Copyright © 2002 by the author
"It is an elegant mode of transportation, long, sleek, and very, very sexy."
The speaker was a tall man, his dark brown hair and beard peppered with gray. Slim and muscular, he exuded confidence and self-assuredness. His Armani suit proclaimed him a man of substance, as did his choosing to ride the American-Orient Express, an expensive rail-cruise train.
His assistant nodded. "Yes, Mr. Corbett, sir, it is a beautiful train," he agreed.
"John, John," the gentleman said, shaking his head. "I wasn't referring to the actual vehicle, but to the whole package. I agree, the train is lovely. It should be, for as much as it cost. But I was referring to the subtext of the train, as a general idea."
John stood looking at locomotives and cars, trying to fathom what his employer was talking about.
"You do know, John, that many consider the train and its imagery to be very sexual in nature?"
"I see that you do. That is what I meant. Elegant and sexy. And purported to be a wonderful place to meet women, if you know what I mean, which thus adds to the mystique of the 'sexuality of the rails'."
"Yes, sir. I suppose one finds men and women of easy virtue in all manner of places," John sniffed. The younger man carried the bags to a waiting porter who took them, and the boarding pass, and led the way to one of the sleeping cars.
"John, I fear you are a bit of a prude," the older gentleman laughed, stepping up into the wood-paneled vestibule of the "Evening Star" sleeper. "Which is neither here nor there, I was simply commenting on the perceived sexuality of trains, not insinuating that I would be looking for companionship while traveling. In fact, I intend only to ride, read, and observe the human condition. To remain detached and uninvolved makes for the most authentic research." He turned and leaned down to shake John's hand. "I appreciate you driving me down. I will see you in a week. Hold things together until then."
"Yes, Mr. Corbett, I will." John stepped back from the train as Mr. Corbett disappeared into the interior, only to reappear at the window of his compartment a few moments later, waving briefly to his assistant.
John turned to go back to the parking lot, but collided with a young woman hurrying to the train. She dropped the bags she was carrying, and then began apologizing profusely. John shook his head, mechanically indicating that the mishap was of no consequence. His attention, however, was quickly riveted on her, a very pretty woman of perhaps 5-and-a-half feet, nicely proportioned, with long dark auburn hair and the kind of sweet face and bright eyes that makes a man believe she is specifically rewarding him with her smile.
"I am terribly sorry, sir," she was saying, "I'm just in such a hurry to catch the train. It's the trip of a lifetime for me!"
"Perfectly all right, miss, it wasn't your fault, here let me help you with that," and John bent down to pick up a small handbag, which the woman reached for at the same time. Their hands touched and John gasped before hiding his reaction with a rueful chuckle and handing the bag to her.
As she went on to board the train, John watched her go with far more interest than he had shown Mr. Corbett. She was quite attractive, he thought to himself as she disappeared into the dark entry of a sleeping car, and what a delightful smile!
He turned his gaze to the long, gold-blue-and-white length of the train, the locomotive's headlight burning brightly into the gathering dusk. How lucky his employer was to be riding the same train with such a lovely creature, though one so celebrated for his clinical detachment probably wouldn't even notice.
John returned to his SUV and began the long drive home, not realizing he had confirmed the musings of Mr. Corbett about the sexuality of trains...
Diary of Arthur Corbett
Aboard the American-Orient Express
9 p.m. Sunday, near Seattle
We glided out of the station just before 6 this evening. John had already left for home when I boarded, a bit flustered by my comments about trains, the poor fellow.
I situated my things in my compartment and was just going to sit and rest a bit when the steward came through, ringing the chimes for the evening soiree. Recalling the rules of the journey, I dressed in a smoking jacket and cravat before making my way to the lounge car at the end of the train.
No dinner was served that first evening aboard, and so we went straight to the evening activities, to wit: a welcoming ceremony in the lounge followed by drinks and dancing and the practicing of the social etiquettes. Of course, there would also be the inevitable pairing off and more than one berth would be the site of shared intimacies this night, though the more sedate of the travelers would take a day or two to acquaint themselves with potential lovers.
