In Passing
Thursday, March 12, 2015 - Max Orkis

“Zurich-Basel departing from track eight,” says a woman’s buttery voice.

Zurich is a mispronunciation of Turicum which may itself be a variation on Turicon or possibly turris, tower or high building. Turicum’s gone. So is the turris, if it ever existed. Zurich remains. Life is so often an outcome of misconception.

Granite, marble, and iron bend in a supple morning stretch. The spokes of the glass ceilings and the muntins of the vaulted windows convert sunbeams into dust-traced pillars. Luminous squares hopscotch the station hall.

Those who work here have christened it the ‘jail bars effect.’ The cubicle-bound, the railway waiters, the bratwurst grillers are stationary, going no place. Wall-mounted flat screens flash ads. Timetables roll transient numbers at commuters. Strung up by their wings, kitsch sculptures dangle from the ceiling. Outside, the Münster bells bang.

Travelers, in- and outbound, bounce about like billiard balls on a table. They stand hurriedly in lines and each other’s space. The peaks and valleys of their vowels, their rock-hard consonants chafe and swell into an overriding acoustic itch. Scraps of conversations and silences ripple toward a two-man band. They aren’t going anywhere, either. The fiddler closes his eyes and folds his dark-haired middle-aged face on the stock of his violin. The guitarist’s bangs hang over his face. He stares at the polished floor, his disk-shaped eyeglasses as fingerprinted as a bottle of Schnapps. A bee, high on cleaning chemicals, stumbles, wings spread for balance, an acrobat.

Planted in the foreground and to the side, is Frau B. Long ago, her face must have been attractive. Now it’s simply beautiful, waves carved into her forehead, cheeks engraved with moats, her pallid eyes engaged, yet uninvolved. She wears her white hair up, her bare head towering over her slumping shoulders. Her bronzed hands with fluvial networks rest on a voluminous bag attached to a metal frame with two wheels. Shrouded by the indifference of a passerby’s glance cast at a statue, she inhabits a faded sutanesque dress. Her crooked feet are locked in off-color prescription shoes. She knows exactly who and where she is and what she’s doing, and no, she doesn’t need any help.

The lunchtime chimes dilute the musicians’ steamy “Bésame Mucho.” Notes climb like a jet plowing a trail through the sky. The violinist fends off demons, the minus of the bow athwart the neck, adding up to a holy weapon. A pause. An obscene vibrato. A couple drowns in a kiss. Applause. A dip. A tear trickles down the mist on a bottle of beer, like a run in fishnet stockings. That’ll tickle anyone’s throat.

Frau B opens the carcass of her bag and extracts a thermos and a plastic container with pills for dessert – white, yellow, blue, oval, round.

A square clock overlooks the Treffpunkt, rendezvous area, where teenagers laugh as contemptuously as their imaginations permit. Two beat cops cruise past the Information Desk. Its rookie attendant, her brows question marks, her rectangular glasses a montage of billboard reflections, points across the hall at Frau B.

Has a Polizist ever felt tempted to fill in a clerk on how the old lady’s the only person allowed to loiter outside the Treffpunkt? To bait a waitress with a story that circulates about a husband leaving from this spot countless years ago? To score points by pitching Herr B’s homecoming, the stubble on his flabby cheek scratching Frau B’s skin, their bodies intersecting, his old man’s smell, his alluring scent entering her?

Secrecy works itself into one’s blood around here. The truth is on a need-to-know basis, not to be revealed in vain, lest it be trivialized and scared off. It’s sacred as a confession when the uninitiated are informed about why Frau B stays put like a monument, timeless as the gold plus on her neck or the ingrown zero on her finger.

Would the officer even dream of leaking to the attendant that Frau B gets to hang around because she blesses people (yes, Swiss Polizei can, too, bend the rules, like the station’s arcs their surprised brows)? Or should the truth be saved for oneself? Frau B’s benedictions must be worth the hush.

The duo plays, “Et si tu n’existais pas.” Frau B dances her motionless dance with the brass skeleton of her bag, her still life partner, on the ballroom floor of the station. Afternoon rays penetrate the arched windows to produce a disco-ball effect. Light and darkness square off between the vinyl furrows suturing the tiles.

Through the open doors of the trains injected between platforms, soundtracks offer wishes candidly and indiscriminately – all passengers are bound to get off together with their baggage.

The floor now reflects electric lights. The musicians’ knuckles gallop. Frau B should know their repertoire by heart. They’re here every summer. “The music wouldn’t play,” jams the sticky guitarist on the keyboards. “The church bells all were broken,” riffs the dusty violinist on his companion’s guitar. Bells ring. It’s time. “The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, they took the last train for the coast…” Tourists.

The guitarist bows to the violin case, reaching for the day’s catch of coins. The bee’s legs are folded, gravity surmounted. The violinist nods at Frau B.

She re-animates and rolls away from the trains pulling in and out of the leviathan ribcage of the Hauptbahnhof. The tacit urban legend shuffles along Zurich’s vascular tram tracks. She blends in with a gray wall, a set of ornamental wrinkles, a groove in time. The wheels of her bag bleed fleeting lines onto the asphalt.

Published By: Thought Collection Publishing - Source: The Milo Review


Max Orkis lives with his family in the California Bay Area and works as a writer/editor in a high-tech company. His English prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Weber - The Contemporary West, Gravel, The Milo Review, Words with JAM, and Crossed Genres. His Russian poetry has been published in the 2011 Grigoryev Competition Anthology, Topos, Polutona, and Prolog.


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