Janelle didn’t want to look down.
As she half-smiled weakly at the faces peering up at her in shocked silence, she wondered why she always had her face on. It seemed completely unlikely under the circumstances that she would be fully made up, but she always was: brows filled in, undereye shadows scrupulously concealed, lips her usual shade of “Juicy Revolution Red.” The moment passed and the silence gave way to whispers and giggles. Soon it would be outright laughter among her classmates, resounding off the chalkboard that framed her torso. Another naked-in-front-of-the-classroom dream, Janelle thought. How original. She glanced down at the desk; this time, the report was on the recent discovery of ancient Etruscan pottery shards and their implications for modern reconstructions of the civilization’s demise. She sighed and gripped the report to her chest as she dashed for the door, assaulted by the tide of derisive hoots.
Waking up was a relief when it happened. Janelle dimly remembered the naked dream, which had gone on to involve a horse and a dog and also, confusingly, chocolate mousse and someone named Kara. That name felt familiar. She heard it often, lately, echoing in her head. Was it outside her head, though? Something felt slippery about the name. But there was no one here called Kara. No one named Kara was on this train.
There were plenty of things to wonder about the train: where it was going, who had chosen the terrible yellow color of the curtains, why the tables in the dining car were still Formica as if it hadn’t been updated since the 1970s. Janelle was sure that it wasn’t the 1970s, but there weren’t any calendars in the train to check. Perhaps the conductor had a calendar, but he was also a mystery. Janelle corrected herself: perhaps he or she had a calendar. She wondered the most about the scenery outside the windows: it faded a little with the days, and if you moved to a new car and a new window, it was different. But if you looked too closely out a window, you could see the tree-ish mountains not-moving very stolidly. They were not-moving all day, every day. They looked as if they were made of brushstrokes, or dots of ink from a stamp, but that wasn’t right. Janelle knew that scenery moved by, when one stood at the window of the train. And that landscape wasn’t made of paint. It couldn’t be right that they were not-moving. She unsnapped the clip holding the blind up and let it roll to the base of the window so the scenery could move or not-move on its own, out of sight.
The main thing Janelle could do was to walk up or down the train and seek out the others. They weren’t always there, but she could often find Cleo or Pony or Eric hanging out in another car, passing the time. Sometimes they were having tea, or at least, sometimes they had a tea set. She got ready to start the day of walking. Walking and seeing the others was, so far, a lot more interesting than wondering about the train. They didn’t know any more than she did, but at least they moved more than the scenery outside the windows. And anyway, if she made it far enough down the train, she had other window scenes to look at, even if they were not-moving. No one else seemed worried about the scenery, but Janelle couldn’t quite forget about it.
It is strange to find yourself in a location other than the place where you fell asleep. But Janelle woke up in a different car, slumped over one of those Formica dining tables. She shook herself slightly, wondering if she’d had the naked dream again. What would a psychologist say?, she wondered. Always naked in front of everyone, and that girl named Kara again. Maybe I have a problem. There wasn’t a psychologist on the train. Janelle wasn’t sure why she knew about psychologists, but like the tea set and the dim sense of how scenery should behave, the knowledge seemed to have been a part of her forever.
Yesterday, the others hadn’t been available. It was hard to say where they went when they weren’t in the other cars. Janelle wondered if sometimes, she wasn’t in any of the cars either. This was one of her least favorite things to wonder about; it made her mouth dry and interfered with her breathing. Wherever “there” was, outside the train, it seemed like a long way off. And how would she get there? Pony might know, but Pony was the hardest to talk to.
Janelle wasn’t sure she was ready to wake up, after all. She settled her head back on the Formica; even the naked dream, which probably meant she was disturbed, was better than wondering what was outside the train or who was running it. She drifted quickly into the twilight of her sleep, where she realized once again:
The whole class is staring at me. Why would they be staring?
The giggles started to drift across the classroom.
She tipped her head slowly to check. No shirt. She sighed.
“Kara! It’s dessert! I’m not calling you again!”
She fumbled with the doll’s clothes, trying to pull them off quickly so she could pull the pretty cherry-patterned dress on before she had to go downstairs.
“Kara! NOW! I’m going to give your mousse to your sister!”
“I’m comiiiiiiiiiiing!” she yelled back. She gave up on dressing the doll, propping her instead against the little slate chalkboard on her floor. “Sorry, Janelle,” Kara whispered. “I’ll be back soon. I’ll get you dressed up so you can look nice.” She scampered towards the door, glancing back at the toy train where her My Little Pony was standing on a tiny built-in Formica table while another doll was having a tea party with a half-cat, half-woman action figure she called Cleo. Kara smiled and shut the bedroom door behind her.
by Tyler K. Cassidy-Heacock
by Jennifer Green Fais