The Man And The Traveller
(Sound of train carriage)
Narrator (suddenly): Anyone sitting here?
Ed: Oh, no. Please. Sit down. I was asleep, sorry.
Narrator: What are you doing on a train at this hour?
Ed: Going up to New York, from Ohio. My sister’s getting married. It’s cheaper to go late. Arrive early-
Narrator: Ever been to New York in March before? It’s cold. Colder than you’d think. The sky stuns the blocks grey and the only colour is the red yellow green of the lights throw the haze.
The people are monotone, faces forgettably raw with long hours and longer journeys home. The carcass of concrete heaves as the ants walk her veins back to the burnt out suburbs. But you knew that, didn’t you?
Narrator: Been that way since before the depression. Been on the outskirts when the sleet burns away the horizon? Felt the dust of exhaust fumes fuse with the raw oil of cheap restaurants? Sure you have. I stood there in 1928. I still go there now.
Ed: But that was nearly a hundred years ago!
Narrator: I thought you weren’t listening.
Ed: So you weren’t actually there in 1928?
Narrator: I was. Long time ago. Time passes and before you know it, gravestones are all that remain of friends, and memories all that is left of lovers.
Ed: You a writer or something? You talk in riddles.
Narrator: I was of sorts, once.
Ed: What do you mean?
Narrator: I was an advertiser, long ago. No more. Gave that all up in 1929.
Ed: But that would make you at least 120, if you were an adult in-
Narrator: If you listen, I’ll explain.
Ed: Look sir, my sister is getting married in seven hours, I really need to-
Narrator: Listen. You need to listen.
(Sound of carriage fades)
Narrator: I was an advertiser, like my father. Young, not like now. Ambitious. Soap, talkies, telephones or hotels, you named it, I’d sell it for you. Big office too, towering so high over the arteries of the city as to watch her pulse. 37 years old, wealthier than I needed to be. In one sense at least. My heart was colder than the Hudson. I used women like cigarettes, ash to be thrown to the gutter. Then I met her.
(Sound of snow, cars)
Young Narrator: Need a ride?
Girl: Oh no sir, I’m just fine.
Young Narrator: Come on, this snow isn’t going anywhere, except up your slip.
Girl: I don’t do favours.
Young Narrator: I don’t ask for them.
Narrator: She had cardboard soled shoes and the greenest eyes you ever did see. Poor, unconnected, like every other girl out here in the edge of nowhere, where the city meets the endless road.
Girl: If you do anything, you’d regret it.
Young Narrator: I bet I would, baby. Come on, get in.
Girl: You promise?
Young Narrator: On my life.
Old Narrator: On my life.
Ed: What’s wrong? What happened?
Old Narrator: I have no words for what I did.
Ed: You tried to kiss her? That’s not so-
Old Narrator: Silence!
I attacked her. I shouted for my man to drive as I did what I did. I was ruthless. I was selfish. But I did it. Not a monster. But me.
Ed: You raped her? But why are you telling me this?
Narrator: When I was done, and had my fill, we were well out of town. The snow grew thick and hard until the car span from the road and plunged deep into the bank. I shouted to my man to dig us out, but he couldn’t even open a door. We sat, for hours, her body limp and blue over the backseat. My driver stared up at the moon, as it became clouded with yet more snow , trembling with guilt.
Driver: This is our punishment. For what you did. God did this because of what you did to her!
Young Narrator: Nonsense! It’s just a storm. Beside, she’s fine. We just had some fun with her.
Driver: You did! I didn’t do anything!
Young Narrator: She’s just a working girl. It’s hardly a crime to have a bit of fun with-
Driver: Look how she stares! She doesn’t move, just watches. We will die here, freeze to death, and we deserve it-
Narrator: It grew colder, colder than I had ever known. The ice gathered at the panes and I watched as blue slumber clouded my driver. And all the time, she never moved. Never stopped staring.
They found our car in a snowbank a week later. I should have died from cold, thirst, hunger. The girl was so cold that her veins matched her skin. In death, she still stared at me, cursing me for all eternity-
Ed: She died?
Narrator: But I lived.
Ed: A miracle, almost.
Narrator: No. A curse.
Narrator: While all die, I live. While all suffer, I remain. While all feel, I feel nothing but guilt and cold, cold to the depths of me. Colder than a New York Winter. I died and yet I live, ageing yet never older. And I must travel, travel travel and keep moving for as long as my bones stand, and tell my tale-
Ed: But I’d never-
Narrator: But you have, and will! Until guilt chases up with you. Until you realise every woman you have groped, every girl you assault, every and touch and demand, every humiliation, every expectation of sexuality, every plied drink is your doing, your responsibility, your burden to bear!
Ed: How can you possibly know about-
Narrator: And tomorrow, when you attend your sister’s wedding, what will you do there? Who is to recieve your unwanted hands, your unwelcome gaze, your body given as they sleep-
Ed: Who are you?!
Narrator: I am guilt. I am conscience. I am what will haunt you until the end of days.
Ed: What the hell do you want?
Narrator: A promise. That until the end of your days you will never force yourself, in any way, upon another woman. Or you will suffer my fate-
Ed: I promise! I promise! I swear! Oh god, don’t-
Conductor: Everything alright sir?
Ed: Yes- yes- I must have-
Conductor: Next stop New York, Grand Central sir.
Ed: Yes. Of course.
Conductor: I do hope you had a good journey, sir. Nothing quite like it to bring you back to life, is there sir?