Notes from the train

On May 8th, I took a train to Windsor, on my way to the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. This part of the trip was 4 hours long, so I managed to write a little between reading and prepping for Congress. What follows is what I wrote while riding.


I’m on a train!

My, this seat is terribly uncomfortable.

A few minutes later, I find myself wishing for seat belts. I like the secure feeling they give me, wrapped around my middle like a life-saving hug.

I am in 9C. 9D is a woman attentively working on her tablet, sorting email, shoe shopping. People are chattering as they settle into their seats and she’s looking around periodically, intently searching. I ask if she’s looking for someone and she says no, she doesn’t understand why people have to have conversations loud enough so that everybody else can hear them. She finds it terribly rude. Ooookay, I reply. I hadn’t even noticed the woman on the other side of the aisle a few rows back having a phone conversation. I will be quiet as a mouse next to Type A seat companion.


I have pulled out a work of fiction, perfect for the 4-hour trip. Helen Marshall’s Hair Side, Flesh Side. A collection of stories with threads of the middle ages woven through.

I typically don’t read fiction, but this spoke to me for several reasons. I discovered her book at a table at the Bazaar of the Bizarre. Two tables covered in books. A man by the name of Peter Chiykowski had a comic book he’d drawn and self-published displayed for sale. Flipping through the pages, I was moved to laughter by his sweetly cynical wit and his artistry.

We began a conversation and I don’t remember how it came up but he mentioned the middle ages. I perked up. No, that’s inaccurate. What actually happened is that every ounce of my attention suddenly shifted to him, like thirsty plant cells opening up to receive life-sustaining rain. Even in a town as middle-ages-rich as Toronto, I remain starved. Granted, that has more to do with my own life than it does with the shortcomings of this fine city. I asked if he had gone to U of T. He graduated from Dalhousie and is doing writing and publishing now. I was in the MA program at CMS at University of Toronto. When I said that, he said I should check out Helen Marshall’s book. She’s in the PhD program at CMS and this is her first book of short stories. She focuses a lot on manuscripts –> hair side, flesh side.

He said all the right words. CMS, manuscript, newly published writer. I have a train ride in the near future to get me to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, I think to myself. There and back. This would make an excellent way to pass the time and beg off on all the other stuff I “should” be doing.

I hand over $20 and bring home the book.


On finishing the first story, I feel like I got the wind knocked out of me. It’s as touching as it is horrific. The second story leaves me amused and intrigued. With both endings, I am left wanting to know more about each of the characters, more about the world they live in. It is all very compelling for me. I’ll pick this thread up later.


Coming into London, there is a man who has started to seize. An announcement comes on asking if there is a nurse or a doctor on the train who could come to this car. There is a doctor. He ascertains that the man is likely diabetic and is seizing from a lack of medication or sugar or both. He wants to test the man’s blood sugar and give him some sort of medication. The man, dopey from sugar-starved brain, refuses. On stopping at the London train station, EMTs arrive. They don’t really find him any more cooperative, but he’s able to be led off the train. Thankfully, this is where he wanted to get off anyway. We are all grateful it wasn’t any worse.


A little while outside Windsor, a man behind me sees me working on my macbook and asks if I have a charge cord for an iPhone. I don’t. Suddenly, 9D perks up and offers him the use of hers. She IS human. That’s heartening.

Pulling into Windsor, on time, despite the delay in London, the first leg of the trip is done. Now for a car ride to Kalamazoo.