The Boat Train by Kevin O'Cuinn
Associate editor Joshua Brewer on today's new fiction: Kevin O'Cuinn's "The Boat Train" pulls a lively cadence from the most sure form of travel: a boat train, a vessel with the sole purpose of delivering a body to another vessel of passage, a notion formally mirrored by the work's single-paragraph structure. At stake here is the movement of bodies and transport of minds to ends which are so sure that they are pointless.
The Boat Train
He wakes on The Boat Train, unsure&uncaring if it’s going east or west, where east is random and west is home. His allotment is a crusty seat in an aquarium of cheese; room for eight. He wonders who made this reservation and if there’s a timetable. Who and If—and WTF: there is no way he queued for a ticket, for this or anything, and no other way he would or could have planned arrangements of this magnitude—something, he just knows it, that will involve borders, travel documents and off-the-rack uniforms in bad haircuts. There was no shrill whistle, no All aboard, but there was steam, lots of, and slamming—the way a train door slammed, the way only a train door slammed, before that too was lost to electrode clusters during the last techno update, before his number flipped. Before it was his turn, and he ran. Beside him, window seat, a frocked-out nun, wimple and all, probably a dissident fleeing, it’s a popular disguise. Can’t trust the clergy. Passengers smile and say Sister this/Sister that. They offer Custard Creams and Milky Moo Mints, the big white goo of them. He wishes himself back—under—and fakes falling eyes, a snore that’s hardly audible. The Boat Train splits the night and a rock shatters the window and most of Sister’s face. Red the only colour now, red only ever. The seats launch a chorus of curses that’s light on blasphemy (against the odds, he’ll think much later). Someone procures toilet paper and a yellowed shirt that stinks of smoke, and they go to work on nullifying the mess. It’s official: he’s awake. Sister shakes them off, lights up and sucks hard; blocks the pain. Curses give way to tuts and head-shaking. There’s talk of shame, then quiet, and he can taste the sea coming through where the window used to be. West, definitely west. At least there’s that.
Kevin O'Cuinn lives and loves in Frankfurt, Germany. He is Prose Editor at Word Riot.