I am on the train. There is a big lipped Russian (this is disputed. He may be Latvian or something.) man with his face in a perpetual fuss across the aisle from Aaron and I. I am turned towards the window with the laptop generally in his direction and I hope he doesn’t read this and either get his feelings hurt or cut me dead from here to Chicago.
The land is dead-grass yellow, flat for two miles around until it rumples into hills. Everything is lion coloured. We move again then into woods, poor naked trees kept warm by their brotherly huddle. There’s water here too, in shapes to please every eye. Lakes, cow ponds, flooded forest where the density of the trees is eerily doubled, rivers that come popping out so quickly that by the time you have jostled the person next to you for them to see, it’s already gone, man made canals that are so flat and sweet that they make me think of nothing but Wind In The Willows. Then back to the lion plains and shaved corn fields.
I don’t know where in Wisconsin they came on, but there is a whole passel of Mennonites on this train. They may be Amish, not Mennonite. Or some other bonneted people I’ve never heard of. I was sitting in the observation car next to a young lady in a blue dress, my age or a little younger. She’s reading a book about Christ and has a thin pale face and glasses and blond brown hair up under her bonnet. She looks like Scholastica posing for Prudence. I feel a bit like a painted trollop (I only have lipstick on, but it’s very red and shiny.) I am wearing my rose boots and a blue wrap dress that is not terribly flattering but very clingy. I have long silver earrings that I shall need to learn to put on after I have brushed my teeth because I will spit toothpaste on them, they are so long. I have a cluster of blue plastic hibisci pinned to the side of my head. I am most picturesque and feel quite sinful sitting next to her.
I’ve just seen a Catholic priest come out of the snack car. He’s in his full get-up, collar and coat and black robes. He has good teeth and the smile of someone in a conversionary religion, but he looks nice enough. A bumptious part of me hopes he and the Amish get into it, but I think they are all too well bred and Midwestern.
The Russian has left. I hope it is the call of nature and not a broken heart.
I want very very much for the Amish girl to like me and be my friend, because I hate to think that I’m outside of any ingroup by anything other than my own will. This is very egotistical of me, I know. I want to ask her if she’s Amish or Mennonite but I am afraid that she will look at me blankly and then one of the older ladies will snap something throat-clearing in Pennsylvania Dutch and they will all look at me and sweep like a blue flock of offended birds out of the observation car. I have no idea if this would happen but it is a painful daydream.
I’ve just realised. You don’t know where we are because I haven’t told you. We have been in Minneapolis for two weeks finishing the recording of my father’s album of original music. We officially recorded for six days, the first four of which were complete agony, the last two of which were only mild discomfort sprinkled with hysteria. It was fun in a horrible way. I took rum in my tea, whiskey in my coffee. It didn’t help.
This is not because there is anything wrong with the music, or my family as individuals (apart from the obvious things, like a tendency to punning), but because we started playing music as a family band when I was about thirteen and Garek fifteen. I was at my most cruel and cutting, hopefully a lifetime peak, Garek was at his most sugar-addled and absent-minded, Dad was tyrannical and sarcastic and Mom was inclined to weeping and/or shouting if someone took her harmony too many times. In other words, we’ve set a bad precedent. All of us are much kinder, gentler and more effective than we were in those frontier days, but stick the four of us in one room with instruments in our hands and certain old brain pathways light up.
But we did alright for all that. We were helped in this by the direction of Joe, a sound engineer and producer from Chicago with wizardly powers and slightly spooky diffidence, a quality he has admitted he cultivates to curb his natural demanding obsessiveness. He kneaded us very nicely into doing all the things he wanted us to do (I think. Diffident.) and no one hates him at the end, or has anything but good to speak of him. We might need to make him a plaque of some kind.
The Russian is back. He has orange shoes.
We’re on our way to Chicago by train, where we will wait for four urban hours until we can get on our next train to New Orleans. I’m waiting for Peaceful Brain to descend on me, as it did on my last long train ride, but I think having both a computer and a companion might make it harder to allow that. If you misspell allow as aloow it looks like a Somali word. It might even be a Somali word.
Have you seen Milo and Otis? Wisconsin looks like Milo and Otis. I wish there was a caboose we could go sit on the edge of and kick our feet out over the tracks, but sure everyone would be out there kicking their feet and then someone would take it into their heads that death by caboose was a romantic exit and then would posthumously sue Amtrak and then what would we do?