Shenton prepares, uncertainly, for his first ever gay date.
I browsed a little on my own that afternoon, got a bite to eat, browsed a little more, but I restrained myself, made a determined effort not to look too deeply anywhere, because I felt that I wanted to share things with Ben, to discover things with him.
One shop intrigued me especially: Bagshott’s. It had been shut, I think, when I was last in Corktown. It was big, ramshackle old town house, just off the main square, and it was packed with all kinds of dusty, uncared for oddities. It was like the first shop we had visited, only twice as full, twice as disordered, twice as messy. There, in the hot, dry, scarcely stirring afternoon air, I swooned a little at the thought of the place, but I could not say why it affected me so. I only stepped into the sunken doorway, peered inside. A sign on the open door caught my attention: “When this shop is closed, please feel free to take any of the books in this doorway. 50p each. Or borrow them if you like.” There was a tall, sagging wooden bookshelf under the canopy of the entrance, which was obviously left there, unprotected when the shop was closed. I saw that it had more than the usual trash you’d expect to find on a give away stack. It had interesting, intelligent, challenging books of literature and philosophy on it, old, tatty copies, for sure, but good books, proper books: Melinda Forsign’s Capital of Change; Alison Percival’s Soul to Soul; Conrad Neurith’s Bankless. Books to conjure with. I peeped one more time inside the shop, saw the chaos of untidy, rowdy, rioting shelves and stacks, and loved what I was seeing.
A woman emerged from the back room, which was separated off from the main ground floor section by a grubby, crimson curtain. She had a face of tender, worn, weathered, tempered, gentled experience – a squarish, understanding face. Her greying hair was cut neatly, boyishly. She was perhaps ten years older than me, though her amber and oak eyes, which flashed at me as they noticed me hesitating in the doorway, were full of bright youthfulness and energetic expectation. She came to greet me. “We are open, yes,” she said, in a mild, lyrical Scots accent. “Does it frighten you, the spread of it all?” she added, smiling at her own folly, sweetly.
“Are you open tomorrow?” I wondered.
She nodded, simply, certainly.
“We’ll see you then,” I said, and smiled a goodbye, which she mirrored beautifully, encouragingly.
I felt that something perfect had just occurred and decided that I had to retreat to my room now. The day could not improve on this fine, right connection.
I took to my bed and read Squire Me from cover to cover. I found it puzzlingly erotic. It seemed to be a male voice, yearning to be treated like a woman, asking to be allowed, to be forced to take on a feminine guise. I found the idea of the book’s queerness exhilarating. It was essentially coy, being written so long ago, but it’s sexual drives emerged anyway, stirring my growing gayness further with each new little prose-poem. The fact that Ben had bought the book for me was particularly pleasing, tantalising.
When I’d finished reading, I wondered to myself, “What will happen tonight? Will he want to do the whole gay sex thing? Am I up for that, capable of that?” I felt apprehensive, yes, but excited too. I was, perhaps, ready for a new life.
I decided to take a bath, in the tiny, squeezed-in en suite. I’ve always loved a bath, and had requested one when made my booking. Shaving at the tiny sink was an odd, elbows and knees affair, as I tried to cope with the misshapen layout of this cupboard of a bathroom. Meanwhile the bath filled with belting hot water, and the little space steamed up nicely, though this made the mirror cloud and shaving became even more of game, as I blindly guessed if I was getting everything away.
Then I was in the fierce, encompassing water, feeling wombed, contained, held in a firm grip, embraced by total, enveloping warmth. I stretched out my body, felt the aches slide out of it, looked at my long, lean legs and my slender, nipped torso. I’d lost weight lately, was feeling fitter, stronger, finer than I had for some time.
I touched my face and it felt especially smooth. Somehow, in the steamy little en suite, struggling to get a straight stance at the sink, I’d managed to give myself a particularly fine shave. A thought and a memory came to me, almost at once. The thought was something like this: “But look at all that hair on your body. Really, you should shave that off too.” But the memory elbowed that thought out of the way, quickly. One day, when I was at university, before the madness, for sure, I had taken a bath in the late afternoon and had shaved my face blind whilst in the bath. An hour or so later, I’d gone to dinner in the college hall, and sat opposite Jack, a pretty-faced, cool, easy-going guy, whom I never really spoke to, but who always friendly and smiling when I saw him. I remembered, there in my B and B bath, the look on Jack’s face when I sat down on the other side of the long table from him, that evening in college. He had stared, unblinking, really taking me in, appearing shocked, or surprised at least, seeming to be transfixed for a moment or two by me, my face. “You got a really good shave there, Shenton,” he said, as if by instinct, then he blushed, actually blushed, and quickly looked down at his food.
