By John Philipp
After he boarded the sleeper train in Chicago for an overnight trip to New York, where he was to attend an important business meeting he would find as boring as his job, after he stowed his suitcase in his roomette, after the train departed and he traveled, jostled, and balanced his way to the club car in which aromas from decades ago still lingered, after he settled in an overstuffed, wear-worn armchair with the free evening paper and an extra dry martini, and after an attractive early thirties brunette with long hair in a chignon and long shapely legs sat in the adjoining chair wearing a stylish tweed suit, the two of them struck up a conversation.
After he told her of his short, tragic marriage and she told him of her unfaithful ex-husband, after that exchange continued through a second martini and the discussion flowed into his boring, legal position and her grueling directorship of her family’s charitable foundation, after he shared his fear of being poor, since growing up in near poverty by a widowed mother, and she shared her fear of trusting a man, and after he pulled out her chair at a table in the dining car for a leisurely meal of poached salmon and wild rice for him and Caesar salad with chicken for her and a vintage Chardonnay for both, she invited him to her compartment for a nightcap of a fine brandy she had in her valise.
Because she was in a separate car, because she had winked one beautiful emerald eye at him as they exited the dining car and told him to put on something comfortable, because on returning to his roomette in a wine/martini glow, the man chose to be daring, threw caution and custom to the wind and exchanged his business attire for a quilted dark blue silk bathrobe and fur-lined leather slippers over matching silk pajamas; because when she met him at her roomette’s door, she had let down her hair and changed into a sheer, black peignoir over pink baby-doll pjs, because in her room the brandy led to touching and touching led to more, because they both fell asleep in each other’s arms late that night and slept through the train’s rattling journey and warning whistles as the car caravan whisked through sleepy hamlets, and because when they awakened to the conductor’s voice over the scratchy public address system—“Framingham. Next stop, Route 128—” the man realized the train had split in Albany, and while his sleeping car was wending its merry way to New York City, her car had taken dead aim for Boston with him inside, hijacked in his pajamas.
Despite the enduring panic the man experienced when separated from his suitcase and, more importantly, his clothes and wallet; despite knowing he would now miss a crucial business meeting, and despite being two degrees shy of a nervous breakdown or heart attack or both, the woman took charge and told the conductor they would be departing at the Back Bay stop instead of South Station, and, oh, they would need a wheelchair.
Later, after the New York Central had deposited the couple with her suitcases and his body clothed in his silk robe, slippers, and a blanket borrowed from her room; after she gave the station red cap a generous donation to his retirement fund to take her luggage to the Copley Plaza Hotel, and after she guided the man in his wheelchair through five blocks of Boston streets with of scurrying pedestrians headed to work, the man found himself in front of Brooks Brothers where she instructed him to buy a suit and full set of clothes on her American Express Gold card while she commandeered the manager’s private line to reserve and pay for a seat on the next United flight to New York and, as he selected a new set of Fruit of the Looms, she called Grand Central Station and arranged to retrieve the contents of his roomette, including his wallet.
Months later, after numerous dates and frequent phone conversations, the man, inspired by her cleverness and calmness when facing the unknown, left his prestigious corporate junior counsel position, still afraid of poverty but trusting in her fidelity, to become a pro bono lawyer in her family foundation for the underprivileged and that was almost the exact story they related many years later to their preteen twin girls and younger son in the family’s Vermont vacation home while the family lounged in front of a warming Christmas Eve fire.
Of course, the couple downplayed the details of what they referred to as the “sleepover,” but the man knew the older girls would not be fooled by his see-through subterfuge and would, with giggling and slight blushing, tell their younger brother the uncensored version just to gross him out.
The children were smart, and very canny, just like their mother.