by Holly Schwartz-Coignat
When that perfect wind pulled the ticket out of my grasp, my first thought was Paul should have been there to chase after and catch it. The gentle tug slipped the poster-board rectangle from my fingers, carried it up, up into the air, out of arm's reach, and at the right spot dissipated. The ticket fell straight down onto the tracks. I saw it clear the platform and imagined him stretching out his hand to make a last grab despite the incoming train.
I stared down at the ticket. Bold writing stared back up at me. A whistle blew unnecessarily, splitting the August heat.
“Great.” My one sarcastic word was drowned out by the train.
Twenty cars maybe. Twenty-five? It rushed by in a blur and I couldn't count them. I listened to the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh that all trains make as they barrel though a station and wondered if it was a constant rhythm or happened only when the wheels and tracks were enclosed by the platform.
As the train passed, so did the meditation and I remembered what I had lost. I paced along the yellow line, my neck stuck out, chin raised over the edge to see if I could spot it.
Serves you right for coming back here. Paul's melodic condescension appeared in my head, as he appeared everyday. I saw his hands everywhere.
Using my train ticket as a bookmark had only served as a reminder. Get back. Someday. So I closed the office early, when I couldn't stand it any longer, trudged up the hill, panting, sweating, wishing I'd worn a skirt, clutching the ticket, cursing, and imagining his surprise when he saw me.
It's just like you to walk away from everything. Again. He'd throw up his arms and then wrap them around me.
There wasn't a shred of paper down there on the tracks.
“The train's carried it away.” I whined to the barren platform.
The schedule wasn't listing any trains today, there was no reason for my being here. I pushed an escaped hair behind my ear and looked up at the station sign:
L'Haveneau. Population: 227.
It was you who ran to the edge of civilization when things got rough.
Yes, it was, but I that gave me every right to regret it. Now, I regretted the heat, the silence, and regretted staring down the tracks off in the direction I'd come from. I regretted carrying an eight-month old ticket with me all this time like a talisman that could transport me out of this dream when it too became to tedious.
That seems to be a pattern. My husband was ever the psychologist. Why do you think it is nothing can hold your attention for long?
Questions like those always angered me. I left the imagined mirage of him on the tracks and went inside the stone, station building. There was no one in there and as soon as I realized it, I wanted to run back out. My anger had left me, loneliness rushed in. Was the memory of Paul still on the platform?
At least ask about the next train.
Behind dripping plexiglass was the teller, too lean, too tall, too dark haired for his booth and chair. He was watching me.
“Need a new ticket? I saw you lose yours.”
I walked over. “That one was expired.”
“Like I said...”
I didn't have my wallet.
“Who'd know if you got it for free?”
He leaned back in his chair at the same time I took a surprised step back from his window. His pale eyes were mischievous.
“When's the next train?”
For a backwater town caught between the mountains and the sea, I guess that was pretty good.
“Want a ticket?”
A book lay open across his keyboard. Poster-board rectangles sticking out from several pages. A medieval text.
“I was studying for my doctorate,” he answered my gaze. “Didn't make it through.”
“Why are you here?” He flipped a page in the book.
“Self-inflicted punishment.” I answered that question in my head a thousand times. The teller tapped his nose.
You're not the only one constantly running. Paul had followed me inside. You all have to end up someplace.
I looked out the doors to the platform again, trying to ignore those last mocking words. The glass was so caked with dirt that the other side was like a desire fading. He had been so tormenting, so condescending my husband. For once, I wished he'd stayed on the other side.
“So, a ticket?” The teller moved to take the book off the keyboard.
His hands were long, slender, masculine. They reminded me of hands I'd seen long ago in college, before Paul.
“No.” My voice came through at last. “No. Not today.”
“Then a drink?”
“There are no trains today.”
He locked up. I waited, more for a sign that I should take out my wedding ring and beg a rain check. It didn't come and we linked arms on the way out.
As the station doors creaked into place, the rusty latch catching in its hold, we set off down the hill and I didn't look back.
Holly lives in France with her husband and cat. When she's not
writing, she's either running, cooking or struggling with the French
language. She enjoys studying theology and medieval history but hasn't
found a use for them yet. Some of her stories can be found in The First Line, The Battered Suitcase and Caper Literary Journal.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Exactly the Same'
'Times of Change'