I’m at a loud boozy party, I’m not sure where it is, but it’s a crummy house party like the ones I went to in college, even though I’m too old for that. The place has shaggy brown carpets, old furniture with chunks ripped out from a mischievous cat. The vibe is really sad for a party like that. The girl I’ve been sleeping with is acting like I’m inconveniencing her when we speak, and I get really drunk to compensate. That’s the last I see of her. The party moves in frozen blurs, like photographs shot using the wrong aperture. It’s the next morning, and I’m only able to remember the party then, when people around me are looking for their clothes. Most of them are nearly naked and their bodies are real bodies—flabby and flecked with imperfections. I find a pair of black socks and I know they belong to Noriko. She’s a small Asian girl I went to school with, even though we’re both old now. I take them to her. She’s playing a video game with too-loud sounds spilling through the television. I don’t say anything as I help her put on the socks. She has small, beautiful feet and I tell her I like touching them. She doesn’t say anything to that, but she asks me to take her home to California for winter break. I say okay, but I’m really looking at her hair which is so black that it’s blue. Noriko goes upstairs and gets her big orange suitcase, and I say that it’s filled with rocks and I open it to find that it is. We say goodbye to everyone left at the house, but no one acknowledges us leaving, and it seems like the goodbyes I’m saying are actually for forever instead of a few weeks. Then I go with this girl to the train. She’s excited—she’s never taken a train—and at the train station we start to kiss on the platform. She is the one who initiates it, and she laughs shyly and turns away after pecking me on the cheek. I tell her that her mouth is soft like a mouth should be just as the train comes. It’s a huge one—three stories—and it comes out of a heavy, snowy mist. It’s coated in brilliant silver that reflects all of the faces of us waiting there in strange shapes. Noriko and I get on the thing and we have to finagle our way through the corridors to a secure place. We don’t actually have tickets for the ride, I tell her. The conductor walking around immediately acts like he knows me, says “hey man, what’s up,” though I’ve never seen him before. He acts like I’m important enough and says it’s okay if I don’t have a ticket, that he’s seen me enough times to know I’m good for it. Noriko says she forgot something in the house, and runs out of the train even though we are miles from the house. I think she’s not going to come back. I tell that to the conductor and he starts to quietly cry as he stares ahead. I find some seats up on the highest floor, where there will be a great view out the window. It’s really old inside the train, like the insides of an abandoned horseracing track. There are rows of bleachers beneath where I’m sitting and the whole front of the train car is glass, allowing for panoramic views. Behind me is an old couple and they ask if I’m coupled with the Asian girl because they only like to deal with men who are leashed by women. The old woman says that the cute Asian girl I was with would make a nice mate. I say I think so, too, and they say she is so precious and you better hold on to her. A guy across the aisle pulls the skin around his eyes to make fun of her. Then the conductor comes and he’s wearing leather cut-off shorts with metal studs. He’s holding an iphone and watching porn on it, and it projects the scene on the panoramic window. Everyone is clapping to the scene, even the old couple behind me. In the porn video, men and women change into one another and back again. Behind the projection you can make out elements of the snowy landscape it melts and melds with the porn video performers. The conductor pauses the video on a shot of a big dick and he moves up to the glass wall and kisses it. Just as the train starts to move, I see Noriko running back on the platform. I’m trying to wave at her and she disappears. I think she’s gone again. But then she’s sitting right next to me.
The train goes through a black sea. It glides over the water like a boat. The sea is really misty, cold and blustery with snow blowing all around. Noriko asks where we’re going and I say Johntowns, Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up. She says that’s not where we’re supposed to be going but that she’s always wanted to go there. It’s only two stops away, I tell her. But the stops take a long time to pass. The conductor hears and says “yeah, it’s a looonnng way.” A month passes and only then do we get up from our seats, tired of the view. We go to the top of the train car, to an observation platform. The conductor says the air is safe but it’s cold. We step outside in the open and it’s freezing. My fingers immediately turn black. The train is going fast, and it’s hard to see or step in the blowing snow. A boat crosses us and causes a huge wake and I think we’re going to turn over. I grab Noriko. We haven’t kissed since the train platform a month ago. The water comes on the platform as I’m hugging her. I turn my head and see a giant factory on the water, turbines whirring, smoke and fog curling into the sky, metal grinding and sparks flying into the air. It’s a steel mill as big as a city. The conductor says this is what the world will look like soon enough, but for now it’s just out here. This will be everywhere, he says. It smells bad, but it’s really pretty in a way that turns my stomach. I start to shake when I realize I didn’t bring my camera. My eyes fill up with tears, but it’s really blood that is rising because I’m so rattled by forgetting my camera. Red streams snake down my face and we go back into the grandstand seating below. After another month, Noriko turns to me, takes off her glasses and I know it’s a sign of sincerity. She says “we are going to do this aren’t we?” And I consider that truly for the first time right then. I say yes, and I mean it and we kiss as the sea tosses past outside the train.