In Transit: "Love Train"

Sarah Velk

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“She would fill herself up one night at a time on the Love Train towards Place-Saint-Henri metro station. She watched herself in the window for four stops and listened to the boots tread around her heart for another.”

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”
Maxime Caron - @mximecaron

There’s nothing inherently wrong about being an empty person, but there’s nothing terribly right about it either. A lot of people can’t even tell, but the ones who can flee into the cool, familiar darkness like roaches scuttling under a loose tile. The apparent void is a comfortable place for them to catch their breath and hit the dusty trail before their limbs succumb to its alluring warmth. Some riders just watch the doors open and close. They see a nameless space on a map that’s screwed into a wall and veneered in foggy, vandalized plastic, suggesting the existence of some wild, impenetrable, virgin land.

She definitely wasn’t a virgin, but when she knocked on her head, it sounded like a Halloween pumpkin, and the empty sound in her chest was even louder. She would fill herself up one night at a time on the Love Train towards Place-Saint-Henri metro station. She watched herself in the window for four stops and listened to the boots tread around her heart for another. Stepping off the train and onto the platform lined with yellow bricks gave her both a resolve and fullness. She thought about how her father always said, “The best part of Christmas is waiting for it to happen,” and how every trip to Saint-Henri on the Love Train felt like the best part of Christmas.

***

A forehead kiss on the second date felt slutty. But they both were. She and Lenny were sharing the train, smiling and staring at each other in their seats, and the two of them thought that this was good. She knew the same happy couple on the train is seldom seen twice. Maybe it’s because they feel the scornful glances of their fellow passengers so acutely.

“You come all this way, like, every day?” she asked, nervous, because new places make her feel vulnerable and small. They were still in her neck of the woods; she was still safe. They’d met up at Sherbrooke station, still within earshot of Boulevard Saint-Laurent’s siren song, the same one that she could hear from her own apartment on Rue Milton. It was after Christmas break. She even came with a small, pretentious gift from her home across the border: a pack of Marlboro Reds (already opened, two of them missing). They sat on the white-tiled platform and waited for their train.

“Yeah, I don’t mind it. I like it there.” He smiled. He said her eyes were so big.

She liked it in Saint-Henri, too. She took note of the station’s shadows and shapes with pupils wide. He said he tried to buy her a book, but they only had the French translation.

After that, the scary good just got scarier. She would wait to go to Place-Saint-Henri station and hoped it would be the Love Train that lurched in front of her patient toes. On a walk of shame back from Lenny’s place once, she saw that her reflection in the window was disproportionately aged by the whole ordeal.

***

The passengers knew exactly what a girl who cries on the train looks like. She hated being caught in a lie, but she could feel them recognize her emptiness and the tragedy of it. The Love Train was a special kind of personal purgatory. In being neither here nor there, the ride was about rebuilding herself, picturing and manifesting the perfect night, the ideal words exchanged and the sales points she could hit. The lie was that she was a “cool” girl. A deluded, impossibly perfect girl that was everything he wanted or that she thought he needed. She rebuilt this lie on every trip, and the tragedy was her insistence on living in bad faith. Her performances were usually delivered with the tasteful confidence that she borrowed from a cocktail in a can. The Love Train was her green room, and the heavy curtain would only lift once she saw his gums and heard his breathless laugh. She would lie in the filth and love it; she would love it so much that she became it, and she loved that, too. She kept getting back on the train to Place-Saint-Henri to make sure that it was still there, still held together with concrete and rainbow ceramic tiles.

***

She followed the colourful tiles again and wore sneakers that were, in hindsight, too ugly to even be ironic. It was one of those August days where it was pouring rain for a few minutes, and then the sun had the nerve to suddenly come back. She was meant to meet John at one exit, but they got confused and it took a while for them to find one another. She emerged from the underground to see him there for the first time, standing in front of those heavy chrome doors with a sweet dog and a cappuccino, which would have been enough, but there was also his sweet, revitalizing eagerness. John smiled down at her as she knelt to greet the dog. He asked her where she wanted to go, and she said she didn’t know, to take her wherever he liked. They went somewhere he was sure she would like.

Everyone else liked it too, so they had to wait a long time for their table. Maybe she seemed bored, because he suddenly lifted up the leg of his painter’s pants and pointed to a specific tattoo on his shin that spelled out “SEX” in goofy blue and yellow bubble letters. Brilliant.

“I got it as a joke, with some friends,” he said, bashfully tucking it away again.

She thought it was stupid, but his smile was impossibly wide and stood out to her because it looked new, or maybe just seldom used at all.

“That’s killer.” She rolled her eyes and made sure he saw.

But the day stretched far into the night.

“Should we kiss?” she asked, thinking about that tattoo. He laughed and kissed her.

