Daniel stood in the restroom of the Via train and thought he could feel the smooth tracks under his feet.
On airplanes he'd struggle to stay on his feet, swiveling around a cramped closet that rocked like a boat. The train didn't move at all. It glided so smoothly on the rails: it barely seemed to be moving until Daniel looked out the window and saw the scenery zipping past. The restroom was spacious enough that he could stand solidly enough to take a good look in the mirror.
He'd left his jacket in his seat, so all he wore was a blue T-shirt and jeans. He lifted the bottom of his shirt and saw a puffed-out scratch, and then higher, a bruise on his ribs. Hugo hadn't meant to leave that. He'd apologized afterward, when they smoked a cigarette on the bed, and he'd pressed his fingers against the tender spot at the top of Daniel's rib cage. Daniel leaned closer to the mirror and pulled down his T-shirt to see a dark purple hickey just under the collar line. He hadn't even realized Hugo had been leaving that. He'd been too distracted by the other pain.
Daniel sighed and stood back, brushing his hair out of his eyes. He was thirty-eight but looked at least 10 years younger. It was the half Thai blood in him that gave his skin an olive tone and his eyes a narrow, brown, youthful look. He took good care of himself, too. He looked like Jude and Celeste remembered him, he decided, and that would impress them. They would be less impressed by the hickey.
He pumped water in the sink, putting one hand and then the other in the paltry stream. He squeezed an impotent dollop of soap in his hands and sang "Happy Birthday" in his head. That's what Jude had told him to do years ago—sing "Happy Birthday" in his head twice as he was washing his hands so he could be sure not to get the flu. It worked, too. Daniel was rarely sick; he hadn't missed any dates at all on his last tour.
He grabbed a couple of stiff paper towels from the dispenser and wiped his hands, being sure to get between each finger before he tossed them in the garbage. When he opened the door, he was back in the world of people. The train made a barely perceptible hum. The little sounds of people—throats clearing, pages turning, the slide of fabric as bodies shifted position—formed a frequency of their own. He drifted his fingers over the nylon backs of seats until he reached his row.
Sitting there, his body still felt used. His wrists were still sore from being cuffed behind his back. He'd been on his knees on the hardwood floor with Hugo's cock in his mouth, pushing in and out like a lover. Daniel had been married three years to a photographer named Salena, but he'd gone back to Hugo anyway. She'd found one of the marks on his body and told him to leave. That was a week ago. He'd been back to Hugo once since then, mostly so there'd be pain on the outside to match how he felt inside. Faced with loss, he took comfort in following instructions.
Seven years ago, he hadn't had to go to Hugo. Jude had been his boyfriend, and his mercies had been small and frequent. He'd run his fingers over Daniel's cheek until Daniel rubbed against his hand like a cat. He'd whisper in Daniel's ear when they woke up, telling him he was beautiful until Daniel rolled over and ran his hands over Jude's strong arms. Jude had gotten more buff in the last couple of years. Any time Daniel had seen him—usually fleetingly— he noticed the biceps that would surely be hard if he squeezed them with his fingers. He knew if he lifted Jude's shirt that he'd find abs just as firm. Daniel's own arms were firm like Jude's, too, but his build would be slight no matter how much he worked out. He'd never have Jude's broad shoulders or sharp eyes or the strong, commanding presence Jude exuded when he entered a room.
He rested his forehead on the window and watched the scenery pass. Toronto to Kingston all over again. If Salena was with him she'd be sitting in the aisle seat, knees together and lips pursed as she read a book. If she were there, Daniel would reach out and rest his hand on her knee, and if she looked at him they'd give each other polite smiles before she focused on her book again. Daniel always thought photographers would be greedy for the visuals. He expected her eyes to flit over everything when they traveled. But he'd never noticed her do that. She'd always kept looking forward. Buildings crumbled and children played around her without ever catching her notice. She never wanted the window seat.
He thought about these things as he rode. Hugo, the rough dominant who was somewhere back in Toronto, running his tattooed hands over his newly shaved head. Salena, who was also back in Toronto with her nose buried in another book, maybe sitting next to another man, although he couldn't bring his mind to delve into that deeper yet.
-- from "Songs From Devil Lake" by Kelly Rand