When I Hear a Train

by Amy-Jean Muller

I could tell you a lot of things about this madness. Firstly, the sensory reality of it. I could go into the details of the touch on my skin. I could tell you about the heat, the tension and the itch. I could tell you about the tactility, the cool on cool, and the sense of fingertips which are mine but not. The way it feels like someone has just tapped me on the shoulder. Like a train marshal checking for your ticket. And when I look around, there’s no one there. And my mind splits like a junction.

I imagine I’m on this train. And then the itch starts. I think about the way my mind contemplates the microscopic images of mites, and the way your body is covered in them. I talk to myself about the biology, talk about the feel and describe in detail how our bodies are infested in them. I think about my hair. I know they’re there, and then, just as suddenly I feel them. I imagine them feasting on my skin. Crawling around on my flesh between each follicle and up the inside of my thighs. What do you think they want there? Its 10pm now. Do you think they’ll bite?

So, I look them up, I look online, I look at images, references, and black and white photographs.  I touch my flesh a little, and its cold, and in that moment the tingle simply darts to the other side. So, I must keep thinking of them, because if I don’t, then another sensation comes in a different place, and it holds me there. Its rushing now, its rushing like a train past each stop and it’s a blur. Pacing, pacing, like my heart. Like my heart belonging to my lover. Then I feel terrible, what about my lover, what about my lover and his skin too. Does he feel it? Its 11pm now, so I watch, so I analyse every scratch and movement as he sleeps, and to me its proof, because my skin just won’t stop the infestation of the movement.

It won’t stop the itch, and the crawl, and it makes me feel dirty, it makes me feel dead. Like a precursor to the magots, the magots that eat you when you’re underground. And I wonder about what my teeth would look like in my skull. In my head. In my head all dead. And somehow there is relief there and I relax. I relax for the moment in the thought of the moment between each breath, and the death and the stopping. It makes me simile. Its 1am now and it makes those mites smile, on me, feasting on me. Then suddenly they stand up to look at me. Almost like those statues on the shores from prehistoric times. They all raise up to me and salute. And the itching stops. Its stops on my skin. And the only thing that stops them, is the thinking, that thought, that if I’m dead, its somehow a prayer.

There’s a lot of detail to it. I keep considering if I missed the signs. Was it that tinnitus? That feeling like you’ve just got up too fast and it whooshes and whizzes. You think for a moment, is this my dead family trying to connect with me? Is it the spirit world wanting to make contact? So, you look it up. Its late now, in the evening, or is it early, and it doesn’t matter, because with each whooshing sound. Each tick, tick, tick, you feel like you’re strapped to the front of the train. And the thinking is the image in your periphery. Rushing past, just rushing, rushing and a smear. And the screaming is the sound from the driver calling you. But you don’t care. Its 3am now, and you don’t care, because it’s pushing you, whooshing you. Roaring at each thinking point to take you somewhere. Who knows where, because it’s a ride baby.

And it rings a little. In a way, it feels like tapping on my shoulder. And when I look around again, and no one’s there again. No one’s there. Are you headed to those spirits? Are they calling you too? So, you read about it. Is it some cosmic calling of those souls to you, drawing you closer on that train? Traveling towards them. Rushing. Speeding. Because the calling is what matters, and the destination feels just right. Because dying you see. The dying means you arrive. The train will stop then. The ringing will too. And when you get there on that platform. They’ll be waiting for you.

What about that pressure though? What about the crush on your chest? Does it feel like you’re under a rock? And so, you think about it, you try and liken it to something so you can’t think about and forget. Then suddenly, you’re not here anymore. You’re watching yourself at 4 years old, and you laugh a little at it, because it’s you there in front of you. It’s you, lying there on the carpet. And you’re wrestling with your sister. And you can’t help but laugh at the tickling play. And you can feel the tears in your eyes now, and you call out for no reason. And it shatters the memory for a moment, because its 4am now, and the house is everything in its quiet.

