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The Right Side of the Tracks


Sex had improved since they moved to the new place. They hadn’t expected that. It just happened. Well, not exactly. It was the trains. Freight trains. Long grumbly freight trains late at night, grinding past their bedroom on the way to who knows where: box cars, flat cars, grain cars, bulk chemical cars, cage-like cars with spanking new automobiles racked on top of each other three and four deep, pounding round the corner just beyond the garden shed, then hurtling past their window and off into the gloom, steel wheels screaming, sparks spitting from the rails like delinquent fireworks.

The rumble reached through the walls and into their bed, the world’s greatest vibrator, cozying up to them when they were most vulnerable, steering them into each others arms, the relentless rhythm of the passage rallying their sleep-fogged minds and bodies, so that when the silence that caught the train’s finale swept over them they fell back soaked with sweat, their brains but mush, then plunged into sleep again as firmly as if they’d leapt hand in hand off a tall cliff fully clothed and sank like a chunk of granite into the foaming sea. None of this had they foreseen. Several times a night. Night after night.

“The little engine that could,” sighed Krystel as she passed him his toast at breakfast.

“Quel caboose,” groaned Troy, still not really awake but nevertheless aware that these were the times that would sustain them later.

Troy liked this sex. He felt responsible for its success. Not to downplay Krystel’s role: it truly does take two to tango. But it was his idea that got them there. His cunning. A sly little notion that no one else had grasped. A gamble that was going to pay off handsomely. It was like money falling from the sky. Like freshly minted thousand-dollar bills piling up around them, weaving a veil around their legs, teasing their hot hard bellies, a salve on their bruised lips.

They were in love, of course. That was important. Those less impassioned, the jaded normals, would have groused about the loss of sleep and the sapping of daytime strength and focus at work: betraying the new economy. Failing the corporate team. But Krystel and Troy were oblivious to all that nonsense. No, their pivotal role in the financial well being of the nation was yet to be recognized. They loved and laughed.

They hadn’t meant to buy so close to the tracks. No one does: that’s a loser’s world. They simply wanted to live in Rosedale. It was Troy who started it all, cutting in off Yonge St. onto Crescent Road one afternoon about a year after they came to Toronto, to discover a tree-swept oasis of grand mansions, rabbit warren streets and the musty fragrance of old money bundling along with the dead leaves. He pedaled about for an hour, liked what he saw. Remembered someone dubbing it “Toronto’s tony enclave.” That tony did it. This was his destiny: Lord of the Modern Manor.

Krystel didn’t argue. She liked the idea of telling her folks back home she’d made it to Rosedale. Parents enjoy sharing such news with the neighbours. It’s heady stuff to have a daughter who dives into the nasty city and surfaces looking very shrewd indeed.

Their lack of money meant nothing. Pony, their real estate agent, whose trademark was a Christmas card which quipped that she would have called but she was a little hoarse, led them to northern streets where the houses weren’t entirely out of whack with the opulent piles farther south, shared the same postal code, but could be had for a fraction of the cost. The only problem being they would be close to the railroad. Which didn’t matter a damn, you know, because after the first few nights you don’t even notice the trains, and after several weeks their passing becomes a comforting routine, and the pros so outweigh this single con that it’s hardly worth debating. Isn’t that so, Pony declared?

Krystel squinted at her. It sort of made sense, but it sort of made crazy at the same time. Krystel’s mom and dad once lived near the tracks but she’d never heard them rave about it the way Pony did. And they sure hadn’t lingered long.

But Troy squeezed his eyes and Krystel recognized that something had tipped into place. She nodded, knowing all would be fine. Troy had a way with money. Never before at this scale, mind you, but a fellow has to grow. Maybe, she sometimes said to herself, that’s why I’m with him.

So Troy and Krystel roped together enough loot to buy a tired old place which leaned closer to the railbed than any other house in Rosedale and set their plan in motion. They ripped out the northern wall of the upstairs master bedroom, turning it into floor to ceiling windows offering a panorama of the trains passing just thirty feet away across the garden fence. They lugged in tall mirrors and fixed them to the walls abutting those windows so that from the bed over by the door they could watch the trains long before and after they actually flashed by the window. They found filters that virtually eliminated the roar when that was truly desired, but at other times, reversed the effect to give the impression that the shuddering mountain of steel was penetrating right into their bed, when that was truly desired.

