·It was dark. There was no moon around, or street lights, so I couldn’t see what he looked like.
And that voice! He got the impression, somehow, that he was a good singer, but all he knew was old TV commercials. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…” and “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.” Real old stuff like that, like he hadn’t seen TV for ten years. And he made me sing with him, loudly, as we walked along the tracks, It was as if he wanted to wake up the whole city.
Then he stopped and told me to be quiet.
“What are we listening to?” I asked.
“For. Train.” He said. He was a man of few words, I gathered. This didn’t bother me, his speaking voice was scratchy, gravely, and primitive.
“Train’s coming. We’re going to jump on the end. So get ready.” He said. Then he grabbed my arm.
That’s dangerous!” I said. “And I can’t do it, I’ll miss the train and fall on my ass!”
“Got no choice.” Was all he said.
The train was coming into view now. He pulled me down away from the rumbling tracks.
“Freight train.” He said.
We watched the rapid approach of the train. He was wrong, it was a passenger train. As soon as the end came near, he gripped my arm tighter. Then, after the train had just passed us, we ran fast along the tracks. He was still holding my arm, and it hurt as he pulled me and I struggled to keep up. Then, miraculously, we jumped and landed on the last car. I sat down and tried to catch my breath.
“Ow! Did you have to pull so hard? You practically dragged me. I think I broke my foot!” I inspected myself for serious wounds. There did not appear to be any.
“Shit! It’s a passenger train!” he said loudly through clenched teeth. Strange noise.
“What difference does it make?” I asked.
“I don’t want us to be found is the difference it makes.”
“Where are we going?”
I finally could see. There was a dim light in this tiny little end car we had landed in. I looked at this man who had snatched me off the street and decided that I wanted him to take me- where? Chicago. He wore a green trench coat that bulged in some places. Full pockets. Lots of them. He was really tall. Long stringy blacker than black hair under a flat black hat. Not too skinny for his extreme tallness. And very nice long fingers- they sure did grip me tight.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked, and lay down, expecting to sleep, finally.
“Marshall.” He answered as he sat down on the car floor and dangled his feet out the open space.
“Like as in ‘U.S. Marshal?’ Am I under arrest?”
That’s my name. You asked.”
“First or last?
I blinked, thought about this for a second. I sat up.
“You mean you’re name is Marshall Marshall?” I laughed a little.
“Yes, it is.” He replied, with a slight touch of rudeness. “My insane mother thought Marshall was a better first name than last. And you have no right to laugh, Free.”
“I don’t know why they ever called me ‘Free.’ I’ve never been free a day in my life.” I said. “I was born in Chicago and never want to go back. Why the hell are we going there?”
“Because I want to. It’s the only place where I feel free. I’m taking you with me because I know you need that feeling too.”
I lay back down. But before I had the chance to ask him how he knew my name, or what he meant by any of that, I fell asleep.
·He was shaking me. Damn it, Marshall, let me sleep, I thought.
“Hey Free, wake up!”
“Go away, Marshall.”
“We’re almost there!”
“Where? Chicago?” I said, and sat up and moved over so I could see and dangle my feet out of the opening. We sat there and watched the places we had passed slip further and further away.
“I’m starving! Is there anything to eat around here?” I asked.
He pulled a package of Twinkies from one of the pockets of his coat and offered me one. I cringed.
“Awful, I know. But they’re light and preserve well.”
“You’re a real survivalist, aren’t you, Marshall?”
·He didn’t answer. There were questions he wouldn’t answer. I let it pass. There was no need to make a big deal out of it, in just a couple of days I learned that that was just Marshall.
·We ate our Twinkies in silence.
As the sun rose higher and the morning passed, Chicago grew bigger, busier, taller, more vicious and tempting. I saw the cars in the stop and go traffic alongside us, and was happy not to be in those lanes. I knew nothing of this city, yet before I had even begun to explore it, I felt an energy from it that had me captivated.
“We’ll get off downtown. I know you’ll like it there.” Marshall said. “I love this city! It’s so free! What a perfect place for Free to be, in such a free city! There’s life everywhere, all around you in all directions. It still amazes me. There’s so much to see!”
How was it he knew all this stuff? I found out that he had known who I was for nearly as long as he had been in that city he pulled me away from, that he had been ‘observing’ me, he said. From anyone else, statements like that and I would never have let something like this continue for as long as it did. But with Marshall, it was almost like a subtle compliment. With Marshall, everything was subtle. He could become a regular part of your life before you even noticed it.
“It’s unfair! How come you get to know all this about me and I know so little about you?” I expected that to be another one of those questions he wouldn’t answer.
“You know more about me than you think you do. More than most ever get to.” He answered. I think I would have liked it better if he had remained silent.
We spent the day downtown, walking around. We ate in little hideaway places that Marshall had found on previous visits. We looked in stores, some expensive, some not. He secretly bought me little things that I had seen in the shops and produced them in unexpected moments.
Before this day came, I would only admit that Marshall was merely a little fascinating. He wasn’t like those men that attached themselves on to me before. He had intelligence, a sense of humor.
Later, in the evening, we went to a better than average restaurant. Then we slipped in to this place he knew about where there were bands that played the blues. We sat there in silence, letting the music surround us. I watched him. He seemed to be hypnotized by the music, he sat there and watched all the musicians’ intricate movements as if he were memorizing them for future remembering.
I just enjoyed the music. It fit this city perfectly. Music always cleared my mind. I began to think that I fit this city too. After all that time I swore that I would not come here. I was born here. That was enough. I had no memories of living here, we left when I was young. From there my life had taken so many wrong turns, to go back where it all started was unthinkable. But now, here, with Marshall, things were different. Very different.
After the band hung up their blues for the night, Marshall took me up on a fire escape. All those really tall buildings wouldn’t let us in this time of night, so we had to create our own not so really tall building.
We talked on into the night about all sorts of things. Then we fell silent, as if there were no more to say.
“Feel free?” He asked, breaking the silence.
This time I didn’t answer. I wasn’t ready to let him know that he had been right all along, so we sat in silence for a while, looking at the city around us.
“I love you, Free.” He said, as if all he were doing was giving me a slip of paper with a phone number or message on it.
I reran our trip in my mind. Now that I thought seriously about it, I realized that there had to be a reason I was snatched off that street that day. After all, he didn’t need me holding him up. He could have just come to Chicago alone. Of course Marshall loved me, I wouldn’t be here if he didn’t.
“I know.” I said. I wondered if he wanted to know if I loved him. What would I say? We were connecting so well. I never thought I would be as close to someone as I was with Marshall. But would I call it love? There wasn’t really any other word for it.
“Where do we go now? What happens next?” I asked. I figured he knew my feelings, he knew all that other stuff. As for myself, my feelings were making me confused.
“Yes, Marshall. I do.”
Any tension that may have existed between us was released. We were freed.
“Will we stay here in Chicago?” I asked.
“Do you really want to go somewhere else?”
“No. I think I’m really getting to love it here.”
“Well then,” he said, “let’s find us someplace to sleep.”
Final edit: 28 December, 1997
This story arose from sitting at the dining room table in my first apartment. it was the middle of the night, and a train would go by every night around 1.30AM. I was restless, and really wanted to be somewhere else. I have come to realize that I now hate this story, I have been looking at it for so long. Now you can look at it so I don’t have to anymore.
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