The old man is wearing a black trench coat and holding it wide open, showing a shriveled, pasty penis.
“Cazzo,” I say, staring out the train window.
Cappella Agnuzzo is one of the few stops on the single-track Ferrovia Lugano-Ponte Tresa line where a passing loop allows two trains traveling in opposite directions to pull up side by side. Long enough for the old man on the eastbound train to see me, unzip his pants, and pull out his flaccid member.
It’s completely black outside. He is well lit by the interior train car lights. His aura, a fluorescent glow. A small bald spot on his head matches his small penis. His pants are round his ankles, revealing a belly of wrinkles.
There is no one else in his train car. He thinks there is no one else in mine.
“What did you say?” My husband calls out.
“You’ll want to come here.”
Mr. Masturbating Man thinks I’m smooching at him and blows me a kiss.
There is a slight antiseptic smell on our train; it has just been cleaned. I’m standing because if I sit my quads will bundle into kindling, and I’ll struggle to get off at our stop. We’ve hiked for ten hours in the Prealpi Ticinesi. Just past tree line on Monte Boglia, we traversed a meadow with a view that extended from the Gotthard to the Maritime Alps to encompass the stark pyramid of Monviso on the Italian-French border.
We love the way Swiss public transportation provides access to the Alps.
Ubiquitous yellow trail signs have symbols for trains, buses, boats, and all variety of gondolas. Access is a national right. Walking, a national pastime. When paths cross private land, an owner often greets you. I don’t understand a word of dialect, but nodding like a bobble head makes me feel part of the alpine culture of hard cheese, alpenhorns, and mountaintop crosses.
Yesterday, the bus smelled overpoweringly of body odor mixed with the sonic stink of teenagers on cell phones.
Today, I meet a dick.
I watch the back-and-forth of the man’s hand on his pale skin. His foreskin. His face pressed against the glass. His mouth, open.
The idea that a stranger may be in communion with me, after touching himself, makes me feel responsible. Beholden.
My husband waves his hands and yells, “La vuoi una mano?”
When the man sees my husband, he nods his head and opens his arms to the side.
His dick hangs limp. Apologetic.
“È così piccolo!” yells my husband.
My husband makes huge masturbating gestures in front of his own crotch. Up, as if his dick is the Eiffel Tower. Down, as if he’s drilling into the earth. Fast and slow, huge and small. Finally, Daniele swings his crotch into the air, released.
The old man pulls up his pants and buttons up his trench coat. Shakes his head from side to side, in a grandfatherly way that shows displeasure, implying that my husband’s exuberance does not follow Swiss protocol.
The sound of my laughter is a cackle, and I sit as the train lurches out of the station. My trekking poles clatter to the floor.
“He’s not Italian,” says my Italian-born husband. “We only masturbate when we’re hard.”
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”
My husband knows my old story of another masturbating man on a Parisian train.
Same scene, different country, years ago when I was twenty-one. That guy licked the window. The French train smelled like piss and espresso. The man yanked on himself really hard, and he didn’t come either, though his slobber on the train’s window made it look like he had, which terrified me. Probably got a disease on his tongue.
This time, I’m neither scared nor mute like before. I’m buoyed by my husband’s enthusiasm. I’m grateful that Swiss trains are spit-spot clean, so Grandpa can masturbate without getting an infection.
Renée E. D’Aoust is the author of Body of a Dancer, a Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year” finalist. Forthcoming and recent publications include Essay Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books, Ragazine, Rain Taxi, and Sweet: A Literary Confection. D’Aoust lives in southern Switzerland and teaches online at North Idaho College and Casper College. She is an AWP “Writer to Writer” mentor and the Managing Editor of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. Please follow her @idahobuzzy.
Photo by Marcia Krause Bilyk