One discarded rule, two Pogos and a slow, deliberate stroll through the dark later, she got in his truck and he drove her right past the Love Train to her home by the mountain. She felt like a lucky charm. In fact, he even gave her one from a roadside gift shop in Las Vegas.

“Sorry that it’s so cheesy.”

“I love it. It’s great. It’s so me.” She was laughing though.

Later, he said her name on the phone and when she asked him why, he said, “Because I told my mom about you,” and it sent quiet shocks up her spine.

She lost her charm somewhere on the snow-flurried walk from the Place-Saint-Henri station to his corner of town, down where the train tracks run across Rue de Courcelle. She wondered how, since if it had fallen, it would have made an obnoxiously loud clatter on the pavement or any of the coloured tiles. She would have seen the charm fall, it was covered in glitter; and she thought she’d fixed that little broken bit, too.

He told her later that he liked that she was mean to him that first day. It made him want her again.

***

The passengers on the Love Train smiled up at her now because she wasn’t so pathetic-looking. She looked like she’d been kissed before; like someone had told her that she was real, so she must be. Saint-Henri’s patronage of childless Dukes and rejects should have been more than enough foreshadowing. But she was there already. They said “I love you” with their heads in the toilet and flushed. It was so easy to say, especially when the rosy tint on Rue Notre-Dame saturated their senses with its noxious, bloody fog.

***

While she was stubborn, she also knew that only Kate Bush could make a deal with God and that love is a losing game. The sound of boots on a concrete floor bounced off the brick walls that submitted to the cascading, overgrown vines of experience, lining the big room that held their shadows and deafening silences. She could see the station from her very own nesting place, not a mere projection or wish, not a movie set, but a whole four walls. Standing there, she looked out and saw that it was all hers, too. She noticed then that her feet weren’t cold like they usually were when she was here in this part of town. She smiled because now it was hers and nobody had to tell her she was real today.

Liquid love poured in from every cracked window, seeping through the floorboards and dripping from the rotted ceiling. It moved at such a speed that she would have to be careful not to look away for too long, or she might find herself standing in a puddle or drowning in the bathtub. She didn’t wonder why he couldn’t love her again, or then, or still. Being asked so often what’s on your mind would only remind her that she didn’t really have one to begin with. It was his; theirs. Now she didn’t have to borrow or shrink or cry or pretend to think at all. John had always asked her what she was thinking about, and she always had an answer: “Nothing,” she’d say, trying hard to smile like a happy girl.

“Yeah?”

She gazed out of the crystal-clear window and saw the lushness on Rue Saint-Ferdinand.

“Yeah, nothing.”

