The train was lifeless when he collapsed upon a single chair: the only passenger that had alighted on the empty carriage. Colour and movement blurred in front of his failing eyes — two glassy vases that swallowed the sight of Flinders Street Station thirstily before the train rumbled to life. The once vibrant vermillion and yellow had turned rusty-brown and mustardy with age. But it was these colours that quelled his oscillation at the door, behind which music, chatter and livelihood mingled in the great hall of his mind. And thus, as the train beeped its final beeps, he strode into the midst of the commercial orchestra … consumed by the lilting murmur of business chatter; the quavering notes of unfulfilled promises; a rhythm ebbing and flowing with the tide of money he had once swam freely within. Though he was shamefully aware of the emptiness of his own pockets, he hastily reasoned to himself that his prudence was not to blame — but time, for eating holes in the jacket fabric. But his mind was indebted to pride and long since declared bankrupt, and the fragility of his own thoughts was clear. The corporate echelons no longer fed his days with wealth; but instead haunted his nights endlessly, with music.
He, in previous bouts of introspection, had personally decreed that his neglect of trivialities was quite a noble affair, and took pride in that apathy. Others’ affairs were menial, and he often pictured himself scoffing a regal scoff. Whether he resided in penthouses or under a bridge, he liked to think of his days listening to the clash of iron wheels upon endless ancestral tracks as solemn — and nobly so. He found humour in the lurching and swerving of these dusty vessels, smiling at the crookedness of straight lines. The apparent universality of the thought upturned his lips. And though he thought it a smile, the curl of his dry lips bore greater semblance to a carcass that had rolled over in death. And so, before the train entered the tunnel, he shut his eyes tightly; sure that the bloodshot of his eyes and the tanning of his skin were best left to imagination.
He had ducked out, in his mind, from the great hall to the bathroom, but money music still pooled at the marble floors as he stared down the mirror of his imaginary Hyatt. He lost himself in his own vestiary. He inspected the beige of his double-breasted overcoat, and scrutinised whether the jealous stare of strangers had creased the garments underneath. Seemingly satisfied, he touched at his thick head of hair, and in doing so he caught a foreign cleaner’s sickly gaze. The stare made his hands hover above his head for a split second longer; his own confidence wrinkling in that moment of hesitation. Outside, the music hushed, and the crowd’s yelling rose in crescendo. Upon the train, he felt his fingertips ooze perspiration, anxious at the recollections of he — the jailor, and the bars he kept the rowdy crowd behind in darker days. With these words appeared flashes of abandoned warehouses and vandalised homes sent the crowd into uproar … and with his faraway eyes clamped firmly shut in fear of his own colour, he wondered who he’d really trapped behind those bars.
Amidst the uproar, the stare now unsettled his frail garments, but could not put his finger on what exactly was disconcerting about the janitor’s complexion. Perhaps it was the colour, perhaps the mournful eyes. He felt he was being falsely accused and scolded, and, self-conscious, he went to run his fingers through his hair but felt nothing but smooth scalp. In the distance, his hand jerked involuntarily … and with that, he let out a miniscule sigh and lifted his eyelids. Beams of sun raced towards him — and his bald head — helpless in the train that hurtled through the darkness and so propelled him to the shame that he heard within the music of his mind.
For him, Melbourne had been the home of both wealth and poverty. He rode these dusty vehicles and watched the blocky buildings grow tall, while the city itself grew wide. The shadows of the towers grew long over the endless suburbia; and stood the test of time better than the letters and logos that headed the buildings. In his pondering, he noticed how distinctively monochromatic his memory seemed to be. His recollections of his young adult years were trapped in bathroom mirrors, wrapped in classic black and white suits. In fact, his memories were generally colourless — and he found the greyscale haunting indeed. It was not the polarising black and white that unsettled him, but the fact that he felt no change in colour from young to old. In the great hall he heard the rapid cloying of strings, and it mirrored his fear that his life had merely been the acting of a pre-determined script; or a train destined to traverse the same ancestral tracks. Far away, the dusty vehicle he sat aboard had entered a residential zone, with colourless smoke pouring out the chimneys. His mind thudded with overcast repetitions … the grey concrete was consumed by the greying skies; which were fed upon by his greying memories he wished to cut out of his own grey matter. He was overcome with an immense weight upon his already-feeble chest, which expanded with such vexation it pushed him to the verge of tears. A tremble built up in his wiry, leathered arms and he shook, violently, looking up at the skies that had not yet cried. He felt the urge to curse it — to fight it, but his body could take no more of the strain and he slumped back into the chair. His eyelids shut upon his welling eyes.
He had awoken with sun rays filtering through the translucent blinds, where he remembered being buried in pristine linens. With upturned lips, he took note of the scene … her free locks of hair crawling upon his skin, the delectable scent lifted from her body, the nape of her neck snug upon his arm as if a morphine embrace. He had not spoken; the evening’s cobwebs still remained in his mouth. She had not awoken; her chest continued its tidal rise and fall.
Against the backdrop of the rising sun, she filled the rooms with the aroma of coffee in her morning routine, whilst he smiled at the fading impressions she had made upon his arm. He felt as though she’d entrusted her dreams to his embrace. He scrutinised it, wondering where in those waning marks she had managed to inject such a volume of oxytocin. It was somewhere in this inspection that he had chosen to freeze time … where an inextricable warmth pervaded his limbs and face, a hint of teeth showed behind his rare smile. He had childishly grabbed a cushion and hugged it close to his chest. A friendly cymbal crashed in his embarrassment, and though his face flushed, showing behind even his leathery skin and the whiteness of his beard, he knew that it was genuine. He decided this was where he was to stay.