I thought of Jack: his big, gentle, easy face, his sweetness, his lively, searching, smiling eyes.
Then another memory came to me. This is often how it is when I bathe – letting the thoughts drift through me, closing my eyes, slipping off into memories, daydreams, wishes.
The next memory was from a meeting I attended in London with one of the senior directors of the firm I work for. She’s notorious – an amazingly beautiful, stunning, leggy, coltish, sashaying specimen of raw female power and allure. She took me out to lunch that day at a the restaurant in the National Portrait Gallery – the view from the huge windows there is just too perfect: over Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column and Big Ben Tower in the background. Kate, the boss lady, looked especially amazing that afternoon – little black dress, legs like exclamation marks, fine in black stockings, her long black hair trailing behind like a wild, fine mane, her face so slightly made-up, so fresh, so sheer, so absolute. As we stood at the bar, I became aware of a pair of soft, enquiring eyes upon us. I was not surprised: when you were with Kate, guys were always looking your way. I glanced across and saw a man, a simple, easy-going, poised, self-contained sort of guy, in a fine, open necked shirt, with a bold, tanned, healthy-looking face, a sort of openness, a sort of readiness in his soft, ample, uncomplicated manner. He was at ease with his good looks, you might say. Next to him was a young, pale, porcelain sort of woman, in a white, chic, halterneck, chiffon dress. She had a boy’s haircut, that showed off her fine, cheekish, mild, pretty face, and she had long, straight, bare legs that seemed to go from the floor to ceiling in two fine parallel lines. I took them in, this handsome, beautiful couple, wondered a little about the boldness of the man, who seemed friendly, tender, not a leering creep in the normal way. He was, all the time, showing little signs of consideration to his date, something which added to this sense of his good nature. I noticed him pointing things out in the magnificent view, touching her bare shoulder sweetly, asking her if she wanted anything, would like her jacket brought, had seen the specials board. I couldn’t quite hear the things he was saying – they were just out of earshot; he talked in a husky, discreet voice; and I was trying to pay attention to Kate, and her pounding brilliance about strategy and forecasts. But still, I was very aware that the cute guy’s eyes were on us, more than coincidentally: he was inspecting us, scrutinising, approving, enjoying what he saw, storing the image for his own delectation.
There in my hot bath in the Corktown Bed and Breakfast, I remembered that day in the fine London restaurant, and I recalled how we had sat not far away from the guy and his slim, boyish girlfriend when we went to eat, and how his provocative glances had continued. And I remembered that I had slowly, almost reluctantly, resistantly come to the realisation, on that fine day in London, in the too-well-air-conditioned restaurant, that the pretty guy was not ogling Kate at all – she had her back to him throughout the meal, anyhow. He was checking me out, all this time. He was giving me the glad eye. When, as our main courses were being served, I had finally concluded that this interpretation of his behaviour was unavoidable, in a slow-motion moment, I had, for a few seconds only, given way to what his eyes were proposing. A strange feeling had come over me: my stomach felt punched, ground up, interfered with; the blood fled to my middle; I tingled there, stirred, swelled; I felt a little dizzy: caught, exposed, revealed. Something like shame or guilt or fear coldly shot through me, and I liked the danger, the vertigo-like nausea that it infected me with. I looked at him, across the room, saw his enquiring, drawn, confident eyes resting on me, finding me, caressing me with their approving gaze, and I melted away into a girlish, feminine, pretty, curtsying little faggot, there and then: I felt transformed, for an instant, into the gayest, sweetest, cutest little queer that had ever stepped out into the air. The blue sky, the height of our position, the uplifting inspiration of his fascinated stare all came together to make me feel rare, breathless, fresh, alive. I felt, as he looked back at me again, and let the faintest smile play tantalisingly on his full, fine lips, as if I were his girlfriend; I was wearing a short, bouncing, flouncing dress; I had the legs that would not stop, so smooth, so sheer; I was taut, pretty, bending, light, flighty, elegant, womanly, fine. He made me feel transformed. I was naked, discovered, found out, liberated. I wanted, in those moments, to be protected by his approval, embraced by his fondness, elevated by his desire.