The plan, in short, was to turn the con into a pro: spiff up the place to suit the fantasies of someone gaga over trains, and then sell it to just such a person. Buyers like that were out there all right. That’s the way it was in Toronto those days: when everybody worth knowing had money and recognized that spending it as quickly and quirkily as possible was a sign of personal artistry. When flipping a red-hot property was simply the teaser for the next outrageous conquest.

“God, I hope this works.” said Krystel one night soon after they started.

“We’re here, aren’t we?” said Troy, “When someone at the office asks you where you live you tell them ‘Rosedale,’ don’t you?

Krystel grinned.

“I do,” she said, “And their eyes always pop open. Yes, they know it and they’re jealous as hell.”

“And you like that, don’t you, my minx? You like that a lot.”

“My body tingles when it happens. Sometimes I pee my pants a little.”

“That’s the surest sign of all,” counseled Troy, “When a young woman pees her pants, she can rest assured she is pushing her life to the very peak of its possibilities.”

And that about summed it up.

Except that no one cared. Sure, their next door neighbor, a svelte sixty year old with bleached blonde hair who wore skin tight black jeans with burnished silver buckles and a hoop the approximate circumference of the erect male organ on her zipper, waved to them whenever she saw them, and once even paused on her porch to demand that they come over sometime and really get to know each other, but she never mentioned it again. She didn’t appear to have a husband, but a succession of young males seemed to imply she was formidably active and perhaps valued her privacy. Who would argue with that? They never did catch her name.

No one else on the street had anything to say. Maybe they were all too busy with their children and their work. There was nothing to suggest that they looked down on the fetching young couple who were working so hard to make their mark. Nothing of the sort. There was simply silence. The averting of the eye on their approach. The abrupt need to retire to their vehicles and sail off like royalty on tour whenever Troy and Krystel walked by.

For several weeks they strolled in Chorley Park after supper, hoping to make a friend. But it quickly became evident that without a leash and a dog they were not welcome, and despite their hanging about trying to show an interest in four legged buddies, few of the owners would allow them more than a cautious good evening. One dewy-eyed fellow who professed to be a director of films seemed eager to share his story, but when his pug, whose name was Humper, intimidated a retriever into rolling on its back and exposing its genitals in a submissive pose, he proclaimed that most people in Rosedale had made their fortunes in just such a way, Troy and Krystel beat a retreat.

“They know we don’t belong,” sighed Krystel.

“It’s not us,” said Troy, “It’s them. People with money know that everyone wants to take it from them. They’ll come around when they see we’re harmless.”

“Are we harmless?”

Troy grinned. He didn’t feel harmless. A hungry man is never harmless.

“Things will work out,” he said. “Trust me.”

But this assurance was no comfort at the local market when the checkout ladies in their tent-like green aprons gave Krystel the evil eye every time she offered cash to buy her miserable carton of orange juice, or when she had to brake hard to avoid a Jaguar backing out of a driveway into traffic and the finely coifed driver pulled away with nary a glance or a wave of thanks, her right to the roadway apparently ordained by God, and run into her if you want; she’d merely call the livery service for another car, and her husband, charging it all to petty cash, would hurl his lawyers at you until you were pounded to dust.

“Even when we’re rich we’ll be poor,” said Krystel one day as they waited for the bus.

Troy squinted at her, waited for her to finish.

“They have more money than we can even imagine,” she went on, “There’s no reason for anyone to talk to us. We’re like bums picking cigarette butts out of the gutter.”

“You’re exaggerating just a little.”

“No,” said Krystel, after a moment. “No, you’re off the mark on this one. We’re not even on their radar. We’ll never be.”

“And does that matter?” said Troy.

Krystel nodded. Chuckled.

“You’re right,” she said. “It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t affect us at all. We’ve got our own plan. We’re going to do it our way. But…”

“But what?”

