MARINA KLIMENKO

★ ★ ★ ★

FICTION

‘Trained Horses’

“We’ve run over a horse,” said Gary.

“You don’t speak Spanish. How could you possibly know what we’ve run over?”

“Because Mary, I used to take classes.”

“I’ve known you since you were seventeen. Were they secret Spanish classes?”

Rebecca laughed, “Sounds like a romance novel.”

“I love those books!” said Bree.

“Of course you do, sweetie.”

Gary was annoyed, he was proud of his Spanish.

“I know the word for horse. Besides, he made a gesture.”

“Who made a gesture?” Bree asked.

“The train attendant guy.”

“How would the train attendant guy know what we’ve run over?” I asked, “If you’d at least asked the driver, then we’d believe you.”

Eric picked at his sweater, “What was the gesture?” he asked.

Gary stood and holding his hand flat with the palm facing down made a sawing motion across his stomach.

“Yes, that is the international sign for we’ve run over a horse” I said.

Bree and Rebecca laughed. Eric nodded, seeming satisfied and shifted so Gary could sit down.

“I like Spanish,” Gary said, “it creates ambiance.”

We were sitting around a gray plastic table. There wasn’t much room because it was designed to fit four people, two on each side. There were five of us. Rebecca wasn’t supposed to come. This was our first trip together since college. Gary and I, Bree and Eric, and Rebecca. We were squished. Rebecca usually took up more space then you’d expect.

It was cool on the train, and it smelled like air-conditioning. The clouds made the sun light look milky. It was two hours from Barcelona to the Dali museum in Figueres.

We sat girls on one side and boys on the other. Rebecca had the aisle because she needed to stretch her legs every half an hour. Bree had the window because she wanted to be across from Eric who had the window on the boy’s side. I was in the middle, their bare arms pressing against mine and the plastic seat sticking to my back.

A man with a badge came up. He wore an old fashioned shirt with a ruffle in the front. What would he have been called when those ruffles were in style? A porter maybe. Europe is like going back in time. Girls on one side, boys on the other.

I checked my watch, it was almost one.

“See Mary. Look.”

I looked and saw Gary pointing at the attendant who performed the same cut middle gesture he had. He spoke loudly in Spanish and raised a finger.

“It’ll take them about an hour to get us moving.”

I looked at my watch. One o’clock. Gary noticed me checking. I bought the watch four years ago with my Christmas bonus. That was the Christmas Gary gave me a charm bracelet with five hearts on it. “For every year we’ve been together” he had said. I laughed, because I thought he was kidding.

“How long does it take to wash the horse guts off the rails,” I said, “Better just run the trains, eventually any horse meat will be carried off by the wheels.”

Gary hated it when I talked like that. He hated the fact that he hated it even more. We were supposed to be Mary and Gary; we were supposed to agree.

It was one-o-five. This time Eric noticed me checking and smirked,

“You know our Mary, always in a hurry, always looking for the fastest route ahead.”

Eric was annoyed at me, I got a promotion at work and he didn’t. He thought I got it because they were trying to fill a quota. I knew he didn’t get it because he was an idiot. He thought Norman Rockwell was an artist.

“I read in a book that the Dali jewelry museum has a heart pin that’s designed to beat like a real heart,” Bree interrupted. “Maybe Dali made it for his wife.” She looked at Eric.

Bree was as vapid as Eric about most things, but she had a remarkable knowledge of wives and their jewelry. The husbands themselves were of little importance.

Rebecca rolled her shoulders back. She was wearing a pink off the shoulder top and when she did that her boobs stuck out like blisters. She smiled lazily. It was Rebecca who had insisted we sit on one side and Eric and Gary on the other.

One-ten. I pulled out my phone to check my email.

One twelve. It was growing hotter. Since the train had stopped people kept walking in and out letting the dry air in. I took off my hat. Outside the train was the platform with a shop. Beyond it were green hills and red clay mud.

“Let’s play a game,” Rebecca’s voice cut through the stale air.

She wanted us to write down what we wanted from the trip, really truly wanted, put the wants in a hat and guess who wrote what.

Eric asked why we had to write them down. I answered, and Gary told me to stop being nasty.

I ripped a page from my notebook, tore it into six bits and handed them out. We started writing. Rebecca finished first and looked at her phone. We put the sheets in my hat.

Gary pulled out the first one and read, “To feel the love Salvador Dali had for his wife Gala.”

I opened my mouth to speak and Gary shot me a look.

Rebecca guessed Bree and Bree laughed and nodded. She pulled out the next slip.

“A nice dinner,” she read and guessed Gary. She looked at me like she was sorry.

“No babe, that was me,” said Eric.

“Those aren’t the rules Eric. You can’t just say it was yours,” Rebecca said.

Bree didn’t look like she wanted to keep guessing.

“I’ll pick the next one,” I said and read, “To bathe in the same sunshine that soaked history’s greatest masters when they visited Spain.” I looked at Rebecca. “You’re kidding right?”

“What? You know Hemmingway’s sexiest character was inspired by Spain.”

“Who’s his sexiest character?” Eric asked.

“Now he wants to know,” Bree’s bit out. “Maybe if I called Gala a sex pot and Dali a pimp, you’d actually remember who we’re going to see.”

Gary pulled another slip. Rebecca said nothing about the rules.

“To see something amazing,” he read. “Well that’s you babe.”

I pulled out the last paper, “To show Mary something amazing,” I read. “Aren’t we just adorable.”

I looked at Bree.

“Mary gets that and I get dinner?”

