The details are fuzzy, as traveling with a bottle of bourbon can make details. I think my seat companion got on the train in Kansas City. Maybe she was there when I came back from the dining car, if I ate dinner late and talked a long time at the table, as I have been known to do.
She’d never had a bourbon and Coke before, but she liked it. I made us several as we rode across Kansas in the nighttime.
We both fell asleep, or passed out, whichever was the case.
I woke with daylight, my habit on trains because I never want to miss anything outside the window. I climbed over my sleeping companion, curled in her reclining leg-rest seat, and nearly planted a bare foot in a large puddle of vomit in the aisle. I stared at the vomit in surprise, and stared at the sleeping young woman, and wondered if, per chance, I was partially to blame for the puddle of vomit in the aisle.
I went to the bathroom, and when I returned she was awake.
“Are you feeling okay?” I asked, after I’d scooted past her and resumed my window seat.
“Fine,” she said.
“Was the bourbon too much for you?”
“I liked it.”
In daylight I saw that she was younger than I had guessed. Nineteen, twenty. I was early thirties, the should-have-known-better age.
“It didn’t make you sick?” I asked gently, trying to keep accusation out of my voice.
“No,” she said casually, innocently, as though I’d asked if she would like me to bring her a coffee from the cafe car.
Most people in the coach were still asleep. If the car attendant had had a chance to sleep at all, he was awake now, standing in the aisle and glowering at us. “What kind of animal makes a mess like that and just leaves it there, that’s what I want to know?”
My recollection is that she got off the train in Albuquerque. I remember her telling me something that I should have known, having grown up in the Southwest myself: there are more old cars in the Southwest because cars don’t rust out in a dry climate.
Alone my second evening on the train, I and a woman seated a few rows behind me talked. I stood in the aisle as she looked up at me and said, “I know that girl sitting by you told you she didn’t do it, but she did. She leaned over the aisle, threw up, and then didn’t do a thing about it.”
In California I told my mom the story as we had bourbon and Cokes, her drink before it was mine.
“I guess even after throwing up she still felt too bad to clean it up,” I said.
“Or she was embarrassed,” Mother said. She thought for a moment as she held her nearly empty glass poised to drink from. “It takes all kinds.”
“I suppose,” I agreed, as I got up to refresh our highballs.