“It would be nice if someone rich said hello to us every so often.”

But still, the sex was good. They had shoved the bed right up against the window now, so surrounded on three sides by either the real thing or a mirror image, the trains couldn’t possibly be any closer. Troy was shy at first, fearful that the people who powered the great diesels would catch sight of their exertions and report them to the police or whoever it was that protected decent citizens from the sight of the naked. But Krystel liked sitting atop him, and from this angle Troy recognized that their dark room in the black of night was a blank wall to anyone staring into it, and that the clipped instant when the engine’s leering headlight cut across the corner to splinter against their window was hardly enough to reveal anything to even the most voyeuristic engineer.

In fact, his anxiety careened to the other end of the emotional spectrum as he discovered that the lightning-like illumination of his wife’s naked torso, head tossed back in savored agony, taut breasts glistening, her hands spread wide crucifixion style as she thrust herself up and down on him, drove him to even fiercer efforts himself. And when they occasionally overshot the train’s long climactic grind, there was unexpected drama in Krystel’s protracted wail as her body eased over the top while the comforting little red light on the back of the trailing car slowly retreated past her buttocks in the mirror. Her panting dominating the sudden silence, his own gasp followed quickly.

“Jesus,” Krystel pleaded as she slumped forward onto his chest, “We can’t sell this house. It’s magic.”

“God help the new owners,” Troy moaned, “We should warn them.”

“Warn them?”

“Advise them.” Troy corrected.

But he meant, “warn” them. For Troy was beginning to suspect that Krystel’s passion was not entirely of his making. He could see it in the morning when she tottered down the hall, her eyelids flickering as she struggled for wakefulness, her hands reaching for the walls, her grateful groan as she dropped into her chair and leaned over the table.

“Oh God,” she said. “Mother never said it could get this good.”

And smiled plaintively, as if seeking forgiveness for appreciating it so much.

He could see it at night as well, in the darkness when they made their union, the way she dissolved, content, even eager it seemed, to discard her individuality, tossing her fate to the unseen gods of pleasure who bore her farther and deeper than she had ever known into the murky wonders. Oh sure, it was his body she reached for and his body she rode on her voyage. But something else had claimed her soul. Something else. He was, he recognized, or thought he could recognize, simply part of the pit crew.

And he could see it as well when he came back unexpectedly during the day to catch her gasping on the kitchen floor, her eyes red from the sweat dripping off her forehead, her hands trembling as she tried to explain how the afternoon express for Montreal and points east had forced her out of her clothes and onto her knees. The first few times she had blushed and tried to apologize for her weakness, but now she merely shrugged and stumbled off to the shower.

“A train is not that exciting.” he called after her.

“Not exciting at all,” she said. “Not at all.” And winked at him over her shoulder as if she were dealing with a fool.

Perhaps Troy was a fool. Who knew? In the long run many a fool has been judged a genius. But in the short term? Hard to say. Certainly not so foolish as to pull back from the joyous gymnastics that now ruled his nights. But foolish enough to think too much afterwards. Foolish enough to decide that his manly self-respect depended on getting out of this house as quickly as possible.

“Faster,” he demanded of Pony, “We’ve got to move this place faster.”

“Trouble with the payments?” Pony probed.

“No. The trains affect Krystel. It’s getting to me.”

“Trouble sleeping?”

“Yah, trouble sleeping.”

But Pony, like any good salesperson, was a more acute judge of clients’ minds than Troy realized. She took advantage of a private moment with Krystel to delve deeper, and Krystel couldn’t resist blurting out the truth. What the hell, no one else would be her friend.

“No,” gasped Pony, her palms pressed to her chest, “Really?”

“Fabulous,” pronounced Krystel, “Unbelievable.”

“Oh my,” whispered Pony, sweet vibrations, like tipsy butterflies, suddenly adrift in her gut, “This really does seem important.”

“Oh yes. Quite so.”

