Sex and Violence (in a Field near Hoofddorp)

My piece entitled “Sex and Violence (in a Field near Hoofddorp)” was published by Typehouse Literary Review in their Issue 7, January 2016.

Sex and Violence (in a Field near Hoofddorp)

She sat next to him on the train. Out of the corner of her left eye she could see he was well dressed: a combination of ruddy leather accessories and wool. His facial hair was prominent enough to signal a deliberate look. His hands were large and clean. In his hands he held a tablet. He was reading a book called The 4-Hour Work Week. She smirked at the irony: It was 7:20 on a Wednesday morning. She thought about using this line but instead remained silent. She did not want to speak, especially with an audience of commuters. Silent, stern Dutch commuters, trying to wake up with bad coffee and free newspapers. He shifted next to her and her heart rate rose. Her fingertips tingled and goose bumps formed on her arms beneath her cashmere coat.

She sat next to him on the train. Striking, yes, especially the way she loosened her long, dark hair from its clasp right after settling in her seat. Especially her sigh of satisfaction for snagging the last place in the carriage. That sigh spoke of other narratives, other roles she could play, other scenarios where he would like to hear her exhale. Her fingers were pale, long and delicate. Her nails were manicured in dark pink. She smelled faintly of Chanel. The two middle-aged men across from him were leering at her, and he wasn’t keen on picking her up with them as hostile witnesses. He saw her glance at his reading material and observed a smile tease the visible corner of her lips. She removed a blue silk scarf from around her neck. She squirmed a bit, getting comfortable. He was aware of his heartbeat.

Minutes passed. The carriage was silent. Fields sped by, dewy and green, even in December. There was a distant thud and the brakes were applied. Arms rose to protect bags. Hands gripped paper cups a bit tighter. The train came to a quick, controlled stop. There was nothing unusual about the stop, except its location – in a field near Hoofddorp. Her nose wrinkled slightly. She zipped open her handbag and removed her mobile phone, sweeping her thumb to check the calendar for today’s first appointment. Probably she’d be late. She started a draft email and waited for the announcement that would explain the delay. Then she paused, and soaked in the presence of the male next to her. She inhaled his cologne and imagined breathing that smell on his bare skin. Intoxication.

He sighed with irritation. The conductor had just made the obvious announcement: A collision. No more details. Public transportation is so convenient – until it isn’t. He checked the time on his tablet and then located his mobile phone. He thought about calling his office but decided to send a text. He didn’t want her to hear his voice just yet. He wanted to speak to her directly, or her to speak to him directly. Was she even aware of his presence? Wait, a half smile from her direction. His confidence soared.

He was watching her. She was sure of that. She smirked and then turned toward the opposite window, making an effort to be demure. She saw the conductor running outside in the misty field. His face was as white as snow. Moments passed. A shaky announcement followed. Dames en heren, we are sorry to report we have collided with a person. The delay will be substantially longer than expected. Her groan produced a low tone in comparison to the chorus of gasps rising around her. Others murmured and turned to strangers for comfort. They said the things that Dutch people say to each other in difficult situations. It was a time to come together, to focus on what they had in common. Language, unsurprising, without harsh or obscure accents, provides that connection. An elderly woman began to cry. A small child, not understanding, asked his father for clarification. She realized an email wouldn’t be sufficient to excuse her presence. Irritated, she dialed her office and waited for the line to connect. Evelien? Yes, it’s Cara. I’m not going to make it to the staff meeting. There’s been an accident and I’m stuck on the train. My apologies.

Police and ambulance traffic descended on the quiet field. He could hear the sirens approaching even as he stared at her, now without restraint. She had revealed herself, her foreignness, with a simple phone call. He deliberately shifted in his seat so their shoulders touched. His right thigh flexed and rested lightly against her left thigh. She did not protest. She did not move away. As a challenge to himself, he called his office without breaking their physical contact. He wanted to see if he could do so without his voice trembling. Hi, Walter, it’s Mark. I’ll be later than planned. The train is not cooperating. He ended the call, pleased with his composure. Certainly she doubted her effect on him. A little insecurity can be useful in situations like this. He was also insecure, though. They had both laid their cards on the table. Two outsiders. They both knew it and everyone around them knew it. Would it bring them together? Or push them apart? Some are attracted by such distinction. Others are repelled.

Arousal. Blood supplies shifted, moving away from intellectual zones. Hearts thudded as he felt her and she felt him, even through layers of clothing. Imagined fantasies: his was in his bedroom. She would throw off her cashmere coat, her blouse and skirt, and stand before him, glorious in grey silk lingerie. Hers was right here, in the carriage. She didn’t imagine his undergarments. The coupling would take place almost fully dressed. There would be other passengers watching them. Some would be shocked, of course. Others would stare greedily, jealous of a passion they could never experience. Most people weren’t lucky like them. This kind of chemical attraction happens only to a privileged few, and they belonged. The rest are fated to be spectators, nothing else.

Their pupils dilated as they sunk into their fantasies. Their breathing harmonized. His chest rose with hers, hers fell with his. A policeman walked by the window carrying a transparent bag. It contained some of the deceased’s internal organs. The elderly woman started crying again, this time in loud, jerky sobs. The father of the small child worked quickly to distract his son by drawing an item from his backpack.

Time passed. The train started, groaning and creaking as if after a long sleep. The spell was broken. They shifted in their seats, suddenly aware of the world around them. She played solitaire. He resumed The 4-Hour Work Week. His stop approached. He rose and finally made eye contact with her. There was an electric jolt. They glanced away from its power. It was truly shocking, unnerving, the connection two people can have, without ever speaking directly to each other. Silently and separately, eyes downcast, they marveled at the weight of the human experience. Then, once more, they stared at each other before he left the carriage.