The passengers are the usual mixed lot, from the middle class through the nouveau-riche right up to the old line families of both east and west coasts. I thought at first that my journey of observation would be wasted, but then I saw her.
I would come to know her name as Megan, a sweet and lovely name redolent of lush green hills, wandering sheep, peat bogs, and a peanut-whistle English-style steam locomotive rolling by, so smooth and clean yet full of fire and the wet heat of steam.
At the time though, I could only go by what I could see: dark hair with hints of copper, an attractive face, skin of a fresh whiteness, with a scattering of freckles that made her look engagingly young, a delightfully rounded body, legs and feet to drive a fetishist mad. She would be a treat for anyone who might garner her attentions, even if for mere conversation (not that any conversation is "mere"-good conversation is a dying art).
I had the opportunity to watch her as the evening progressed. She appeared to be alone on this journey, and sat by herself on one of the overstuffed, leather-covered chairs. Yet one so attractive as she could no more be left alone than flies could ignore a black forest cake left out on a warm sunny day. More than one man approached her (and two women as well) but she politely refused their attentions. Shy? Particular? Who can say?
I did not go to her myself. At my age, I desire neither the thrill of conquest nor the agony of rejection. But I did smile at her and nod my head when she noticed me watching her. She smiled back and I daresay I fell under her spell.
She does have the most enchanting smile, as if she had a secret. As if we were sharing that secret. As if she was pleased to share an intimacy with me, though we never spoke a word. That is a dangerous weapon for a woman to have, to convince a man with a glance that he has entered into her inmost thoughts and feelings. How delightful! I wondered who would capture her attention to the point of joining her in her compartment during this trip.
And then he appeared.
He was a thoroughly unprepossessing specimen. Perhaps 6-feet tall, he was rather heavy-set. "Baby-faced" is rather trite, but it did apply. Brown hair, mustache and goatee did not help. He wore evening dress not well at all.
I supposed he would be brushed off as easily as the others who had vied for the lady's attentions, but remarkably, he was not. He sat, he spoke, she replied. He rose and took her glass and returned with an entire bottle of the expensive champagne. He poured, they chatted, and time unwound slowly as the train began the climb into the Cascades, the long, winding, struggling climb from near sea level high into the clouds.
The cap to the evening was when she turned to face him fully and smiled. This was not just the winsome smile she had rewarded me with earlier. No, this was the fullness of her womanhood, the opening of the steam locomotive firebox (perhaps not the most romantic image but apropos to our means of travel), a bright and potentially searing beauty that shone on him with such intensity that I wanted to return to my Russian roots and shout "Slava!" [authors note: "Glory!"]
Whatever else had happened between them in these brief hours, this woman had just made promises to this man.
I could take no more. For the first time in years I felt my own desire rising within me. I therefore arose to return to my compartment, to set down my thoughts and observations. Such activity would allow my return to equilibrium: undisturbed, detached, unmoved. But my deliverance from veiled passions and unspoken desires was not to be so simple.
They too chose that moment to leave the lounge, and following close behind me, turned into the room next to mine. I looked back at them from my door, my own champagne still in my hand. I caught her eye as she stepped into his compartment and the door began to close. She paused a moment and smiled, and I lifted my glass to her in silent tribute.
Closing my door, I sank into the seat beside the window as we flew across a high trestle and the valley below sparkled with lights beneath the deep purple twilight in the west.
Diary of Arthur Corbett
Monday - nearing Essex, Montana
A lovely morning as the train rolls up into the majestic Rockies, with the land falling away in folds of gray-green, looking damp and inviting in the early sunlight.
My night was peaceful, though I could not help but think of the lovely woman and her chosen in the compartment next to mine. Ah, fortunate man, to spend a night of passion in the arms of such a one!
.... There is more of this story ...