Excerpt from Slow Train to the Forbidden City
On the Orient Express, Rita, Martin, and I settled into a three-person berth. We lined up our alcohol and began to chug beer and brandy in celebration of my twenty-fourth birthday. When I was good and drunk and parched, I left the berth to search for bottled water, and upon my return, found Rita and Martin making out. I picked up my camera and threatened to take a picture. But if the moment were captured on film, it surely would have become real.
Martin left the berth. I poured myself a shot of brandy and looked out the window but all I saw was my bitter reflection.
“You okay?” Rita asked.
I kept looking at my reflection.
She patted the cushion next to her. “Come here,” she said.
I moved next to her and stared at my shoes. “Who are you with?” I asked. “Martin or me?”
She leaned over to kiss me. “I’m with you!”
“So we’ll share a hotel room together?”
She moved to embrace me. “Of course.”
Martin slid the door open and Rita jumped up. Behind him, a smeared-lipstick Romanian stumbled into our berth. “My name Katrina,” she slurred out. “I speak little English.” She flopped her body onto a seat and handed me a picture of her son. “Him beautiful. Yes?” She told us her husband had been arrested and received a two-year jail sentence.
“What for?” I asked.
She looked out the window, a grim expression on her face, lit a cigarette. “America, good?”
The next morning, passengers smoked rancid cigarettes in the aisles while the train chugged across the Transylvanian mountains. Rita and Martin sat side by side, listening to the same Walkman. I stared out the window, hungover, drinking sickly sweet orange soda. Hundreds of black particles floated at the bottle’s bottom.
Lori Horvitz’ short stories, poetry and personal essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Chattahoochee Review, Epiphany, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Hotel Amerika, Thirteenth Moon, Tusculum Review, and Quarter After Eight. Her essays have been included in two Seal Press anthologies: P.S.: What I Didn’t Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends and Dear John, I’m in Love With Jane. She has been awarded writing fellowships from Fundación Valparaiso, The Ragdale Foundation, Yaddo, Cottages at Hedgebrook, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Blue Mountain Center. Horvitz is Professor of Literature and Language at University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she teaches courses in creative writing, literature, and directs their Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.
Sarah Einstein is the author of Mot: A Memoir (University of Georgia Press 2015), Remnants of Passion (Shebooks 2014). Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Sun, Ninth Letter, PANK and other journals. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the prose editor for Stirring: A Literary Collective and the special projects editor for Brevity Magazine. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.