It had happened quickly, that day, after the long, slow, uncertain build up. And I had shaken off the feeling very soon too. I had engaged with Kate and her business patter, and had only looked over at my flagrant beau a few more times. I suppressed all the feelings, the turbulence, the desire that had momentarily possessed me, and I had made sure that I would not be thinking about such things again any time soon. The champagne that Kate had plied me with had gone to my head – that was all. I refocused, forgot about my handsome spy.
But there, in the raging heat of the bath, there in Corktown, in the flush of gay interest that Ben had inspired me to consider that day, I remembered the pretty, curious man. I even remembered, for the first time in so long, the sweet smile we exchanged as he left with his too sleek, too gorgeous girlfriend. He passed my table and made his eyes meet mine. His crumpled, regretful, allowing smile must have been mirrored by my own: we understood each other in that silent exchange. I had, for a second or two, understood something about myself. Then I had pushed the thought deep down into me, and got on with living my quiet, uninspired life.
The bath water was cooling just a little. I opened my eyes, looked at what I had felt but not consciously acknowledge – my huge, bursting-forth erection, which my hand now carefully caressed. I felt more aroused, more alive, more turned on than I had ever felt before. Every cell of my body was fizzing, reaching, swelling, expanding, burgeoning, becoming. I was ready to explode.
I managed to sustain the thrill for longer than I might have expected to manage. I brought myself off, gushingly, freely, torrentially, feeling the waves of abandonment roll through me, crash upon me like great, fresh surges of relief and satisfaction.
Then I was done, and the only thought remaining was: “How queer are you, Shenton!” This was not a question. The only question was why I had not been willing to acknowledge this side of me before now.
I dozed a little in my bath, recovered my equilibrium.
The afternoon was wearing on towards evening. The heat seemed to be rising, as I dressed for my first ever gay date.
I dressed in my fine, slim-cut, tailored Italian suit, loving the little collar, the neatness of line at the breast pocket, the tightness of the trousers. I had a pressed cotton shirt – white. I wore it open-necked. Then I tickled up my hair into a spiky little scruff of poised darkness, and found myself stroking my hollow, slight, strangely smooth face, approving of the fine lines, the prominent cheek bones, the neat little, almost feminine, chin. “Pretty boy,” I said to myself, ridiculously.
For some reason, the idea that I did not have any aftershave with me hit me hard. It seemed, suddenly, imperative that I should be wearing some sort of scent for our evening out. I remembered that there was a chemist’s at the corner, near the B and B, so I strode out to check if, by a stroke of luck, it was still open.
Serendipity was obviously the word of the day. Though it was nearly half past six, the chemist’s was not shut. I studied the little glass cabinet, in which they displayed a small selection of perfumes and colognes. One, purple tinted bottle spoke to me: Cusp, it was called. I’d seen the adverts – all queer chic: “For girls who like to tough it out; for boys in touch with their lusciousness” It had to be. Bisexual scent for my queer unveiling.
As I paid for the product, the fresh-faced boy serving at the counter eyed me smirkingly. “Date night?” he said, flirtatiously.
I nodded, feeling oddly shy.
“Who’s the lucky girl … boy?” the lad quizzed, playfully, an almost hopeful plaintive note sounded in the final word.
I flustered at this and asked him why the shop was open so late.
“Community service thing,” he said, a little crestfallen at my rebuff of his friendliness. “We do a late night once a week, for prescriptions, you know.”
I paid, then paused before I turned to leave and said, proudly, uprightly. “It’s boy, yes. I’m meeting a guy tonight. How do I look?”
The lad grinned gorgeously. “Good enough to eat,” he said. “Have fun, won’t you?”
I gave him my most involving, most enveloping smile and thanked him warmly.
He gave me a cute, mimed salute as I turned to smile at him again, from the doorway. I felt buoyed, boyed.
Back in my room, I spritzed the cologne lightly onto my face and liked its ambiguous, lemony, melony, sour-sweet smell, some sort of coppery, bronzy under-tone, almost pissy, but definitely fresh, alive, new, exotic, lightly spiced. It had allure for me, this fragrance. I hoped it would for Ben, even if I did not know what that might lead to.
