The Dining Car
By Elizabeth Cutright
The train is filled with a crazy mix of tourists, business people, government employees and French and English passengers. The first class dining car is decorated in the style of the orient express with red velvet upholstery and walnut tables and trim. At one table sit Melissa and Albert, young, preppy and deeply involved in each other’s eyes. On the table in front of them two half-filled glasses of champagne sit untouched, the smooth movement of the train barely moving their contents.
Across from them, a mother and her two children stare out the window. The mother points at the landscape, attempting to distract her two young boys who are busily trying to tear the soft cream linen napkins in half.
“Look here Tommy, there’s a horsey and a dairy cow, just like on auntie’s farm,” the mother tries to redirect the boys’ attention, but the salt packets and the strident clang of silverware hitting the table is far more interesting.
The youngest, Robert , stuffs the entire linen napkin into his mouth and makes bug eyes at Tommy, who stops beating the table with a fork and begins to laugh hysterically. Two booths away, an old couple stare disapprovingly in their direction. Robert begins to choke on the napkin, and in a panic the mother begins to wedge her fingers into his tightly closed mouth. Sensing imminent catastrophe, Tommy begins emit a high-pitched scream, which succeeds in heightening the tension in the rail car and finally dislodging Albert and Melissa’s enamored gazes. Albert jumps up to help, knocking over the champagne glasses which spill their contents all over Melissa. In the middle of all this confusion a ticket agent appears and deftly removes the napkin out of Tommy’s mouth. The mother’s profuse thanks goes unacknowledged.
The mother gets up and leads the two crying boys to the bathroom and for a moment calm and quiet is restored. A waiter appears and begins to take an order from the elderly couple. Melissa attempts to clean up the champagne from her dress.
“Who would’ve thought those two little glasses would hold so much liquid! I’d better find the bathroom. Order for me will you? Tanqueray and tonic?”
Melissa leaves through the same door as the mother, pausing to grin in the old couple’s direction. Albert laughs as he catches the bemused look in the old lady’s eye, she’s not in on the joke. The scenery out the window suddenly goes black and, after a moment of darkness, the dining car is flooded with electric light as the train finally enters the tunnel.
The waiter approaches Albert with a huge smile and readies himself to take the order. At the other end of the car the door opens with a gush of air from the pressure seal. Albert and the waiter glance over and observe a scruffy young man in a pullover and jeans enter the car. He surveys the occupants and settles on an empty booth across from the old couple. He surreptitiously glances at his watch and nods his head almost imperceptibly. Suddenly the train screeches to a halt. The champagne glasses crash to the floor and shatter on impact.