The Train

“There,” says Robert, and he scoots over to the next stool, leans into Rosemary just a bit too much.

“What are you doing with him?”

“Nothing.”

“He might be simple.”

Robert looks over at Lewis to confirm a hang-dog expression, just a small defeat in the kid’s face. Instead the face is mottled red, head bent. All the blood in his body seems to have pooled above his shirt collar, in his neck, in his cheeks. Lewis leans forward and sips from the juice, his eyes darting back and forth over the horizon of the glass, like some pinched-face woodland animal come out at night to drink.

“I know maybe it seems clever,” Robert tells her, turning back.

Something about Lewis’ obviousness, his snap-the-finger penny-up-the-sleeve show has got Robert thinking. Maybe he should discount the gift. Let the air out of it. There it is, pulled out of the bag and constructed in front of her, glued even, but he can pretend that it’s not anything more than what it is, a Superman stopping a train. No Robert implied.

“I’ll write it out for you,” he hears him say, and Lewis is there on the stool next to him, his neatly arranged plate setting one seat down.

“I’ll write it out for you and you’ll see what I mean.”

“But we’re leaving,” says Rosemary.

Lewis is leaning in towards them as if the three are neighbors come across each other at the lunch counter. He writes out huge block letters on a napkin:

M-A-T-R-Y-O-S-H-K-A. “There,” he says, and slides it in front of them.

“I don’t speak whatever language this is,” Robert tells him.

“Sure you do, sure you do,” says Lewis, shit-grinning, again.

“I don’t.”

“I’ll make it easy for you.”

Lewis pulls out a napkin from the dispenser and draws a squat little figure, oval mostly, with thick hands flat against its sides. It looks to Robert like a cross between a penguin and a fat woman. Inside it he draws a smaller figure, the same woman, and another one inside of that, each line fainter than the next, each figure nested inside the next.

“Matryoshka,” says Lewis, leaning back from the napkin Babushka dolls.

“I don’t get it.”

Lewis sighs, grabs the napkin and crumples it. He takes another napkin from the dispenser, unfolds it in front of him. Robert turns to Rosemary and sees that she’s counting out money onto the counter. A few dollars, nickels and quarters.

“Let me pay,” he tells her.

“Can we go?”

“Wait,” says Lewis, “you’ll like this. It’s for both of you.”

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