“Warm,” said Ben, as he greeted me at my door, shortly before seven.
He looked so casual, so imperturbable, in his smart-casual tennis shirt and loose, pressed slacks.
“You’ll boil in that suit,” he said, still standing in the doorway of my room. Then he gently took my jacket at the shoulders and peeled it off me. “Like this, huh?” he said, solicitously, showing me how to hook it round a finger and wear it over my shoulder.
I liked being in his hands.
“Wow, you smell fantastic,” Ben muttered, as he pulled away from me. I melted a little more.
The restaurant that Ben had booked for us was an eclectic, multi-cultural, vegetarian little delicatessen. Its bold décor was a wild mix of the African, the oriental, the Mediterranean. Crimson, purple and mint green were the predominant colours. There were masks, silks, tapestries, water-colours on the walls. The menu was an exotic mix, heavy on texture and flavour and imaginative blendings. It might have been a mess, but somehow it worked, beautifully.
Ben showed me to the table, took my chair out for me, put my jacket over it with exquisite care, tended to me with cool, welcome authority.
The waitress was a sprite-faced, short-haired, tartan-shirted, short black-skirted, red-booted jaunter, a girl who was all boy. She grinned at us, encouragingly.
Ben asked me with a glance if I minded if he ordered the drinks; I nodded my assent.
“I was here last night,” he said. “They do the most amazing cocktails.” Then, when the girl was gone, he leant over to me, conspiratorially and whispered, side-glancing towards where she had been standing, “Your type, huh?”
I felt a little uncomfortable, but rather delighted. “I’m not sure I know what my type is,” I said, feeling that this was the absolute truth. I really had not thought about such things, at least not for a long time.
“Maybe I’m your guy type,” Ben said, sensing that I was trying to be diplomatic.
“May … be,” I said, winking daftly.
Ben was right about the cocktails: cinnamon, vanilla, rum … I savoured the richness, the lightness, the sweetness cut through by sharp, raw alcoholic kick. My head reeled just a little after the first heady swig.
Ben reached across the table and touched my hand, so that I looked up into his eyes and found them so blue, almost violet, really hypnotic.
“Strong isn’t it?” he said, gently. Then, chuckling, he added, “You looked so cute, shivering through it there.”
I smiled, proudly, pleased, a little confused.
“Are you OK with this?” Ben said, looking earnest, sympathetic. “I mean, this is really your first gay date, huh?”
He said this as if in surprise still – as if he’d known me for years and had assumed for all this time that I was queer. Though, I had to admit to myself, that I too couldn’t quite believe that I’d only met Ben that morning.
“You’ll have to be gentle with me,” I said, looking down at the menu, uncertainly.
Ben touched my hand again, prompted me to look up and then smiled, broadly, easily. “Nothing that you don’t want …” he said, simply, directly. I understood.
“So, you were going to tell me your life story, Benny Ben,” I said, decisively.
Ben hitched himself up and began, “Well, I was born and brought up …”
But just then the cute, dykey waitress was back, taking our orders, so the tale had to wait.
“Shall I order for you?” Ben suggested, playing at gallantry, in a way that he’d seen I liked. “This is my kind of joint, really. I’m not veggie, but I eat a lot of this kind of stuff.”
So I let him place our orders: something Thai for starters; Tunisian for mains.
The waitress made her notes, then gave Ben the sweetest, knowing look, as if to say, “Your date’s gorgeous.” I felt stunned, wonder-struck, sparked.
Ben could see my pleasure, no doubt. “She’s a sweetie, isn’t she?” he said.
I just grinned, stupidly, gulped at my cocktail and basked in what was developing into a perfect evening.
“So …” Ben sighed, comically. “My childhood, take two. I’m from South Carolina, a pretty conservative state, you know. And I was brought up in a very conventional way, church, school, college, all as expected. But I guess I always knew, always felt that …” Then a weird look came over Ben’s face. He was looking in horror over my shoulder.
I turned and saw Lionel hovering by our table, trying to smile. “I thought it was you two,” he muttered, smearingly. “So what kind of place is this, eh?” He sniffed, absurdly, then added. “Well, I’ll give it a go, I guess. Be nice to have a proper chat with two fellow biblios, eh?” And at that he barked to the waitress that he needed another place setting and dragged a chair over to join us.
