Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is “Winter to spring, a time of transitions. Write a story that takes place in a train station.”
This month comes to us from Val Muller, author of the young adult novels The Scarred Letter, The Girl Who Flew Away, and The Man with the Crystal Ankh. Learn more at www.ValMuller.com.
Departure by Val Muller
The list of arrivals and departures flashed on the screen. Abby shook her head, remembering the last time she’d been in a train station. It was way back in college, even before her parents gave her the clunker, that old Chevy that somehow got her the six hours to and from school.
Back in those days, the arrival and departure listings were still analog. The click-clack-shuffle as they updated the board was calming and exciting all at once. How many times had her heart raced as she saw how close she was to missing her transfer? And how many times her heart had sunk as she saw her train delayed.
With hours to kill during those college years, she learned her way around the train station. Knew the delicious sin of a McDonald’s meal followed by a coffee from the bakery stand. Or a pretzel and a lemonade. Then some window shopping at the high-end boutiques. All this without leaving the station, without being more than a glance away from her boarding instructions.
Then, of course, there was Joseph. Joseph Arden, professor. Lover. Deity. How many times had she merely sat in the station and fantasized about him? Their fling had been too brief. The spark was there, but he was worried about the ethics of it. Less than a decade separated them, but the caste of university culture made her untouchable. Their encounters, if they continued, would have to remain secretive, limited to late-night coffee and stargazing at midnight while reading poetry. They’d read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in the moonlight and speculated on how their love was so much stronger for its secrecy, for its inability to turn mundane with the Everyday.
That was only days before he’d ended it.
He could never invite her to faculty functions. Their trysts would always end with shameful walks home at five in the morning, with loaded glances during lectures. It could never work, he’d said.
She’d moved on, of course, dating several guys since Joseph. None of them stuck, though. Not like him. He was the one—the one whose face visited her randomly during some cheesy romance flick, whose warm touch visited her in dreams without warning or provocation. He was the one she couldn’t forget, not after all the years.
She didn’t dare email him. She’d seen his face pop up a few times on social media in the “people you might know” section, but she didn’t dare click “invite.” She could never just casually be his friend. She would analyze every word, every post, for hidden meaning.
It had taken years to forget him just enough, and now the train station brought his memory racing back. She sighed as the electronic sign blinked. OAKTON—ON TIME—TRACK 4.
Oakton. The stop closest to the university. How many times she’d seen it. She glanced at the people seated in the waiting area for track 4. Many were college-aged, likely the newest generation of students at her alma mater. She watched their youth, the energy in their eyes.
And then her throat caught. There he was, Joseph Arden in the flesh. He was unmistakable. The same, save maybe some graying at the temples. The same kind eyes, the same warm shoulders bent over a book. He was alone. His left hand, the hand that held the book, was naked.
No social chasm separated them now, only a few years. She was a professional, on her way to a conference. No shame anymore. Could she do it? Could she just walk up to him? Would he just nod and smile and welcome her into his arms and his life?
She didn’t hear the click, but the shuffle of passengers at track 4 told her the Oakton status had changed to BOARDING.
She watched him, paralyzed. He finished the page and carefully placed a bookmark. Then he grabbed a satchel, threw it over his shoulder, and sauntered down the platform steps.
When the train boarded, she hurried to the waiting area and sat on the bench he’d been on. It was still warm. She watched the train pull away down the staircase in front of her, watched Joseph Arden once again depart from her life. His presence, she suspected, would be even stronger now in her dreams. He was her Grecian Urn, after all, their eternal potential never met. A relationship etched so far into her soul that it transcended the real world. The train disappeared from sight, saving them from the threat of an ordinary life together.
So she shouldered her bag and traversed the station to await her train.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/