The Train

Superman.

Three inches tall.

Made of rubber over lead, the cape bright rolling yellow — caught in high winds. Robert bends the toy’s arms and legs so it charges forward, hands pressed against the glue spots on the face of the train.
Rosemary giggles, slender fingers over her mouth.

“Is it dumb?”

“Not dumb, no,” she says. “It’s lovely.”

She runs her finger over the edge of the cape. Peers into Superman’s face. The molded features are squeezed, the eyes too close together, the jaw not strong but oddly angular, a superhero with the mumps. The arm muscles bulge, pushing, pushing against the oncoming train.

Robert glances to the old lady, still watching, chewing, scraping her plate with yoke and butter soaked toast.

“Matryoshka,” Lewis says. “Mat-ry-osh-ka.”

And it’s like the old lady tastes the word in her mouth before Robert can properly hear it, tack up a plausible meaning in his mind. She smacks her lips, dentures clacking, tongue searching out the offense.

“I’m sorry?” Robert says, turning to Lewis.

“It’s a Matryoshka you’ve got there.”

Lewis snorts, waives his thin hands around at the restaurant like maybe there’s a sun setting in the diner or the walls have gone neon.

“Superman,” he says, snorting again, louder, a rattling, nasally laugh.

“I don’t get it.”

“Nope,” says Lewis, head shaking in a twitchy pendulous swing.

The cook slides a plate of scrambled eggs and toast over the counter along with a small paring knife. He keeps his thick pointer finger on the handle, pinning it down.

Lewis reaches for it, but doesn’t take it. He covers the cook’s hand, like he’s consoling the big man.

“Stop bothering people,” the cook tells him.

“Sure.”

“And I want this back. No hiding it. No keeping it for tomorrow. Got it?”

He knows that out of this weird moment he’ll get a wide-eyed look from her, that they’ll be co-witnesses, re-tellers of an odd story to common friends they’ll eventually have. One day in another diner, he’ll slide her a spoon and she’ll cup his hand. Maybe it’s how they’ll always hand things to each other.

Lewis nods, his eyes darting over the periphery of his plate, one hand still cupping the cook’s hand, the cook’s finger still pinning the knife.

Robert feels Rosemary poking his thigh, but he wants to watch what she’s watching: the cook pulling his finger out from the hand of Lewis, Lewis pressing down so as not to reveal the knife. He knows that out of this weird moment he’ll get a wide-eyed look from her, that they’ll be co-witnesses, re-tellers of an odd story to common friends they’ll eventually have. One day in another diner, he’ll slide her a spoon and she’ll cup his hand. Maybe it’s how they’ll always hand things to each other.

He looks at Rosemary and she’s grinning, eyes flashing in conspiracy.

“Stop bothering people,” Lewis says to himself, the voice stern, deeper, a perfect mimic of the cook. It’s followed by motherly despair, a woman’s voice an octave higher, full of accommodation and pleading: “Oh Lewis. Your eggs, Lewis. They’re getting cold.”

Robert turns back in time to see Lewis grimacing in response, chastised by his own make-believe. He feels the tip of Rosemary’s finger fall away from his side.

Lewis pushes scrambled eggs up onto the face of his toast, spreads them around evenly across two pieces, then squeezes three lines of ketchup from top to bottom. Robert watches him move the knife from left hand to right hand, hidden, pushed underneath the lip of the plate. He palms it with his thumb, rocking his hand over the toast until one piece is two, two pieces three. Six evenly divided eggy fingers, the plate beneath free of crumbs, egg smearings, red streaks.

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