Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508
A train moving from one point to another is an appropriate setting for this story about two ten-year-old girls in transition in both space and time. Jane Muirhead’s parents fight continuously as “bitterly as vipers,” and Danica Anderson’s mother has just remarried and has sent her off with the Muirheads for the summer to give her some time to settle in with her new husband. The story begins with the two girls exploring the train on the way home to Florida. Mr. and Mrs. Muirhead spend most of their time in the lounge drinking cocktails, although they do not sit together. Mr. Muirhead talks to young men, because, he says, his wife will not let him talk to young women.
Danica, lonely during the trip, often feels like crying, for she is surrounded by strangers saying and doing crazy things. At one point, Mrs. Muirhead gives her a note to take to Mr. Muirhead, but Jane tells her later that her father ate the note. At another point, the two girls meet a woman, and Jane tells her that her name is Crystal and that Danica is her twin sister Clara. When Jane tells the woman she probably does not believe in men, the woman says it is true, that men are a collective hallucination of women. The woman tells the girls she does research on human pheromones, the chemical substances that people excrete that can lead other people to do or feel a certain thing.
Mr. Muirhead meets a young man who is writing a book on cemeteries of the world, and they talk about famous cemeteries in Paris and Mexico, both of which the Muirheads have visited. What Mr. Muirhead remembers most about those visits, however, is how his wife screamed at him for such things as spilling buttered popcorn on the blazer she bought him or leaving the hammock she bought him out to rot in the rain.
While watching Superman, Jane falls asleep and dreams of men in white bathing caps pushing all her grandmother’s things out into the street. After Jane tells Danica the dream, Danica feels sorry for herself, because she feels she has no friends and no parents and is aimlessly sitting on a train between one place and another, scaring herself with someone else’s dream. When she asks Mr. Muirhead if he thinks she and Jane will be friends forever, he says that Jane will not have friends—only a husband, enemies, and lawyers. He tells her he hopes she is enjoying her childhood, for when she grows up a big shadow falls over everyone. Danica looks at her postcards, and Mr. Muirhead likes one that has choices—such as “fine,” “lonesome,” “happy,” or “sad”—that you simply check to express how you feel. Danica gives the card to him, and he tells her she is a nice little girl. Then he asks her what she thinks was on the note his wife sent him. “Do you think,” he asks, “there’s something I’ve missed?”