The Train

Lewis leans back, contentedly, and sighs, his eyes shifting between Robert and the plate.

“You’ll never know how I do it,” he says.

“What?”

“This,” he says, his hands floating over the plate, making circular motions over the plate.

“Magic,” Robert tells him flatly.

Lewis seems to like this idea, bobs his head up and down, grinning. Could be magic. He makes chopping motions over the plate. Chop. Chop. Chop.

Rain, Steam, and Speed
The Great Western Railway
, 1844
(Oil on canvas, 91 × 121.8 cm)
BY Joseph Mallord William Turner
National Gallery of Art

With all of Lewis’s chopping, the ammonia smell is there again, mixed in with bacon and soap. Robert remembers when he got his body under control, nineteen, twenty maybe. No more sweating when he didn’t mean it, no more funny odors from places he’d forgotten to clean. Now he has foot powder that he pours into his winter boots, after shave that is “bracing.” The kid is dragging him back into adolescence. He feels like the train will become a toy any minute instead of anything meaningful — that Rosemary might reach out and grab it, coo at him: choo-choo.

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” he tells the kid.

“What?”

“How you do it.”

“Nope, nope. Not obvious,” Lewis smiles.

“With a sharp knife, the little one,” Robert tells him, reaching out to nudge the plate. There’s nothing there, the expected clank of metal against china. He pushes the plate north, this time, instead of west, and still no clank.

“There’s no knife,” Lewis says, happily.

“I watched you cut the toast.”

“Nope.”

There’s the satisfying clink of fingernail against glass, then glass against metal. The knife falls out from behind its orange juice blind and rattles against the formica counter.

Lewis pops one of the egg fingers into his mouth, chewing, smiling recklessly so that food is near spilling out of the upturned corners. Is he sitting on it? Hiding it in his pockets? Robert thinks the kid’s hands have been out in front the whole time. Rosemary pokes him in the ribs once more and when he turns she has scooted one stool down, gestures for him to move over to her. He nods and holds one finger up, winks, like he and the kid are just finishing some juicy conversation.

Lewis is chewing and watching. Watching Robert out of the corner of his right eye. Grinning — what Robert often thinks of as a shit-eating grin, the kind people send you indirectly — they’re laughing at you, but not in your face — maybe barely holding in a gut laugh while staring into the eyes of another near-laugher.

It’s impolite to touch strangers, definitely there’s no excuse when you’re an adult, but if it were just him and Lewis, he might start patting the guy down. Instead he just stares at the old lady, who’s staring at Lewis. Lewis’s orderly plate. Lewis’s cup of coffee. Lewis’s tall glass of untouched orange juice, the juice so plentiful that it nearly crests the glass, begging for the kind of sip that requires you to drink from it with no hands, just lips.

Robert reaches out for the glass and the woman breaks a smile, the loose grinding of her dentures coming to a halt. He reaches out and Lewis the knife magician says to him “No, please don’t.” He’s polite, almost desperate, his hands offering a fluttering defense that want to wave Robert off rather than make contact. Robert doesn’t so much move it as flick it with his finger. There’s the satisfying clink of fingernail against glass, then glass against metal. The knife falls out from behind its orange juice blind and rattles against the formica counter. A soldier falling from behind a tree. “Please,” says Lewis, again.

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