She tried to stand up but the ceiling above the table was too low. So she had to lean over the table. She climbed over my bent knees and then Rebecca’s. Finally she was in the aisle. Without pulling up her track pants she stepped out onto the platform.

Eric looked at us and Rebecca pointed to the door with her chin.

Gary got out from behind the table and stood in the aisle while Eric wiggled himself across the seats. He climbed down the single step and stood for a moment on the platform.

One-twenty. Less than half an hour had passed since we stopped.

Rebecca picked up the hat then set it in the middle of the table. She said we needed another round. This time for long term goals. Gary wanted it tougher, so it was one word answers only.

I ripped a sheet into three pieces. I didn’t feel like writing. One twenty-two.

They both made their thinking faces and wrote quickly. When they were done I wrote the first thing I thought of. After I had written it, I figured it was true. We put our sheets into my hat.

Gary pulled out the first piece,

“Sex” he read. He smiled at me. He did that sometimes when he thought we were both thinking the same thing.  I wasn’t sure what thought we were supposed to be sharing, the one where we pitied Rebecca’s carnal lifestyle or where we craved it.

He guessed that it was Rebecca’s and she smiled and nodded.

An attendant, a different from the one in the ruffled shirt, walked up.

“We’ll be leaving in less than half an hour,” he said in English.

Gary frowned. I guessed he was annoyed at having the “ambiance” ruined.

Rebecca said she’d go get our quarrelling lovers. She stood, looked at Gary, and stepped out of the train. The attendant watched her walk. When she disappeared behind the shop he nodded at us and left. It was one thirty.

I said there wasn’t any point at playing anymore.

“I either pull out mine and know it’s mine or pull out yours and know it’s yours.”

Gary pushed the hat towards me. I pulled out a slip. It wasn’t mine. His face was smiling.

“What does it say?”

“You know.”

“Read it anyway.”

He moved his head back and made a “go on” motion. He was still smiling. His lips stretched and lined with cracks.

“Marriage.”

“Is it yours or mine?”

“It sure as hell isn’t mine.”

He looked at me, unmoving, like he’d always done when he was confused but didn’t want to show it. I looked back at him. We sat there for a minute, looking.

“I didn’t put marriage.” I said.

I turned away from him and looked out the window. The sky was clearing. Parts of the hills were still red with wet clay but others had dried.

Gary reached for the hat, pulled out the last slip, and read it.

I looked back at him. He looked half ready to laugh. His mouth was open. I looked down at the table.

“The thing you want most is ‘freedom’?”

He said freedom like I would say nuclear fusion. I shrugged.

“Freedom from what?”

“From looking at my watch all the time I guess.”

“So quit your job.”

“I don’t look at my watch at work,” I said, “and what about you?”

“We’ve been dating for nine years,” he said. “Where did you think this was going?”

“It wasn’t going anywhere. We were just standing still together.”

“Why do you always disagree with me?”

I looked back down at the table and ran my nails over its bumpy surface so it made a popping sound.

“I bought a ring.”

He bent under and stuck his head under the table to where his backpack was. I could feel his breath on my legs. He took out a small box and opened it.

“Yep,” I said, “that’s a ring.”

He put the box down and turned to the window. His chair squeaked.

“We’ve been together since the first week of college. If we don’t get married, all that time’s wasted,” he said. “So what if we’re standing still? If that horse had stood still instead of crossing the rails it would still be alive.”

“If it had moved sooner it would still be alive.”

I heard a heel hit the train’s step, Rebecca stepped in.

“Congratulations,” she yelled, “Did you like the game? It was my idea. That’s why I had to sit next to you, to text Gary you were writing ‘be amazed’.”

Too bad you didn’t text me that he was about to propose, I thought.

She began to talk quickly. How freaked out they were when the train had stopped. How it worked out even better this way. How she had helped pick the ring and it was her idea to surprise me because I needed more surprises in my life.

Bree and Eric climbed in.

Bree’s mouth made a weird shape, like the corners of it were trying to push her cheekbones up.

A voice came over the loud speaker. It said something in Spanish and then that the train would be leaving in five minutes.

I said I had to use the bathroom.

They were all still standing. Gary was still sitting across from me looking out the window. The ring was still sitting on the table. I slid out and into the aisle. Bree and Rebecca sat down where I was. Eric sat next to Gary.

I left them sitting like that, talking about a wedding.

I walked to the bathroom car and through it. Once I was in the next car I found the door and stepped out.

The attendant with the badge, the one who had first mimed the maimed horse, stuck his head out.

“Don’t bother,” I said. He was holding a bottle.

“But your friend…” he gestured to the bottle.

“Ambiance?” I asked.

He looked down.

“Si.”

I turned and walked into the shop. I heard the train door shut. When the train started to move I texted them all the same five words beginning with “sorry”. Then I turned my phone off.

There was a large board in the center of the platform. It had a piece of paper tacked onto it with the train schedule. The next one back to Barcelona was in half an hour.

I went back into the store and bought a bag of chips and sat down on a bench. I dumped all the chips out onto a paper napkin. There were fifteen. If I ate one every two minutes I could entertain myself until it was time. I sat and looked at the hills. I was sweating. I had left my sunhat on the train. I shoved four chips in my mouth and let the sun dry the salt and grease which stuck to the skin around my mouth. I had used my one napkin to count out the chips.

If I squinted, I could make out horses on the hills. Whether they were the ones that stayed or the ones that had successfully crossed I couldn’t tell.

Marina Klimenko is a student at the University of Toronto majoring in English and History. She is a a young writer of short realistic fiction interested in portraying how we most often misunderstand the people closest to us. She lives in Toronto.