The Comet Train

The Comet Train

The train that transports us to Ubud is called Comet. I see the name listed in our itinerary after selecting my seat. That’s odd, I think, since this is Bali. I see Bernie board, the solo British fellow on our tour. He’s a lawyer, a little overly groomed. Nails with clear polish, daily reading glasses that match certain starched shirts. Is he gay, I wondered. Probably would be in America. He chooses the vacant seat next to me.

“Good breakfast,” he says, referring to our earlier buffet at the Westin.

“You think so?” I ask. Decide I don’t want to sound so cynical. “Yes, it was.”

Bernie settles in, switches sunglasses to tortoise-shell readers. I notice how they pair nicely his chocolate Izod shirt. He smells clean, an Aveda pomade scent.

“Don’t you think it’s odd that we’re on a train called Comet?” I ask. Point to our itinerary sheet.

“Funny, I never read mine,” Bernie says. He pauses for a long time. The train starts moving slowly from the station. It’s as if I’d asked him the meaning of life. “I find,” he finally says, “that every aspect of this trip has been unusual.”

“Really? How so? Can you think of another example?”

“Well, those dancers we saw last evening in Benoa? The ones doing the traditional dance, the sang hyang dedari?”

I nod. “Yes, they were amazing.” I lied, they’d haunted me, and when we’d returned to the Westin I couldn’t sleep. I decided to walk the beaches of Kuta, despite warnings against doing so in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

“Indeed, and many of the dancers were men.” Bernie waits for my reaction.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, I asked our guide.” Ravindranat, is an Indian who lives in Nusa Dua. He prefers to be called Gusti Agung which roughly translates to Great Leader. Says a lot about him. He’s another odd bird, in fact, the whole tour has a sickeningly strange pallor.

Bernie retrieves a magazine from his man bag, the cover article reads “Relationships: Take Them or Leave Them.”

I’d travelled over 10,000 miles to get away from mine. My all-knowing yoga teacher recommends a country halfway around the world, purported to be over-the-top exotic, fascinating. No shopping, a place to get healthy. Take a break. Sounds like just the ticket I crave.

But here, every Bali moment I miss him, more and more. With each spectacular sunrise I think, what’s he doing? I re-play the tapes in my mind, those arguments where I had to be right, had to press my point. For what? I hate myself for it, way more than I can hate him.

I glance out the train window at the neon green latticed landscape, the rice paddies strewn between forest groves with tall trees that remind me of the eucalyptus trees back home.

“I’m homesick,” I say aloud, not expecting anyone to hear.

Bernie pats my knee, nods. “Hang in there mate,” he says. “There’s a nice spot in Ubud called Fly Cafe. How about you and I ditch the next tour. We’ll sit in the café, enjoy a nice meal with some local Bintang beer?”

I smile. “Okay, Bernie, Bintang it is.”


About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, writer, editor, and workshop leader, his poems and fiction are widely published in print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Connotation Press, Metazen, Thrice, Literary Orphans and Housefire. He is Senior Flash editor at JMWW and Lost in Thought magazines and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing. He is a six times Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His collections are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps): Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press).
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16 Responses to The Comet Train

  1. gary swafford says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this “slice of life” short story. The sense that the personal and physical journeys for the characters is conveyed with a lovely sensitivity and a kind of reflective grace. And I think it’s quite a talent who can capture such a moment in this short of a space! Kudos! I enjoyed it and am looking forward to future posts! Thanks, Robert. 😉

  2. Dez says:

    This is great, Robert. I loved the exotic setting and I think it is so true that when I have traveled to places that have such a build-up like Bali does, often I feel lonely at times, or some other feeling that one does not expect in such locations. I like that the British fellow, Bernie, turns out to be a nice buddy at the end. Nice intrigue and complexity in such a serene setting. Great details made me feel transported there.

  3. Beverly says:

    I went to Bali and it felt strange to me too. Like this did to your main character, although I was not breaking up with my husband or there on my own. But I could relate to him. And I liked the Indonesian names and scenery backdrop that you trickled into the story. A train named Comet? Not sure if that is accurate? Is there really one there. I must have missed it if so.

  4. Don says:

    I want to go here, in the worst way. Have always wanted to, and I will visit the Fly Cafe and drink Bingtang beers in your honor! A great read for this holiday afternoon. Made me more curious about the protagonist and the broken relationship, like there is more to come that you are hinting at.

  5. Dave says:

    This is a nice sliced moment. Just slightly strange. Not getting away from it all, being in the wrong place. A jarring sense of displacement. Felt a bit like a W.S. Burroughs cutup might, before the cuts. Well done. Nice too, that it stands on its own. I find myself hoping there isn’t more (of this). Or if there is, let us come back to it miles and years away…

  6. Yasmine says:

    I think some of this story is difficult to understand…there are a lot of characters mentioned and although they are colorful and interesting, I am not sure they are needed (for example the Indian guide?) But I love the setting and the main character intrigues me. Not sure if this is the end? Is it?

  7. Nancy says:

    Love the idea of such a focused moment in one’s life. How do you decide where to place the microscope? I might have liked it even more if it was more intrusive about the main guy, more insightful about why he left for Bali, more in his own head. I would have loved to be on the beach walk in Kuta with him, etc. But overall, great job, keep writing your nuggets. I love reading every one of them.

  8. G says:

    to get away from it all….and for how long…

  9. Cynthia says:

    The true test of “relationship” can be challenged when we travel, alone, to someplace foreign and so very far away.
    Is it the relationship with the other that concerns him so deeply? Or is it simply that he wrestles with being alone, with reconciling who he is while away?

  10. theprayerlady says:

    Oh a wonderful gift from my Son on Easter, to read his work makes me feels I’m with him for a few minutes this wonderful day.
    Good Job, Robbie, relationships ——- sometimes so confusing.
    Love you so
    Happy Easter Dear Son of Mine

  11. Andrea says:

    So he’s gay?

  12. david says:

    right on andrea…. i can feel the heat.. yummy..

  13. david says:

    mmmmmmmmmmm aveda in the heat

  14. david says:

    oops I forgot to take my gingko again

  15. Tom Biel says:

    Hi Robert,

    Great flash fiction piece. I read Comet Train and enjoyed the hell of out it. Love the British guy and the offer to go the cafe for some Bintang beer. Fun piece. I will read more.

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