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Chardonnay

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She perches delicately on the velvet cushions, a glass of chardonnay lightly clutched within her fingertips.
Her outfit is the embodiment of the American flag; a frilly crimson blouse, new jeans, and a paperwhite leather belt. Layers of freshwater pearls adorn her neck, and crystal bangles rest fragily on her wrists. Passersbys question her extravagant garments with jealousy; why choose to dress up for a simple school trip?
She dismisses them with a lighthearted chuckle. Because it’s their very first field trip, she’d subtly brush it off, why not commemorate it like a holiday?
Then the other parents would gush at her dedication to the children, admiring her unwavering love towards her son, who was one of the students on the field trip. Their saccharine voices, oozing honey and dripping envy, are as fraudulent as their smiles.
The woman’s suddenly exhausted, retreating back to her passenger car. Whether her fatigue is caused by too much judgement and faux praise or her lavish heels, she’s unsure. Her mind’s already clogged up with too much alcohol and a hazy sense of irritation. The train has barely left the station, and she’s already yearning to return home.
No, she doesn’t want to go back home, she bitterly decides.
The woman touches the cream pearls on her neck, well aware of every bead’s worth and value. The necklaces and bracelets were her mother’s, and the subject of inheritance is the only topic her mind focused on. On some days, a flute of champagne is enough to clear her head. On others, she has to venture inside the pantries for bottles and bottles.
“You don’t work, Daniel makes next to nothing, and all you ever do is burn through your trust fund and leech off of mother’s money,” Veronica had snarled. “I’m not letting you touch a penny of mom’s house or inheritance.”
She shakes her head, unsuccessfully trying to forget about her familial issues.
“I need air,” she murmurs to herself, stepping towards the exit door. Surprisingly, it’s unlocked, and she follows a line of weary repairmen outside. An announcement rings out from inside the train, but she’s too distracted to pay attention.
Not quite knowing where she’s heading, she curiously tags behind the grey-dressed men. They slip into the space between two cars in the back, and judging by their quiet whispering, something requires fixing.
The man in the front of the line points to a group of beams connecting the two cars. A loose wire on the back of the train car has partially peeled off and entwined itself around the beams. The leader of the men taps a particular crooked beam with his wrench, and everyone retrieves their tools to start the repairing process.
Anticipating dust and rust and other filthy sediments from the train components, the woman stops at the entrance of the gap and sips her wine, not sure why she chose to follow the men in the first place. She observes silently as the workers detach the loose wire with a bolt cutter and abandons it on the nearby dirt.
The space between the cars is filled with grunts and heaves as the workmen straightens the beams and adds screws. One lazy worker sluggishly pulls at his designated beam, putting little to no effort on the metal. The leader doesn’t notice, and when the rest of the men have repaired their beams, he beckons for the crew to re-enter the train. The lazy worker pauses, glancing nervously at his unfinished work, shrugs, then hastily joins the line of workers.
Instead of obediently following the men, the woman’s eyes remain affixed to the metal beams. The lazy worker has left his toolbox on the ground, his beam still crooked and unfixed. Five rough roles form a squiggly, snake-like line on the beam, and only four contain screws.
“I don’t want to go back in,” the woman slurs to herself, and the truth in her words sounds louder and deeper than she has expected. She shakes her head. “The chardonnay must be getting to me.”
She giggles, takes a few hesitant steps, and trips on the train tracks. Putting an arm out to break her fall, she unknowingly slips inside the gap where the repairmen have been just a second ago. Her eyes gaze intensely at the one crooked beam, the jagged bend unstraightened and restrained only by four loose, careless screws.
The woman teeters in her stilettoes, slightly unconscious. Her arm swoops down, reaching the plastic toolbox and finding a hefty screwdriver. The chardonnay has made her giddy and lightheaded, half rebellious and half childishly mischievous. In shaky, maniacal motions, she hacks at the screws until they fall lifeless on the train tracks.
“There,” she whispers. “It’s free.”
Another announcement blares on inside the train, and she startle, dropping the screwdriver. Tossing the toolbox away and wiping off the machine oil from her fingers, she steps out from the gap. With one hand on the side of the train for support, she stumbles towards the train entrance and heads back inside. As she strolls towards the caboose, a little girl walks into her path. In her hand she holds a small, orange cylinder.
“I stole it from my father,” the girl says. “Do you want it?”
The woman bends down to face the little girl. She gingerly plucks the tube from her hand and examines the contents. “Thanks, Heather.”
Flipping open the plastic lid, the woman slowly shakes out one pill, then another, and then yet another. Her hand and the container form an hourglass, the orange tube slowly emptying the beady pills into her palm.
She hesitates, her palm brimming with decision. Unexpectedly, Heather grabs her unoccupied hand and squeezes comfortingly. There isn’t pity or judgement in the little girl’s eyes; instead, they glow with a quiet serenity.
“My mother did the same thing,” Heather whispers. “She was always really sad before, but I think she’s happy now.”
Marie nods and throws her head back, letting the pills, letting death, consume her. Her vision begins to fade, and her last sight is of Heather’s innocent, angelic face. Squeezing her hand back, Marie murmurs, “Thank you.”
Billy sprints away from the scene as fast as his stubby legs can carry him. Not a minute passes before the train cars disconnect and become airborne, and the passengers are flung into the air like discarded dolls. Then the disembodied train lands, the collision turning bodies cold and lifeless.
The brilliant sunset smiles peacefully down on the wreckage, the sunlit clouds dyed a deep crimson-red and the afternoon sky the hue of new denim.




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