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Additional reading

Sundogs

Flash-Fried 2.0

There’s nothing inherently wrong about being an empty person, but there’s nothing terribly right about it either. A lot of people can’t even tell, but the ones who can flee into the cool, familiar darkness like roaches scuttling under a loose tile. The apparent void is a comfortable place for them to catch their breath and hit the dusty trail before their limbs succumb to its alluring warmth. Some riders just watch the doors open and close. They see a nameless space on a map that’s screwed into a wall and veneered in foggy, vandalized plastic, suggesting the existence of some wild, impenetrable, virgin land. She definitely wasn’t a virgin, but when she knocked on her head, it sounded like a Halloween pumpkin, and the empty sound in her chest was even louder. She would fill herself up one night at a time on the Love Train towards Place-Saint-Henri metro station. She watched herself in the window for four stops and listened to the boots tread around her heart for another. Stepping off the train and onto the platform lined with yellow bricks gave her both a resolve and fullness. She thought about how her father always said, “The best part of Christmas is waiting for it to happen,” and how every trip to Saint-Henri on the Love Train felt like the best part of Christmas. ***A forehead kiss on the second date felt slutty. But they both were. She and Lenny were sharing the train, smiling and staring at each other in their seats, and the two of them thought that this was good. She knew the same happy couple on the train is seldom seen twice. Maybe it’s because they feel the scornful glances of their fellow passengers so acutely. “You come all this way, like, every day?” she asked, nervous, because new places make her feel vulnerable and small. They were still in her neck of the woods; she was still safe. They’d met up at Sherbrooke station, still within earshot of Boulevard Saint-Laurent’s siren song, the same one that she could hear from her own apartment on Rue Milton. It was after Christmas break. She even came with a small, pretentious gift from her home across the border: a pack of Marlboro Reds (already opened, two of them missing). They sat on the white tiled platform and waited for their train.“Yeah, I don’t mind it. I like it there.” He smiled. He said her eyes were so big.She liked it in Saint-Henri,too. She took note of the station’s shadows and shapes with pupils wide. He said he tried to buy her a book, but they only had the French translation. After that, the scary good just got scarier. She would wait to go to Place-Saint-Henri station and hoped it would be the Love Train that lurched in front of her patient toes. On a walk of shame back from Lenny’s place once, she saw that her reflection in the window was disproportionately aged by the whole ordeal.*** The passengers knew exactly what a girl who cries on the train looks like. She hated being caught in a lie, but she could feel them recognize her emptiness and the tragedy of it. The Love Train was a special kind of personal purgatory. In being neither here nor there, the ride was about rebuilding herself, picturing and manifesting the perfect night, the ideal words exchanged and the sales points she could hit. The lie was that she was a “cool” girl. A deluded, impossibly perfect girl that was everything he wanted or that she thought he needed. She rebuilt this lie on every trip, and the tragedy was her insistence on living in bad faith. Her performances were usually delivered with the tasteful confidence that she borrowed from a cocktail in a can. The Love Train was her green room, and the heavy curtain would only lift once she saw his gums and heard his breathless laugh. She would lie in the filth and love it; she would love it so much that she became it, and she loved that, too. She kept getting back on the train to Place-Saint-Henri to make sure that it was still there, still held together with concrete and rainbow ceramic tiles.***She followed the colourful tiles again and wore sneakers that were, in hindsight, too ugly to even be ironic. It was one of those August days where it was pouring rain for a few minutes, and then the sun had the nerve to suddenly come back. She was meant to meet John at one exit, but they got confused and it took a while for them to find one another. She emerged from the underground to see him there for the first time, standing in front of those heavy chrome doors with a sweet dog and a cappuccino, which would have been enough, but there was also his sweet, revitalizing eagerness. John smiled down at her as she knelt to greet the dog. He asked her where she wanted to go, and she said she didn’t know, to take her wherever he liked. They went somewhere he was sure she would like. Everyone else liked it too, so they had to wait a long time for their table. Maybe she seemed bored, because he suddenly lifted up the leg of his painter’s pants and pointed to a specific tattoo on his shin that spelled out “SEX” in goofy blue and yellow bubble letters. Brilliant.“I got it as a joke, with some friends,” he said, bashfully tucking it away again.She thought it was stupid, but his smile was impossibly wide and stood out to her because it looked new, or maybe just seldom used at all.“That’s killer.” She rolled her eyes and made sure he saw.But the day stretched far into the night.“Should we kiss?” she asked, thinking about that tattoo. He laughed and kissed her.One discarded rule, two Pogos and a slow, deliberate stroll through the dark later, she got in his truck and he drove her right past the Love Train to her home by the mountain. She felt like a lucky charm. In fact, he even gave her one from a roadside gift shop in Las Vegas.“Sorry that it’s so cheesy.”“I love it. It’s great. It’s so me.” She was laughing though.Later, he said her name on the phone and when she asked him why, he said, “Because I told my mom about you,” and it sent quiet shocks up her spine.She lost her charm somewhere on the snow-flurried walk from the Place-Saint-Henri station to his corner of town, down where the train tracks run across Rue de Courcelle. She wondered how, since if it had fallen, it would have made an obnoxiously loud clatter on the pavement or any of the coloured tiles. She would have seen the charm fall, it was covered in glitter; and she thought she’d fixed that little broken bit, too.He told her later that he liked that she was mean to him that first day. It made him want her again.***The passengers on the Love Train smiled up at her now because she wasn’t so pathetic-looking. She looked like she’d been kissed before; like someone had told her that she was real, so she must be. Saint-Henri’s patronage of childless Dukes and rejects should have been more than enough foreshadowing. But she was there already. They said “I love you” with their heads in the toilet and flushed. It was so easy to say, especially when the rosy tint on Rue Notre-Dame saturated their senses with its noxious, bloody fog. *** While she was stubborn, she also knew that only Kate Bush could make a deal with God and that love is a losing game. The sound of boots on a concrete floor bounced off the brick walls that submitted to the cascading, overgrown vines of experience, lining the big room that held their shadows and deafening silences. She could see the station from her very own nesting place, not a mere projection or wish, not a movie set, but a whole four walls. Standing there, she looked out and saw that it was all hers, too. She noticed then that her feet weren’t cold like they usually were when she was here in this part of town. She smiled because now it was hers and nobody had to tell her she was real today.Liquid love poured in from every cracked window, seeping through the floorboards and dripping from the rotted ceiling. It moved at such a speed that she would have to be careful not to look away for too long, or she might find herself standing in a puddle or drowning in the bathtub. She didn’t wonder why he couldn’t love her again, or then, or still. Being asked so often what’s on your mind would only remind her that she didn’t really have one to begin with. It was his; theirs. Now she didn’t have to borrow or shrink or cry or pretend to think at all. John had always asked her what she was thinking about, and she always had an answer: “Nothing,” she’d say, trying hard to smile like a happy girl.“Yeah?”She gazed out of the crystal-clear window and saw the lushness on Rue Saint-Ferdinand.“Yeah, nothing.”