And it rings in your ears, and you suddenly become scared, but you hear the laughing for a moment, and you hear your full name coming from a mouth that isn’t even there. Where is your ticket? And you decide to go with it. You sit and close your eyes, and you see yourself on that carpet, and you have a blur from the tears now, because the memory is so nice. So, you watch it, you think about it, and you see the wrestle and the battle. And you’re in it. And the laughing is the whooshing, the giggle is the trains horn. And you’re right there, and you see yourself laughing as a child with her. The love and the preciousness of it. And try to reach out, but not even your arms are in the picture of your sight anymore. No periphery vision now. Because you’ve disappeared into the memory. And its blissful to just watch. And in the watching you wonder, is the trick to this happiness the not being here part? And you think about your presence and the pain in your gut. And then it’s gone. The memory and the pressure. But you feel the wrestle itself. Because you battle now. On the carpet, or the couch, because its 5am now. And all you can think is why is the not being there part so freeing? And you brain tells you that’s the trick. Disappearing that is. That’s the end of the combat. The way you will be released.

So, you close your eyes again, and for some reason rocking helps. The feeling of the cradle you have around yourself makes it worthwhile. And you’re back in the room, and you sit there. Alone. And you want the memory, but all you see are you and your sister, faceless, motionless on the floor, and sucked into a blackness of no more. Like dead discarded dolls. And you are scared to death at the thought of it, because the ringing in your ear becomes a broken siren. A train approaches. And you hear it skipping now. Its repeats. And it repeats and repeats, and you don’t know why, and its 6am now, and you find yourself just standing there outside. You smoke a cigarette and talk to your lover, and he watches you too. So, you apologise, because you lost the thought, you forget the meaning. What were you saying? And you see a little confusion in his eyes, so you decide to say no more anyway.

But it’s that gnawing you see. You feel how fucking ashamed he is. Or is it; you see it in his confusion or was it the way he said ‘its ok’ or was it because you think he wants someone else. A woman. A strong one at least. And you haven’t bathed for two days. Or was it yesterday. Or this morning? Can you smell yourself? Do you feel like grime? But you’re clean. But it’s those mites. And when he looks at you. You wouldn’t want to fuck yourself either. And your skin starts to itch again. It has also started to bleed. But you don’t show him or say anything. You just watch the outside now and smoke the grey and breath. And its 10am now and you think the silence is where you find a need. If you’re silent and say nothing, then you aren’t here at all. And he’ll get used to it, he won’t miss you, just like now, just as you sit there beside him and think about how freeing it would be. Just the quiet, the silence, like how a coffin would seem.

And then you think about caskets, and you think about lovers, and you wonder if that train will take you there? You scratch a little more, and bleed a little more, and the blood oozes out like trainlines out of your skin like red bloody itching to get you there. And you watch that train, on your skin, you watch it like a long track along your thigh, and you think about dead loved ones, and you think about their faces. You think about the end of the destination. On your skin. Will they wait for you? And salute.

And you wonder if it’s a coincidence that train cars look like coffins, and wonder if dead tracks are made for heads. Those heads.  The ones covered in mites, the ones that you can’t seem to shake, and you think about your sister, and you think about the laughs, and you can hear them there. You can hear them at the end of the line, and you laugh again. It’s a secondary madness. And its 11am now, and you think it’s funny now. You think the lover isn’t your lover. And he’s not here anymore. He’s at the destination, and he laughs, cause he’s waiting for you, with those magots, he’s waiting for you to die. Because if you do then he’ll be free. Not just you. When he’s free, he’s happy. And you want to find the train, and you know he loved you once. And you hated him for it. Wished he wouldn’t. Then it would be different. Because if I let go, and fly in front of that train. Away from the platform.

Well maybe he’ll hate me then too.

Amy-Jean Muller is an artist, writer and poet from South Africa who lives and works in London. Both her art and writing explore culture, memory, mental health, identity, femininity and sexuality. She has exhibited her art in South Africa and London. Her writing can be found in various publications and is a regular contributor for Versification, The Daily Drunk and Poetry EIC for Outcast Press. Her poetry book, Baptism by Fire, was released in January 2021. She also writes transgressive fiction and is currently completing her first novel and a collection of short stories.


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