore Press. She is also a contributor at lit blogs Big Other and Vouched, and lives in Washington, D.C. with a husband and two beasts.