CHAMPAGNE AND TRAINS

by Rhonda L. Nolan


It was New Year's Eve. There she sat, all dressed up, in the company of many friends. The setting was an exquisite New York style upscale bar. Tuxedos and glittering cocktail dresses were abound. All the pretty people from the city wearing seasonal styles and seasonal smiles. Flashing gold cards were frequently passed about for a round of cocktails. There were low whispers and soft, melodic jazz tinkling in the background.

She sat there on a high bar stool. She could feel the soft silk of her chocolate satin pants flowing against her body. In the glow of the candlelit table, she lazily drank a vodka martini, heavy on the olive juice, while slowly puffing a miniature cigar. Those around her were patiently awaiting for the arrival of new expectations, the arrival of new goals, new faces and new places. They secretly and silently dreamed of another chance at another year.

This year, she was alone. She wasn't alone at the table, but simply alone. The dashing young attorney at her side, who politely bought her drinks, belonged to someone else. The others at the table were paired. She tossed back her mane of dark curls and looked around the room but nothing caught her attention. Too many pretty boys with too much arrogance, she thought. Her own big, dark eyes seemed to penetrate the room, the walls, the facade that hung heavy in the air.

Suddenly, she felt an overwhelming desire to flee. It came from nowhere. All she knew was that she had to get out. It was 11:30 p.m. She felt stifled. She felt captured. She had to leave immediately. After asking a bewildered couple for a ride, her destination was one of impulsive glee.

It was a dark, seedy lounge. Most of the crowd there were regulars -- women with big hair and tight jeans; men with beards, cowboy boots and hungry eyes. She walked through the crowd knowing no one. She could feel the eyes upon her. Her appearance was not easily concealed.

She pulled out a cigarette and asked a guy in a cut-off denim shirt for a light. An announcement was made in a husky voice, "TEN MINUTES UNTIL MIDNIGHT." At that moment, she realized she would be standing alone in another place, but alone. Hastily, she put out her cigarette and decided to head out the door and welcome in the New Year on the nearby railroad tracks by herself. She wanted to just stand and listen to the city celebrate. This year, that would be enough.

Her last lover had left her in September. It was the night of her birthday. He never called. He never called again. Sometimes she missed his unshaven face, dark, sad eyes and tangled mess of dirty blonde hair. But he was committed to something with which she could not compete. He had not left her for another woman nor his work. His work had suffered too. He was out there somewhere celebrating with an old, Irish friend he fondly called "James." James lived in a bottle.

It was at the exit that he caught her eye. He was standing by the door, drinking a longneck beer. She was almost startled by the fact that this man looked like something out of a movie. He didn't belong here. He was alone. His straight, short hair was the color of golden silk.

"FIVE MINUTES UNTIL MIDNIGHT," came the announcement.

Then she did something so spontaneous, so irrational, so impulsive, it took her by surprise. She walked up to him.

"Are you alone?" she asked.

He nodded "yes."

"Me too," she said.

"Really?" He stared into her eyes without cracking a smile.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" she said. He nodded again.

"THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT," the announcer shrieked. People were beginning to yell.

"May I bring in 1998 with you -- or am I being too forward?" she asked.

He smiled. He nodded. He bought her a beer.

She barely remembered the countdown. She barely remembered the cheers, the fireworks, the noise. All she remembered were his lips, the most sensual lips she had ever felt on hers.

He looked into her big eyes and said, "You have the softest lips."

She laughed.

"Wanna hang out?" she asked.

For the next two hours, they danced, kissed and looked into each other's eyes as though they had always known each other. He was a stranger and in town connected to his work, but only for a few days. He was dressed simply in jeans and spoke with the most exotic foreign accent she had ever heard. He was the most beautiful man she had ever met. His clear, hazel eyes and strawberry blonde hair reminded her of mountains, fresh air and sunshine.

They left the bar and got into his truck. He was driving a large, black pick-up truck. It was so big he had to hoist her petite, but voluptuous 5'2" frame up inside. He laughed, called her "shorty." He asked her where she wanted to go. She told him the railroad tracks.

They drove several miles outside of the city limits, following the tracks. As they approached a field, she told him to stop.

The stars were out and the sky was clear. They ran up and down the tracks, drinking champagne out of a bottle. He poured the champagne into her mouth. It dribbled all over her face and down her neck. He slowly began to drink the champagne with his mouth.

She found herself laying flat on a railroad track. She and the champagne seemed to become one. She was covered in champagne and could not tell where it ended and she began.

Then they heard it. The train. The horn blew as it approached them. They jumped up and ran like children as fast as they could. She never felt so high. He grabbed her arm and lifted her into the back of his truck. His truck was so close to the train she could feel the wind blowing against her body from the speed of the train.

She remembered the sound of the train, the tracks, the horn, the rattling of the cars and the beating of their hearts. She looked up and could see the stars.

Just as the train blasted it's last farewell horn, she screamed. He screamed too. But no one could hear them.

She sat up and waved at the man in the last car - the "little red caboose". As a child, she had always waved to the man in the little red caboose.

He winked at her, tipped his conductor's hat and smiled.

He knew.


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Champagne and Trains, 26 March 1998