Strangers on a train

So earlier this week I went down to New Haven to give a reading. I was paired with Susan Barr-Toman, whose debut novel, When Love Was Clean Underwear, is absolutely wonderful. It’s like an Anne Tyler novel, only not horribly, horribly annoying.

The train ride down was largely uneventful, until about 10 minutes before my stop. I’d finished the work-related reading I’d brought with me, and was reading a horror novel (Dan Simmon’s Carrion Comfort, which I am also enjoying greatly). I was wearing a grey turtleneck and tights, a red tweed skirt, an olive pashmina scarf, and black pearls. I am telling you this so you can get a visual image of me: an unaccompanied woman in early middle age, conservatively dressed and made up, reading a horror novel. I don’t know what it was about this combination that made the young man approach me.

He was in his early 20’s, appeared to be Latino, and was obviously gay. He came down the aisle and stopped by my seat.

“Excuse me, miss?”
“Do you have any cover-up?”
“Cover-up.” He turned and bared his neck to me — interesting choice, given that I was reading about vampires. “I just realized I have a hickey, and my parents are coming to pick me up at the train station, and they will kill me. Do you have any cover-up? I’ll pay you.”
I shook my head. “I have concealer, but that’s lighter than my skin, and look”–I pushed sleeve up and put my arm against his–“you’re darker than I am anyway.”
“Oh, it doesn’t have to be perfect, I’ll be sitting on the passenger side”–the hickey was on the right side of his neck–“just enough to hide until I get home.”
“Oh, wait! I have eyeshadow primer! That’s darker and it stays on longer anyway. Okay, get yourself over here.” I moved my bag and motioned to him to sit down. I dug through my cosmetics bag and pulled out the primer. “Here we go.”
I applied primer all over the hickey, dabbed it with my finger to blend it in, and put some powder on to set it. I turned on the overhead light and showed him the mirror of my compact. “There. How does that look?”
“Oh, that’s perfect! You’ve saved my life!”

We exchanged names and he offered to buy me a drink, and I’d have been so happy to have taken him up on it, were we not approaching my station. I wonder how amused he would have been to know that getting people out of sticky situations is my business, though rarely do I get to do so in such a concrete fashion?

Wherever you are, Eric, I hope you got home safely. And I hope that some day you can come out to your parents, or go far away from them, and live the life you need to live without concealment or concealer. And in the meantime, let us both cherish a moment of the kindness of strangers on a train.

UPDATE: Thank you for the love, you all, but I seriously did not write this as some kind of tribute to myself. It was just a moment that struck me as both profoundly human and profoundly odd — and, given the whole vampire angle, a bit amusing — and I wanted to share it. My deepest hope, actually, is that one of my creative-writing friends will use this little vignette as the inspiration for a short story!

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