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MY FATHER...THE TRAINI SPY with my little eye...
by Donna Lee

 

There are two things I remember most of my life in London - my father and the trains. My father was a gentle man made more gentle by his death. I remember only pieces of him - wide eyes, his hands around my middle, the big words he used, how frail his body looked the last time I saw him. He remains with me - merely a whisper now; the lightest touch on my cheek, a kiss on the wind.
      The trains still hurtle through London and though that was over twenty years ago now, a lifetime really, I can still feel the shell of the train moving around me, within me. I drive my car through Auckland looking all around me and I think ‘I spy’.
      We played games on the train to while away the time.
      ‘I spy. I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter H.’
      His eyes would dart out the window or to some corner in the carriage.
      ‘House.’
      ‘No.’
      I knew his tricks by now - that he would look in some direction other than where the answer lay.
      ‘Hair.’
      ‘No.’
      That knowing I knew this he may look exactly where the answer lay.
      ‘Handbag’
      ‘No.’
      I looked around in desperation. I knew his tricks but couldn’t fathom them. ‘Give me a clue, Daddy.’
      ‘You wear it.’
      ‘You wear a handbag,’ I said, trying.
      He laughed. ‘It’s not a handbag.’ His eyes floated up and I saw the answer looking like a cat curled up in the luggage rack.
      ‘A hat.’
      ‘Yep.’
      ‘Yaahhhh!’ I would make a minor display of myself, grinning to split my face, pumping my upheld arms in victory. I was a bit of an exhibitionist. The carriage was always full of people, their noses buried into papers, staring into space, or looking anywhere but into the face of some other person; except in these moments. They would turn to look at me. I think they put their smiles into their pockets to pull out on special occasions such as this.
      ‘Sit down. Close your eyes’, my father would pull me close. ‘There’s your prize - your angel’s kiss and I would feel a light touch on my cheek. I would open my eyes and he would be lying nonchalantly back in his seat, hands forming a cradle behind his head. He didn’t fool me - angels don’t have stubble.
      ‘Your turn.’
      My eyes would sweep the carriage, sifting the contents for some item worthy of my father’s age and wisdom. ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with RP...’
      ‘Red pen... rolling plains... No, no... I know.’ It was at about this point his hand would fly to his forehead and he’d screw his face up in mock concentration. ‘Ram... rambunctious psychoanalysis!’, he would answer. ‘How clever. I didn’t know you even knew those words.’ He’d grab me with those big bear hands of his, playing my middle like a piano’s ivories and bending me double.
      Other times I would stand in the isle, digging in with my toes, feeling the movement of the train under my feet, surfing the rails. Or I would put my head up against the side of the carriage and feel the train move through me, loosening my jowls, rattling my teeth, shaking my best friend Delilah in my lap. Other times my father would put down his paper and I would sit in his lap and Delilah in mine. He would wrap his arms around me. We would look out the window or inside ourselves in quiet contemplation; turning only to see, perhaps a woman walk through the open doors, the smell of her perfume wafting through the air, then settling gently in the quiet. Perhaps a businessman balancing briefcase and computer, his burden weighed across his shoulders like a poor man’s in a paddy field.
      I wished I was that woman with the ruby lips, that woman who smelt of roses. I don't know what my father wished, whether he wanted to be that man.
      I would watch the houses pass one by one, the trees, the power poles. Times like this, it was the world that I watched hurtling past - the world on wheels or on a poster being unrolled. We would be still and calm inside ourselves. Sometimes, it was my reflection I saw in the black glass, everything in reverse. My eyes and mouth would ask why.
      When I look now into the rear vision mirror, my eyes will focus in on themselves. Within a border of fine lines, still those questions - and something else.
      My father hid me underground, I don’t know why. I think it was my mother. On the occasions she called from New Zealand, his shoulders would rise like a beast hunched upon his back. When she was gone the beast would leave his body, his back bowed to accommodate me in his arms. I sensed myself become a mere lump in his throat.
      Even now, I dream of the homeless in sleeping bags and dirty clothes and their hard lives etched in their faces. We walked through subways and tunnels that smelled of piss and shit.
       