Ben and I exchanged despairing looks, both knowing that we weren’t – either of us – rude enough to send him away, both caught by the need not to appear cruel in front of each other.
The waitress breezed back over and gave us both wondering looks. “Is this what you guys want?” she said, nudgingly.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Lionel interrupted, blankly, unself-consciously.
“We can’t let a fellow bookworm eat alone now can we?” Ben said, giving a lop-sided grin to the waitress that said all that needed to be said.
And so our evening was ruined. But I admired the way that Ben made the best of it nonetheless. With his quiet, subtle probing, with his forgiving, compassionate responses, he almost drew out a human side from our mollusc-like companion.
“But you do like books, I mean, as books, you know, to read, for example, don’t you, Li?” Ben said after Lionel had recounted with minute precision a story about how he tracked down the missing volume from his set of Kenton’s Complete Mysteries.
Lionel blinked at this, looked down and scraped at his half-eaten risotto then laughed a snivelling sort of laugh. “I suppose you have a point, Benjamin,” he conceded reluctantly.
Ben was so patient with him, all night. But he didn’t let Lionel dominate either, often asking me questions about the books I liked, prompting me to tell my own tales of favoured discoveries and lucky breaks. And Ben spoke eloquently about the joys of a wet, cold day, curling up in front of a real fire and disappearing into a magical volume, like Christopher Urchin’s Fantasia in Zealand.
Often, through the evening, especially when Lionel was pontificating about the intricacies of medieval binding techniques or some such arcane matter, I found myself just looking at Ben, drinking in his handsome, easy glow, his healthful, plentiful loveliness. I felt that there was something uncanny about him, something different, something familiar. I wanted to know more.
I hoped I had come across well enough, during the evening, to at least arouse some further interest from Ben.
When Lionel was especially ignorant in the manner he adopted towards our bubbly waitress, I made a point of following her and apologising. “He’s kind of autistic, I think,” I explained.
“Is he a friend of yours?” she wondered.
“Just met him today,” I replied, sighing.
“And you and your boyfriend were having such a lovely time …” she said, lightly.
I rather gasped at the sound of this unfamiliar phrase, gasped at how pleasant it sounded to me. “Oh, we were just on a kind of date,” I replied, enjoying my own effort at nonchalance.
“Well, you make an adorable couple, is what I think,” the waitress replied, before skipping off the kitchen, like a good imp from a weird fairy tale.
When I returned to the table, I saw a look of respect and understanding on Ben’s face that gave me reason to think that he liked what he had just seen. I hadn’t done it to impress him, but I was pleased that I might have achieved that effect anyway.
As the three of us walked back to the digs, I felt strangely at ease, in spite of the frustrations of Lionel’s interruption. It was a balmy, clear, still, just stirring, sort of night. The heat was palpable but not oppressive. The lightest of breezes kept the air fresh and vital. I heard music playing in the pubs on the square, voices happily intersecting, the sounds of a little town in summer, relaxing into its easy days, before the big push of the festival would crank things up and give everyone work to do.
I thought about Ben, how we seemed to understand each other, seemed to agree on lots of things, but how we were probably not very alike. I had no interest in sports, for instance, whereas he was clearly an athlete and a fan of cycling and probably other sports too. But that was a good thing. I reasoned that it is always foolish to want to find a friend, much less a partner, who shares your every choice and taste. A closeness in basic outlook is important, sure, but identity of interest, if possible, would surely be stifling. “In short,” I told myself, as we arrived at the guest house, “you’re looking for reasons to like Ben.” In truth, I didn’t really have to convince myself. There was lots to like in his kindness, his enthusiasm, his playful confidence. “If I am going to go queer anytime, it will be for someone just like him,” I told myself, smilingly.
“What are your plans for tomorrow, gentlemen?” Lionel said, as we all hesitated on the doorstep of the Bed and Breakfast.
“I thought we might try Bagshott’s” I put in, looking at Ben.
Lionel laughed. “Good luck. If only someone would take over that place and get some order there … I bet there are real treasures lurking within all that clutter and dust.”
“Sounds interesting,” Ben said. “I don’t think I’ve been there yet …”
“It’s a nightmare,” Lionel assured him, dipping his head assertively. “Things just piled up any old how, rooms full of collapsing piles, bits there that no-one has touched in years, I’d guess. If I had the time, I’d go through it … but it would take weeks of searching to find the hidden gem. Most of what I’ve seen there in the past is just trash.”
