If you’ve read LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON, you already know that Aubrey Glass is the novel’s 22-year-old, slightly contentious narrator. In it’s finished form, the book is written entirely in first person POV.
But fun fact: I originally intended to write Last Train in alternating POVs between Aubrey and her high school boyfriend, Adam Sullivan. I was about halfway through writing when I realized I had way more Aubrey than Adam chapters. So as I made a conscious effort to beef up the Adam scenes, they started to feel forced and extraneous — like I was rewriting the exact same scenes with different commentary for the sake of word count.
I struggled with it for a while. I even put the whole writing process on hold while I tried to figure out how to finish the book. I considered everything short of cutting out the Adam chapters. I’d put a lot of heart into some of those scenes, and the thought of axing them felt sort of like betrayal. I eventually realized this was Aubrey’s story, not Adam’s. And in the end, I had to let go of his side of the story. But I saved his chapters, just in case.
I don’t want to see her.
My car is lined up against the curb; I can reach out and touch the mailbox; I can smell the pile of leaves, shriveled and curled in a pile of dried fire next to the garage.
I don’t want to see her. But I’m here.
I sit in my Hyundai, heat creeping through the vents real slow on low. The classic music station plays through the static of my shitty old speakers, and I think I can barely make out some overrated Zeppelin song — and a sudden bout of dread hits me like a bag of bricks. I can just see her now, all smug and smiley – a Hyundai, Adam? Really? I see you’ve really made a name for yourself. Good for you.
She would say it just like that. Goood for youuu!
The guy who couldn’t even afford to get off this shitty island if he wanted to. How ironic. So broke, and I can’t even afford to move away from the JAP capital of the country.
I stare down at the steering wheel, drum my fingers and try to figure out what I’m even going to say.
I’m not prepared for this. Not really anyway. The last time I saw her, she was 17 and climbing into the back of her mother’s minivan. And the first time I met her, it was my brother’s wake. Irony at its best.
I remember that day she left for college. Everything she owned was stuffed into the trunk in vacuum-sealed bags. The comforter I helped pick out was pressed against the back window, the paisley blue pattern taunting me in this singsongy voice – you’ll never see me again. Soon, i’ll be wrapped around some sweaty, shirtless, panting frat boy.
That day, she stood in front of me outside of the automatic sliding doors, her parents already buckled in. Couldn’t even be bothered to say goodbye in private. That’s how I knew she was done with me. That’s when I stopped feeling guilty.
Her eyes went all shifty on me, and she stifled a self-satisfying snort, enjoying her own private joke. Well, I guess she was.
I catch the time change out of the corner of my eye. 9:54. Ten minutes fast. I check my phone one more time — still nothing — and open the car door.
She never responded to my texts. Surprise, surprise. I sent three of them all together, two were part of one conversation — a one-sided conversation obviously. The third, I sent last night as a sort of warning. Letting her know I’d be coming by at ten to ten, see if she might need a ride. I even called once, but hung up before it could go to voicemail. The thought of hearing her voice, even if it was just an automated version of it, made my guts churn. A voicemail would have been worse than hearing her voice in real time, I think. You can tell a lot about the status of a person’s life by their voicemail. Part of me pictures this real chipper, care-free sorority girl tone — something Aubrey was never really good at, but probably perfected during her college years.
Hiii, It’s Aubrey. Leave a message and I’ll get back to ya!
No, that would be too fake, even for her.
Maybe something more professional, then I’d know she was doing well in her career, that she needed to make some sort of impression, protect a reputation.
Hello, you have reached the cell phone of Aubrey Glass. I am unable to take your call, but if you leave your name. number. and a brief message. I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.
I imagine a number of voicemail scenarios and then decide on the standard, you’ve reached the voice mailbox of 5. 1. 6. – — one of those automated voices that sounds as cold and empty as Aubrey.
But she knows I know she’s here, and if she really didn’t want to see me, she could have just said so.
Her brother answers the door. He looks older than he did four years ago. But I should have expected that. He shakes my hand, and asks how I’m doing.
I don’t want to see her.
Another funeral. Another suicide. That’s bad enough. Add Aubrey to the mix, and you’ve got my own personal hell.
But I owe it to Rachel.
Each day we go about our business, as if our worlds aren’t at all connected—as if our actions don’t in some way affect anybody or everybody. Sometimes, we make contact on the street—a subtle yet effortless cue that we are all alive. But most times, we just move beneath invisible shrouds, like ghosts—eyes on the pavement, maneuvering around sidewalk cracks.
I hold the box to my chest — my arms wrapped around so that I had hardly see in front of me as I wobble up her driveway, passed the hay-colored grass—all brittle and stiff — passed the plastic snowmen sprouting out of the snowless earth, and no one notices. No one ever notices. Not me at least. That’s sort of how it’s been since Max died.
I can feel the blood draining away from my face with each beat of my pulse, as I reach into my pocket full of stones. I hold one of the stones in the palm of my hand, and I toss it with a sort of gentle grace against her bedroom window. It hardly makes a sound, so I throw another and I keep on throwing stones up against that second floor window until I see her face. Adam? She says, but her voice is muffled behind the double paned window. Who else would it be? I think. The idea that someone else would be throwing stones at her bedroom window makes me chest ache. Come to the front, she says before disappearing behind the burgundy curtains. I knead the stones in my coat pocket with one hand, hoping that the motion will keep my hands from shaking.
It’s morning when I threw the first stone at Aubrey’s bedroom window. I threw a second one, and I saw her face appear from behind the burgundy curtains. She didn’t acknowledge that she saw me, but a few minutes later she appeared on her front lawn, all wrapped up in a bathrobe.
It was the first winter after Max died. The first Christmas without him. My mother made it pretty clear that we wouldn’t be acknowledging the holidays this year — or probably any year after this.
That’s how we really started I guess. I mean, it started with our walks, and it almost happened at The First Friday. But I still felt kind of sore about it. Like I was literally jumping in my brothers grave, scooping up his Sloppy Seconds.
But the house was quiet. Too quiet. I couldn’t even smell Max in his room anymore, so I sort of just took that as my cue to move on. I ordered a box full of Mason jars — I thought that was a real thoughtful gift — and had them sent to my house. And then one winter Saturday, I brought it over to Aubrey’s house. I wanted to play it cool, mysterious. I didn’t want to like stand there and watch her open the box and wait for a reaction. That would just be uncomfortable for both of us — especially if she didn’t remember the Mason jar conversation to begin with. So as I was walking over there, with the box full of jars, I started to regret the whole thing — thinking that maybe she wouldn’t get the joke. But so, anyway, I just dropped it off and left. I sauntered away, real dapper, like I was Nicholas Cage walking away from an explosion or something.
QUESTION:What’s your opinion on multiple narratives? Does it add dimension to a story? Or does the author risk complicating the story that wants to be told?