A few words here, a few words there. That’s all it took. Pony knew how. It was her job. People talk. Her open house that weekend attracted almost two hundred potential buyers, most of whom devoted their time to the bedroom. Many of them went so far as to try out the bed. Sprawling on it for a moment, that is. Testing the view from the mirrors. Peeking into the bedside tables in the hope of finding evidence, jellies, whips, strap-ons, whatever, anything that might in some way confirm that the rumors were true. They found nothing.

But the offers came anyway. Pony called shortly after six o’clock. There would be two in the morning. Called again an hour later. Five now, and a sixth in the offing. Drove over at eight. Ten offers. The most she’d ever had on a listing. Let the auction begin. She’d phoned the newspaper. They loved it. They’d headline it in the Your Money section as soon as the deal was signed: The Right Side Of The Tracks.

Troy paced back and forth between the kitchen and the front door. His hands were trembling, his heart pumping double time. Every so often he would pause, clench his fist in front of his face, smash an invisible opponent over the ropes, then give out a whoop and start pacing again. It was working. They’d done it. They could do it again. They would do it again. They were on their way to riches. He was so smart.

Krystel watched him from the sofa. She loved him like this. At his best. Brimming with fire, like a knight charging off to battle the steaming dragon. He really was her hero.

Far away she could hear the 9:20 from Chicago rumbling towards them. She squeezed her hands in her lap, gave off a low involuntary gasp. No, it was already too close; they couldn’t make it upstairs in time. And Troy wasn’t ready yet anyway. It was better to work off some of that energy downstairs. Upstairs she would need him firm and steady, dedicated to the task, not running off with himself too early. He was still young and he could recover quickly, but a miscue, however temporary, always set her back a little.

She’d give him an hour. Maybe a bit more. The 11:48 headed west should not be missed. She knew there’d be a scene about dumping the place. He was desperate to get out. Something about her happiness was bothering him. He blamed it on the trains. Silly boy. Willing to give up the world’s sweetest orgasms for a pile of money and a boost to his ego. He was clever, but sometimes he had to be helped.

They would compromise tonight, she thought. Perhaps after the 2:22 from Thunder Bay. Maybe not until the 4:19 to Detroit. No matter. The journey was as important as the destination. She would fight to stay, unwilling to give up the greatest sex she’d ever had. He would rant and roar, unwilling to relinquish the sweetest pot of money they’d ever almost had. She would hurl her curses at Rosedale, and the self-important slugs that couldn’t say hello. He would thrash about, arguing that after a few more deals they could be just as snooty as anyone.

And yes, early in the pitch-black morning they would come together. As the triple-engined 4:19 thundered by, the night’s longest train, the endless clackety clackety clackety of its angry wheels beating at their minds, they would cast their votes. Yes, just as the 4:19, almost past, launched its long and painful shriek into the ether, she would give in.

It would be textbook romance. Him on top this time: the conquering lord, fierce from battle, eyes bulging, shoulders rippling. His hands gripping her hips, his thighs pounding against her buttocks, dazedly echoing the 4:19s sweet drumbeat. Sell, sell, sell, she would scream. Scream it in unison with the 4:19s fierce warning. And him resplendent in victory, bellowing over the spoils of war. Master of his domain. His bristly chin raking her back as he topples forward on to her. The glory as his maleness matches her womanhood.

A compromise. Yes, that would do it. Sell they would. The check in his name, destined for the next big deal. And a minor concession on his part. Insignificant really considering how they’d been treated. They’d quit Rosedale. Invest the money elsewhere. Krystel already had an idea: a ragged little 1940s bungalow. Ugly really. But aching with potential. Tack on a two-story addition out back, a modern kitchen, a new master bedroom with a huge skylight. That would jack up the value. Another hefty profit for sure.

She hadn’t picked the exact house but she’d found a little suburb out in Etobicoke. Pony would help them. Close to the airport. Under the flight path. Not very desirable at all. Extremely noisy. It was those jumbo jets, the 747s. God, they were awful. Four gargantuan engines hanging from the wings, each of them throwing off a zillion pounds of thrust, whatever that meant. Rumbling in to land every couple of minutes. Lord knew, it must feel like the whole house was going to explode. Horrific.

But Troy and her would adjust, she was certain. In the new economy, you had to be flexible.