39. The View from the Train

By Richard N. Anderson

Excerpt from The Lost Chapters by Lisa Anderson, first published in 2013

A tall, tanned young man in his early thirties, carrying soft leather Abercrombie & Fitch weekender with a squash racquet sticking out, walked up to Alan Robinson in the New London station of the Penn Central Railroad.

“Which end is the parlor car tonight, Alan?”

Alan had been staring at a white-hulled yawl reaching up the Thames River towards the two bridges that crossed the river between New London and Groton, Connecticut. Smaller boats sped up and down the river. Across the way, the quick, blinding lights of acetylene torches winked from within the enormous green shed of Electric Boat Company. Inside a nuclear submarine was being welded together.

“They didn’t announce it. But it’s been forward since Memorial Day weekend.”

“You never know with these bastards.”

The young man carrying the squash racquet was Weaver Simpson, one of the Fisher’s Island summer residents who caught the ferry that met the last decent train to New York, Sunday nights. There were usually fifteen or twenty from Fisher’s, all shaved and suited in linen or seersucker or lightweight J. Press synthetic weaves. Madras ties and Gucci loafers.

Alan looked like he always did these days on Sunday evenings going to New York. He wore a pair of khakis and a faded LaCoste shirt and loafers—he prided himself on having the only pair of loafers on the train without the little brass thing on the top—and no socks. There was no reason to wreck a shirt and un-press a pair of trousers. Alan never dressed for the trip to New York. He hadn’t shaved since Saturday morning.

He couldn’t believe that the Fisher’s Island people had anything going on in New York when they got to town. He was convinced it was their habit. But for some reason tonight it particularly disgusted him.

The first time he took the Sunday night parlor car to the city, as he started to board the porter had looked him over and then said deferentially, “This is Parlor Car 1743, sir.”

Alan had smiled at the porter’s diplomacy and said, “I know. I have a chair reserved for the summer. Every Sunday night on the 6:49.”

“I see, sir. Yes, sir.”

That was three years ago and the Sunday night routine remained the same. Same people from Fisher’s. Same people from Pequot. Same people from Old Black Point and ‘back country’. The Block Island crowd with their guitars, funny dogs and kids in slings.

“Say, Alan, which end of the train’s the parlor car on tonight?” It was Peyton Patterson, another Fisher’s Islander. Alan’s age, thirty-six. Wall Street investment banker.

“Beats me, Peyton. They haven’t announced it. But like I told Weav, it’s been up front since Memorial Day weekend.

Why do they ask me, Alan thought.

The three made small talk about the weekend.

“There it is,” somebody said, pointing to the thin black string of passenger cars coming across the railroad bridge up the river from the station. The hum of the engines and the distant clack-clack of the cars on the bridge were familiar sounds to everybody on the platform. Hearing the approaching train each reached mechanically for a briefcase or attaché case. The parlor car ticket holders slowly moved forward, the coach passengers who were regulars listlessly started back towards the mail carts, and the rest, not knowing the ritual, stood uncertainly in the middle, wondering why the crowd was dispersing.

The train’s brakes spat out sparks, the roar as loud in the narrow valley between the train and station as any subway train. Alan walked with the rest of the parlor car passengers to the first car behind the hissing diesel locomotive. A tall black porter in a mustard colored uniform was wiping the handrails at the doorway leading onto the parlor car.

“Evening, Mister Lumpkin.” Alan nodded and smiled at the porter.

“Evening, sir.”

“Hi, Lump,” bellowed one of the Fisher’s Islanders as he hopped up onto the parlor car steps. Each passenger in his turn greeted the porter. It was that informal and that regular.

On the way down to New York Alan always got a seat overlooking the seaside. He knew every turn on the coastal trip, yet he enjoyed watching the bathers and the couples huddled together on blankets along the beach wave to the train as it roared past Niantic and the big public beach between Old Saybrook and New London.

Lucky, Alan thought. They don’t have to go to New York tonight. They don’t have to wake up to sirens and gunfire and car horns blasting away at one another.

“Share a ride uptown, Alan?” The voice was Peter Wells’, a Pequot Islander like himself. Peter was an advertising salesman with Time, Inc.

“Sure.”

Alan noted that Peter Wells was dressed, too: the same tasseled loafers and a snap-brim straw hat with the madras hatband.

“Anybody else going uptown?”

“Usually Fletcher Welch goes up with me to his place on 93rd and Park. But I don’t see him.” Alan paused than then added, “Peter, why do you get all dressed for this train ride to New York?”

Peter Wells smiled. “Ever been to Rum’s on Sunday night, Alan?”

“Never even heard of it.”

“Well, I’ll tell you. Drop in some Sunday night after you get to New York and I guarantee you’ll shave and start wearing something a little better-looking than that outfit.”

“What is it? A pick-up joint?”

“Not exactly. It’s got a lot of airline stews and gals in from Fire Island. Good spot. A lot of guys go there.”

“I’m too tired for that stuff, Peter. This train ride alone is a crusher. I’d rather have a bottle of Majorska and watch re-runs of The Bold Ones.”

As soon as he said it he wondered at himself. He had had his own excitement in the city earlier in the summer but his romance with Kikki, his stunning model, was over and last week’s trip to the coast had knocked the air out of him.

Wells smiled like a wily high schooler.

“Well, once you’re a summer bachelor a little longer, I think you’ll see it a little differently.”

Alan turned and looked out at the pink cast of Long Island Sound. Summer bachelor, he thought, sighing. For the first time in months this weekend he had truly enjoyed being in the country with the boys and Liddie. Something had changed in him, darkness had lifted and he saw the bigger picture, the stacked deck.

That was it. He had been managing this play within a play for far too long. Since Kiki, and then meeting Claire, he had been constantly thinking of the inevitable conversation with Liddie that would lay waste to fourteen years of marriage. How would it start? Where would they be? Keeping up this routine, wearing his frayed shirt, gave him some relief from his dread. It was just a matter of time.

Or was it? Did his marriage to Liddie need to go up in smoke? What about Dunaway and all the bullshit? Was there a way out of that?

He wondered about Claire. She had left him a message at the office Friday. She was in California interviewing. For a moment he imagined her in the grape colored suit she had worn when he met her at Dunaway. He wanted to see her again, but not for the usual reasons.

The train slowed as it approached the Connecticut River Bridge. The sun dripped behind the low uneven line of pine trees to the west of the river as the train made the wide, slow turn onto the iron bridge. Four sailboats, waiting to complete the trip up river to Hamburg Cove, rolled gently in the out-going tide below the bridge

Alan found pleasure in this part of the trip. The wetlands on the west side of the river were nesting places for swans and terns. On top of a telephone pole, the over-sized, scraggly nest of an osprey sat silhouetted against the distant blue-grey finger of land that disappeared into Long Island Sound at the mouth of the river. Pretty, the thought.

“So, I’ll meet you by the taxi stand,” Peter Wells’ voice cut through Alan’s thoughts, interrupting the soft clack of the train as it slowly crossed the bridge.

“But Peter, why bother to go uptown if you’re going to this Rum’s place?”

“Gotta leave off the briefcase.”

“Christ, I’ll drop it off with the doorman.”

“No. It’s ritual, Alan. I’ve been doing it for years. No sense inviting the guy’s curiosity.”

“O.K. Sure. I’ll see you at the taxi stand.”

He was heading right into it again.

 

(Excerpt from The Lost Chapters by Lisa Anderson, 2013)

©Lisa Anderson, 2016

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