Previously published with Thread Literary Inquiry Spring 2016.
I cannot say what made the moment significant as I stared outside a small window into the dreary foothills of Scandinavia. The warm notes of the morning sun ashen the overcast sky, and a dull pain pulsed through my temples strengthened by the glow outside. I was on edge, shaken by the rattle of the rusted window frame.
The air in the cabin was stale with a hint of vomit. The seats felt smooth, a wool finish, sickened with the slight crust of some prior passerby. The booze cart hadn’t been around since midnight, and I had stopped counting the hours since.
“Breakfast?” A soft voice carried through the cabin door.
I slid the metal door open to welcome a train attendant. She was quaint, but unmistakably beautiful with long blonde hair and a sly smile; the gleam in her eyes did little to mask the exhaustion weighing on her shoulders. She carried with her a cart of fruits, coffee, and assorted teas.
“Do you have any whiskey?”
She appeared confused at first, but then revealed a small bottle of Jagermeister. The sight of it made my brain flinch. I needed to cure this hangover.
“So, you don’t have whiskey?”
“Beer, wine, or aperitif.”
I looked at my watch and back at the attendant. “And what would I do with Jagermeister at seven in the morning?”
“The same you’d do with whiskey, I suppose.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “I’ll take a coffee, too.”
She poured the coffee and handed me the bottle before closing the door. I unscrewed the cap and poured its contents into the hot coffee. The warmth of the cup brought life into my hands, a familiar purpose.
Not long ago I spent my time barricaded in an art room creating a sculpture portfolio to submit to art school; I aspired to be an artist. I’d spend most my day molding raw materials into images from my imagination, and I used this expression to escape into a gentler world.
I sipped on my coffee and gagged. The bitterness from the Jager reminded me of my homeward distaste. This was my second trip abroad since I graduated high school. I gave up my aspirations for art for the rush of being a drifter with the companionship of strangers; the only side effect being an alcoholic.
I began to think about a phone call I had with my mother weeks ago in Ghent. She had again stressed the importance of higher education. I would be the first in my family to attend college, and I had been putting it off for two years now.
“I love you,” she repeated, “but I can’t help but think that if you don’t decide your future now, you never will.”
Her tone made me uneasy, and now, weeks later I struggled to overcome the feeling as I scratched at the dried vomit on the seat. With each flake I flicked from my fingernails, I thought about what my life has built up to now. I thought about the productive days in the art room with my portfolio, the sense of action, the idea of direction. I knew I could go home and finish what I started, to pursue art, but the turns in my gut felt as unsure as the day I graduated; a forbidden romance with the unknown. Maybe mom was right, but my heightened addiction to oblivion embraced me.
“I’m not ready to go home.” I murmured. No one around to hear me. Uncertainty swerved in my thoughts as the wheels screeched along the train tracks. An epiphany of white noise compelled me to grab my backpack as the world decelerated into another vacant countryside station.
I exited the train and walked down the platform. Each step distracted me from the bigger questions in my head. From behind the station the sun eradicated the obsidian morning horizon. The light ignited the remnants of the North Sea coastline, and I was soon overwhelmed by the freedom of filthy saltwater–fortitude found in forgotten doubt. I turned toward the train one last time as it was engulfed by fluorescence. I wouldn’t be going home yet. I still haven’t failed myself.