On the Amtrak from Washington to New York, the baby, upon waking from his nap, was ready to play. He did not want to play with me, though, as much as he wanted to play with the lady sitting next to us, a woman in her fifties wearing lime green and reading a suspense novel. He leaned halfway out of the carrier towards her, bouncing and peering into her face. After awhile, the lady got tired of making “how cute” noises and tried to return to her book. The baby, though, refused to get the hint, instead single-mindedly dangling himself over her lap with a maniacal grin. Unable to distract him with his squeaky giraffe, his two teething rings, a washcloth, or even a water bottle (his current favorite toy), I finally got up in desperation and walked to the café car.
The café car was nearly empty, and I bought a bag of pretzels and a cup of coffee. (I didn’t really want the coffee, but I was making up for the fact that, on the trip down five days ago, I had wanted coffee but was too scared to venture into the then-packed café car, for fear that the baby would send sodas flying with his curious hands.) The baby and I sat at a café car table, and I drank the rain-check coffee and looked out the window while the baby sucked meditatively on a pretzel and looked at my necklaces. Across the aisle from us sat a mother and son pair; the mother with gray roots and a purple blouse, the son with basketball shorts and a changing voice. They sat in companionable silence, and she drank coffee while he ate a small, greasy cheese pizza from an Amtrak tray. I was impressed, watching them out of the corner of my eye, with the mother’s aura of calm. Rather than complain about the price or the grease, she simply watched her son eat, seeming contented and peaceful. I wondered if she felt satisfied, happy that she could provide him with the small things that he wanted – basketball shorts, cheese pizza.
As we pulled into Philadelphia, she said to her son, “Philadelphia is a beautiful city, you know.” He roused himself from his pizza to look out the window. “Hey mom,” he said, “remember when…” And they chatted comfortably for a few minutes, something about a bicycle that my eavesdropping ears could not quite pick up. After a little while, they fell silent again, and we all looked out the window and watched Philadelphia go by. A little while after that, they left the café car, and a man clutching two cans of Miller Lite took their place.