Yet, inertia tugged at the crowd in the great hall, and, hissing — the train lurched suddenly as it departed yet another station. The steam engines pulled him out of his heavenly bedroom, amplifying the hissing of his snake-pit stomach that yearned for her touch just once more. Even when she left … even for just a day, or for the rest of his life. He remained awake in those linens — now yellowed — and composed fragile rhythms within his withdrawals.
He was then aware that the train was shuddering slowly, when it then hissed to a halt at some nameless station he didn’t bother to take note of. The windows were streaked with rain, and the clouds had cleared to reveal the dying sun. Alighting passengers filtered in and out against the golden hour backdrop, and, hearing the shuffling of footsteps, he was reminded of a processional accompanied by a steady death knell. Only, the death knell was a dissonant, high-pitched beeping — and the algorithm that gave voice to the words: “Stand clear, please. Stand clear”, was far too artificial for something as solemn as death, even if it did sound like a woman.
One passenger in particular, who was walking unevenly upon her amputated leg, looked inquisitively left and right — he caught glints of gold-brown hair in the setting sun — and sat down. Dismayed by the angle of her body — away from him, and dismayed further that she faced straight forward — stiff with caution, he urged to say something. ‘Anything would do,’ he thought to himself, ‘any word would settle her.’ But he knew words were lost when it came to such disconcertion. Comfort, empathy and compassion had lost themselves in the milkiness of his eyes, and the right words just got caught in the rime of his beard, and fell flat awkwardly. With a screech of a horn and a jerking motion, the train was in motion again; and this time he looked down. He glimpsed at the yellowing enamels on his fingertips with an expression of disdain, belligerent at his own eroding body. And thus, the train approach to the fading sun, not deviating in the slightest from the dusty carriages that had traversed its like before.
And so he stripped. His own anger amplified itself within the pithy tones of the orchestra; far from the lilting rhythms he so often heard. It was within that great hall — not in his mind, but a memory of his time at the Hyatt, that he had caught her stare in the collisions of that great networking event.
It was the same cry that he uttered against the sea of monochrome at the Hyatt, the night that had so warped him. Everywhere he turned, he glanced shoulders with another stranger; and he quickly felt crushed within the crowd. Lightheaded, he imagined floating above the crowd. His anger had formed into fear. He felt suffocated — not because the crowd’s collectively gelled black hair resembled a mass of death beetles; but because he felt drowned in the immense depths of cold-blooded competition, half-heartedly stuffed into meaningless conversations. Burning heat radiated from within his shirt as he wheeled around hysterically — eyes wild, searching for a hint of a kind gaze.
He found it. Stumbling somewhat and coming within inches of her figure, his unsteady gaze met the stare of another’s. In memory, reconciliation of his own mistakes had twisted her likeness. The creature boasted feline, slanted eyes and angular features; but shame had failed to extinguish the flames of fear, licking at the pools of his attraction. Alight, these long-burning coals burned crimson red — a few muffled, arrhythmic notes were played, but fell flat … distantly, the sun was lost behind a stray cloud, low on the horizon. Of that night, he knew only of the guilt that broke back and forth upon the shores of his stomach: pushed by the hues of her feline eyes, and pulled by the jerks of her enclosed fist. And so great was his fear of that black crowd he had fled that he refused to close his eyes. Instead, he drank in every moment of her beastly figure: her colours, her curves, and the unsteady movement of their naked limbs. Though insatiate, a triumph began to blossom within his stomach — the cognizance of something out of the ordinary … but it was fleeting. Although the shore flooded white with guilt, and the creature purred softly in his ear, he was consumed with the sickening knowledge that he’d yellowed the linens he was to lie in tomorrow.
What more could one ask for, but an exit from the hall? What more could one ask for, but to be freed of primal desires, and meaningless intercourse? And what more could one ask for, but for an escape from the memories that tormented him so? He had ordered the orchestra to stop their playing, and ordered the chattering souls out of his imaginary Hyatt. He watched as they filtered out onto straight concrete paths; incomprehensible to him what with his indecision and insistence upon a life in spectrum. Somewhere, he grasped at a thread of pride. The silence helped him tug at it — the air felt weightless, and suddenly he found the strength to lift his head. He registered, with one last glance, the sun beams that had crashed upon his being when his train ride began. The brightness of the rays transported him back to that place of belonging. To home. The intoxicating bite of her morning impression had lifted from his arms, so he closed his eyes and pretended his pockets did not sag with the weight of the spoon and syringe that had loved him in her stead. And he was elevated along those sunbeams: freed from the weight of coifs, freed from the chains of garments — he felt naked even though fabrics still hung limply off his body. It was before the train had reached its final station that he began his climb along the light’s last rays. And in the Hyatt, he was risen slowly; with collisions erupting ceaselessly like fireworks in his own masterful finale. It comprised the game of ‘chicken’ he had just played with each voice of the world … that he heard them all, caressed them all — with each note lifted alongside his feather-soul. Returned at last to the heavenly bedroom, his limbs slackened as if he’d been cut from a crucifix … and he remained defiant, to the death, with pride.