       
I would look down onto the tracks and watch the mice scurrying around, look at the posters blackened since two weeks before, count the moments, watch the lighted dots on the notice board change ( 3 mins, 2 mins, 1 min). You could hear the train screeching down the tunnel, then two bright round eyes would appear. I would lean forward and turn towards them. I would imagine leaning further out and see images of Patrick Swayze jumping through trains in the movie, Ghost.
      The wind would lift my hair and I would imagine myself so light, falling onto the tracks like a bridal veil, and feel the urge to reach out my hand and run it along the side of the train as it drew up against the platform. I wanted to feel the smooth fast metal of the carriage.
      When I used to go to Mandy’s and play, we would lean against her top-load washing machine while it was mid-cycle. We would feel our clothes slide against the smooth slick enamel against our backs and the warmth of the machine as it spun. Our bodies would shake with it. Once, Mandy emptied out the goldfish bowl and put it over her head and we were astronauts being launched into space. Another time we were Bonnie and Clyde, arms and legs splayed, getting shot full of bullets. End of cycle and we were cross-eyed with our tongues hanging out of our mouths.
      But something inside me told me that there was a pretend, a wanting, where there would be no going back. So on the platform, in the underground, I stayed well behind the yellow line. Even then, I knew what-ifs were dangerous and I had to mind the gap.
      My father would hold my hand and crouch beside me.
      ‘How much do you love me?’ I would ask. Another game.
      ‘This much?’ I would hold my arms out as wide as I could, the pathetic arm span of a seven year old.
      ‘This much.’ My father would spread his arms.
      ‘Is that all?’
      ‘As long as a carriage on the train.’
      I would look at him dissatisfied, my bottom lip dropping.
      ‘As long as the whole train. As wide as the entire universe!’
      Sometimes I dream. My father opens his arms wide enough to accommodate the world. He says he loves me this much. He steps through the front of the train, walks the entire length, a transparent sliver of a man. He doesn’t realise he’s dead until he gets to the other side; and he is standing there looking at me, and I am standing there looking at the rails. I have thrown my doll over. My voice comes to me from the distance, from the past. ‘Daddy, Delilah’s fallen. Daddy, save her.’ And I turn away to hide the smirk on my face. ‘Daddy! Daddy pleeasse!!’. Suddenly, it’s not a game. I am pulling hard on his trouser leg because I think she might die. I think I may have killed her.
      Delilah’s china face shattered across the tracks. It would occur time and time again - in my dreams, in reality. Later, a little boy’s broken face, body split in two. This wasn’t my fault. This was on the news. But still that broken china face, my father’s eyes.
      Sometimes I see him tickling me, my body folding, then growing, beneath his fingers. It feels indecent now that I’m a grown woman. His hands knead deeper and deeper. I stop laughing. He has worked an arm up into my body. A hand tugs at my heart, making a puppet of my breast. ‘You owe me one’, he says so softly I don’t think I hear the words.
      Sometimes he just whispers to me. His lips brush my skin. ‘Why did you do it?,’ he asks. ‘Why?’ His breath is the softest, most gentle caress. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to hold the pieces together.
      I am older now. I am stooped as low as my father was at 33, the skin around my eyes worn thin from kneading knuckle into bone (wringing water from a stone). I paint my lips ruby red and sweep my tongue around my mouth careful not to leave marks, bloodstains on my teeth. If I stepped into a train carriage, people might turn to look at me. My perfume might hang in the air.
       
 I still see it sometimes. It comes to me in fits - my father and the train, my father in the train, my father under the train. One thing I loved killing the other. I stopped looking at the tracks, wondering what-if, and moved to Auckland where we don’t use trains; where everyday I make myself a new collection of memories - the roll of surf on my feet, my mother’s laughter. I know now, the world is still and I am moving. I am moving.

1999 Donna Lee                                           

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Author bio:


Donna LeeDonna Lee Lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand. Her poetry has been anthologised and has appeared in literary magazines Poetry NZ and J.A.A.M. Short Fiction has appeared in Hecate and Scant, Australian journals, and the New Zealand publication, Takahe. Short fiction will also shortly appear in 'Song and Story' on the Internet site, Moondance - www.moondance.org

navigation:                                          barcelona review #13   mid-june to mid-august 1999
-Fiction Murder by G.K. Wuori
Madness by G.K. Wuori
Slide Show by Matt Marinovich
Here Swims a Most Majestic Vision by Jason DeBoer
My Father...The Train by Donna Lee
When Interviewing Characters by Roger Aplon
-Poetry Steve Aylett
-Essay

Grooves, Camouflage, and the Conspiracy of Whiteness
by Barbara F. Lefcowitz

-Interview Magnus Mills
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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