“Did you ever see Mr. Mom?” the drunk asks, her head lolling forward.
“No,” the fat woman says, her arms folded around a turquoise purse that sits on, in, her lap.
“Darling little movie—just darling,” the drunk says, pausing, hoping for some sort of response.
A poor-looking couple with three small children walk into the lounge and the mother starts to play a game involving rubber bands with one of the children. I’m watching the smallest kid eat a packet of butter I was hoping he wouldn’t.
“You didn’t see Mr. Mom?” the drunk asks again.
The woman in turquoise says “No.” Her husband fingers his string tie that has a small piece of turquoise at the end of it and recrosses bulky legs.
The noise from the children, the meanderings of the drunk woman, two giggling college girls talking about Las Vegas irritate me but I stay in the lounge area because I dread going back to the small compartment, which reminds me of my destination. Another cigarette, lights above flicker, then dim. The train passes through a tunnel and when it emerges outside again there is no tangible difference. One of the little kids screams playfully, “God is gonna get you, God is gonna get you,” and then, louder, “father, father, father,” and the little boy who has eaten the pack of butter is pointing at his father, eyes wide, tiny mouth parted, looking up at him for guidance. The father belches, pulls out another Parliament, lights the cigarette, then looks at me and he’s not bad-looking.
Back at my compartment, an hour later, a black porter is straightening up the room. He has finished making the bed and cleaning the small stall called a bathroom.
“Where are you going?” he asks me.
“Los Angeles,” I tell him, standing in the corridor, waiting for him to leave.
“What’s in Los Angeles?”
“Nothing,” I finally say.
“I’ve heard that before.” He chuckles grimly, then, “Going for a visit?”
“My father is getting married.”
“Is she nice?” The porter lifts a bag from the wastebasket and ties it.
“Do you like her?”
The train begins to pull, then slows down, the sound of brakes, the sound of the train sighing.
“We’ll be getting there soon.”
I meet Cheryl over the summer when I’m back in L.A., doing nothing. I have heard about her somewhat from my father when he calls my dorm on Sunday nights, but he is always ambivalent and whenever he hints that he is close to her he pulls back shyly and doesn’t follow through. What little I have learned comes from Graham: tan, streaked blond hair, thin, twentyish, a vague aspiration to be a newscaster. When I press Graham for more than this, Graham, stoned, offers: Cheryl constantly, desperately reads Sydney Omarr’s Guide to Pisces 1984; Cheryl loves the movie Flashdance, has seen it five times since last year, when it came out, and has ten ripped sweatshirts with the word MANIAC on them; Cheryl works out to Jane Fonda tapes on the Betamax; William fed pizza to Cheryl at Spago. These descriptions are always followed by a barely audible “Get it?” from Graham. When I would start to unravel, ask him how, Graham would say, “It’s not like you’ve never dated a ski instructor. It’s not like you’ve ever cared.”
I am not even sure if my parents’ divorce is finalized, but two days in August, after having stayed at my mother’s without being able to find her, I drive down to my father’s new condo in Newport Beach and Cheryl suggests that the two of us go shopping. Bullock’s, Saks, a Neiman Marcus that ‘ Just opened, where Cheryl buys a horrible-looking olive leather jacket with Oriental print splattered all over the back of it, something my father will probably wear. Cheryl speaks highly of a book I have never heard of called Megatrends. Cheryl and I have fruit juice and tea at an outdoor café across from the mall, called Sunshine, where Cheryl seems to know the young guys working behind the counter. Juice-sweetened tofu, herbal teas, frozen yogurt. Cheryl is wearing a neon-pink sweatshirt, ripped at the shoulder, the word MANIAC in sky blue, and the shirt jolts me out of something and into something else. Cheryl is talking about the soap opera she watches, about a man who is trying to tell his family that he is still alive.
“Are you okay?” Cheryl asks.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” I say sullenly.
“But you don’t look too good,” Cheryl says. “I mean, you’re tan but you don’t look happy.”
“But I’m okay.”