off to war

I don’t know her name, so I watch her nipples poke soft through a baby pink shirt. The shirt is mesh and makes a tight veil around the small slope of her tits.

The train conductor brings her a soda in a styrofoam cup. She takes a sip and starts to cry.

“I wish I had diabetes,” she says. I watch her spit the soda back into the cup. “So I could teach them a lesson.”

“How?” I ask.

“By dying.”

“You can tell it’s not diet?”

She looks at me, long green eyes, and says she’s visiting her parents in Westchester. “My parents are fucking obsessed with me as a means of suppressing their own humanity.”

“Sounds right,” I say. Though I haven’t spoken to mine in years.

“Well so where are you going?” She asks me. I know immediately I’ll have to find more ways for her to move her head, because the small wind off her hair is hardening me.

I tell her I am going to meet my girlfriend’s family.

“For the first time?”


“Oof.” I watch her nipples stiffen into calluses beneath her shirt. “That’s gonna hurt,” she says. “You’re sacrificing your whole weekend to be there?” She asks.

“I am.” I show her my camera.
 “Everyone will know.”

“That’s really great. You sound really intense. You’re really committed to her?” 

I think of my girlfriend’s face. The three years of her face slipped under the film of my consciousness. Then I think of the girl before her. Then the girl before her.

“I was just thinking, I met you at the right time,” the girl beside me says. She’s shaking her head. “I think I’ve been getting super annoyed feeling like men no longer have anything to die for. They’re not dying for anything. I hope it’s not strange that this upsets me.”

“Not at all,” I say. “I’ve been thinking the same thing. In fact I was thinking of starting a war.”

She’s smiling. “What over?” 

I pause, consider…

“Well,” she says, “It will have to be a global war. Not just a World War because by world people mean Asia, Europe, America. But now we have to get New Zealand involved.”

“New Zealand was always involved.”

“Okay but the point is that I just mean everyone has to go. Everyone’s gotta go. It’s too much.”

“I agree.”

She nods, finishes her soda, and stands up. For a moment all I see are her legs. Jeans low-riding her hips for dear life. “Little girls,” she says, nodding down the train car.

She is gone for a long while. I try to calm down. I think of war. What kinds of pens I’d use for my letters. What moods I’d signal with my various choices of stamps. I look out the window. We’re passing the softest hills – hills too soft to take a bullet. The entire landscape coils out and out in defense of silence. War will be hard in these parts. No matter. My hair takes on weight until it’s a helmet. The weight flatters me. I am wearing virility. I am looking handsome.

The girl comes back and sits down beside me. I’m relieved. She smells like a peach so ripe it’s pussing. I think of the vast fields in Georgia. And it must be my face because she bursts out laughing. Then she whispers to me. “What did you think I was doing in there? Turning cherries?” She grabs my wrist, fondles my fingers: “Dipping tips into my seething vat?” She laughs again, puts my hand to her mouth, and puts my finger inside. “Trigger finger,” she says through her teeth. “Your blood is cold,” she’s pressing down with her teeth. “Like you’ve been dead for forever.” The bite is deep. I pull my hand away and put it between my legs, letting my blood stain my pants. Again she moves closer. “There’s nothing feminine about you, thank god,” she says. “And we’re going to war.” 

We’re pulling into my girlfriend’s station. It’s an outdoor station. I can see my girlfriend out my window. I had messaged her, telling her I was in the car right by the conductor’s booth. She’s waiting there with her face shiny and dull.

In fact her entire family is waiting on the platform, right outside my car. Their dog is one of two barking. I wave to her with my good hand. I’m smiling. The train doors open. I’m smiling so big. My girlfriend is jumping up and down. Everyone is smiling. Her father’s face is warm and run over with melancholy. Her mother is very chic and weary.

The doors close and I’m still waving. I’m still smiling so big. Outside, now my girlfriend is screaming. Inside, the girl beside me is dying, laughing. Then the train is moving again and through the window the landscape is softly erupting and blood is soaking through my pants and my life is beginning and the girl is shrieking and the conductor comes back grave to say at last the train is taking us to war.

Sophie Madeline Dess is a writer and musician from New York.

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