Amish kids are eating sandwiches that taste better than mine, wrapped in wax paper and pulled from metal lunch pails they carried on to the Amtrak. They don’t have luggage, just the sandwiches on thick slices of bread, adorned with slabs of meat and cheese that smell curiously clean. They’re in the lounge car, waiting for daylight to fade along with the rest of us, anticipating the night time insanity of passed bottles of booze they won’t drink from and long-winded stories about the death of an innocence most of us never had. Four of them are packed into a single table, just barely men, wearing suspenders and collared shirts and sensible-looking shoes with bowl hair and bangs cut clean across. They have really earnest conversations with people of the same sex and women over 50. Their beards are like what I’ve seen on hipsters at recent music festivals, and the one with reddish brown hair catches me staring. I wonder if I brushed my cheek against his if it would feel less polluted than Portland beards, all gravel filled and pubic rough from too much bad attention. If I brushed my cheek against his would I pull back and know that his eyes weren’t blue but were piercing anyway, that his smile was endless and drawn from some serene place, that his hands and body were shaped by work and not sitting and thinking and wondering. And would he know in a single glorious second that all the thoughts he’d carefully masked and thought were his alone to die with were poised to unravel in the company of greedy me? No: I’m vulgar. He knows it. There’s nothing to explain.
The plot thickens when one of them produces a deck of cards, and an older woman with bright smile, age-faded eyes, and silver-rimmed glasses asks to get in on a game of Hearts. They nod and answer her politely and make eye contact and she’s in. Damn. As they laugh and listen the woman asks some of the questions I’ve written down in my head, but none of the good ones. If I only got one question I couldn’t resist: How do you react to someone saying “I love you,” having never seen it on television? Then before I can wonder and wander any deeper someone taps my shoulder with a whiskey bottle and I smile and refuse because I don’t drink anything brown, but still I retreat to the familiar temple of loud laughter and tales of travels unfinished, partners met, and how life is just long enough to assure us in an instant that our hearts will never stop breaking.