“Sounds intriguing,” Ben said. “I’m with you, Shenty boy.”
Lionel shifted uneasily, evidently fearing that he might be missing out on something. “Well, if you insist, I could be persuaded to drag along with you … It’s my last day tomorrow. Got to get back to mother.”
Ben put an arm round Lionel, perfectly. “You have your worries, don’t you, Li?” he said. “We’ll meet you there at 12, say. I’ve got stuff to do in the morning.”
“That suits, that suits,” Lionel replied. “There’s a lovely little antiquarian place that I’ve been saving for my last day. I’ll start there in the morning. Join you at Bagshott’s later. See if we can’t rummage something up out of the chaos, eh?”
Ben looked at me, and I knew what the look meant. This would have to be the end of the evening, but at least we had tomorrow morning together, uninterrupted.
Then, as I was turning to trudge up the steps to the front door, he put a soft hand on my shoulder and held me back, before reaching deftly inside my jacket for the inner pocket – I was wearing it now, so the gesture was teasingly intimate – and taking out my phone. He handed it to me, and I unlocked it, then he took it back and rapidly put his number in for me. The whole operation was carried out in an assured, knowing silence. I stared at him, wondering. The click and clink of the key in the door – Lionel obliviously making his way towards his room – woke me from my trance.
“So we’ll text,” I said, amused, pleased.
“Let’s do it, pretty boy,” Ben said, squeezing my arm, then dashing up the steps to beat the shut of the front door. I followed, meekly, happily, amazed.
So, there on my bed, I sat and waited for Ben to text. He did, soon enough. And the conversation flowed beautifully, brilliantly, hilariously, as we batted back and forth our silly, sexy, conjoining texts. Just a few doors away from each other, but too polite, too aware to move and meet, we sent wicked, wondering, wonderful messages to each other: and I was quickly convinced – Ben was someone I wanted to know, wanted to be close to, wanted to be with, all up.
“Just how gay are you Shentonian?”
“Not sure Benoshenko. You are making me wonder.”
“Good. Good. Tell me when you last thought you might be.”
“I think I have done well in suppressing these tendencies.”
“Ooo shame. Lots of fun missed out on.”
“Tell me about you. Secretive.”
“One thing you like.”
“Like slow cooking only sexy?”
“You got it. And you?”
“Like it. Music is a good thing. Well done to all concerned I say.”
“Of course. Anything in particular.”
“The usual. Machaut. Robert Wyatt. Miles Davis. Captain Beefheart. Janacek.”
“Oh the usual. I see. I could tell you my faves.”
“I could ask.”
“Go on then.”
“Ben tell me please what music you prefer.” “Funny you should ask. I like that little know 60s pop combo The Beatles.”
“Blah. Who does not? Speak again.”
“Dylan. Bjork. Of Montreal.”
“Some of which sounds good.”
“It is your turn to speak Mr Darcy.”
It got raunchier as the night wore on. It was a neat way for me to feel comfortable with some queer flirting without the embarrassment of presence impeding me. I was becoming accustomed to a new mode.
Finally, I dozed, and when I awoke I saw Ben’s “sweet dreams” text and replied with a kiss. So that was my first queer date done. I felt that I knew a little more about Ben now, knew that I liked him, but I still did not know much in the way of solid life facts.
I dreamt fitfully that night. I remember one sequence featured a recurring theme for me: train travel. In this version, I boarded a train only to be taken in hand by a handsome guard in a smart uniform, who led me briskly through the carriages. I felt as if I were being accused of something, falsely. “You’ve got the wrong person,” I kept saying. But the guard kept trying to reassure me, telling me that I looked good, looked fine, would do perfectly well for what was required. I was on the train, but nervous that I was going to miss it, that I would be abandoned on the platform, unable to catch up. Then I was in a sleeping compartment, and the guard was undressing me, slowly, seductively, and I was telling him that I wanted him to do this, very much, very much. When I was naked, I looked at myself in a long mirror and saw a fully dressed girl – a boyish one, like the waitress from the restaurant that evening – looking back at me, recognising me, approving. The train lurched forward and I stumbled into the guard’s arms.
That jolted me awake. It was still dark. I was stiff, big, big, stiff.