The Conductor by Sutton Strother

He tells me I’ve been wearing my doubts like old clothes, ugly and impossible to love. He’d like me to cast them off, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to bare myself. Tonight we’ll get there. He’s sure of it. Tonight, he says, he’ll have me opened up.

No one’s out so late. The shops are dark, blinds drawn. No moving cars. The ones parked along the edge of the road are empty until morning. No one on foot but us. I follow where his hand leads, between two bumpers, over the sidewalk. My flat feet ache from so much following. When we mount an incline, it helps to imagine that the bits of gravel stabbing into my arches are his calloused fingers.

When he stops, I stop.

Lamplight glints off the rails of the train tracks. I lift a hand to shield my eyes.

“You ever put a penny on the track?” he asks. “They say it’ll derail the train.”

He sits his knapsack on the ground and removes two white scarves, draping each over his arm like a French waiter.

“Undress.” A command. A magic word.

I twist my arms behind me, slide the zipper down to the swell of my ass. My dress falls away. Next comes the rest – slip, bra, panties. He guides me down between the rails, and my body unfurls like a Persian rug across the tracks. Kneeling over me, he turns the scarves to their purpose at last, secures my left wrist to one rail, my right wrist to the other.

I think about the word Trust. How it can mean to have faith in, or to leave in one’s care. How one does not require the other. How I have never managed to pull the two apart.

“That conductor won’t know what hit him.”

My body hums as the night-silence gives way to machine sound, locomotive sound. Impossible to make myself heard under all that noise, but if I could I’d tell him this: that I love him for the way he folds each garment with such care and precision, like you’d fold a fitted sheet, like origami, and lays them in a tidy stack. That once the train bares down and mangles me and I’m finally opened, he can fold up whatever pieces it leaves behind, add them to the pile, each one an offering. That his smile is a high-beam, and laid bare in its glow, I forget to be afraid. I forget to be anything at all.

Sutton Strother a writer, composition instructor, Kentucky native, and New York transplant. Her fiction appears or will appear in Natural Bridge, Longleaf Review, Jellyfish Review, Riggwelter, and elsewhere.

Image: Leborski Project