Gossamer Steel

Gossamer Steel

travel-guide

Calla heard the train before she saw its light cut through the fog.  The air horn blasted as the engine wound over the ribbon of track, at first unhurried and small then growing until it blew by the small people in the Nashville station. Calla clutched her baby and the steamer trunk that held the contents of her life.

“It’s about time,” she told her baby. “The North Carolina and St. Louis ain’t got nothing on Southern.  Southern’s more punctual than God.”

The air brakes cried. Sparks lit the air, and the wheel trucks clattered and groaned. The wind stirred up by the train whipped against the passengers’ faces and scattered fog across the platform where Calla waited. Lamps over her head burned to meet the morning and Calla yearned to feel their heat on her small hands.

Calla watched the conductor step down the from the vestibule.  He set out a box for passengers to step up on. In the brittle December, the train pulsed dense exhaust onto the platform and Calla was lost in the fog, afraid to move because she might be run over by the Red Cap porters who darted around her, seeming to know every inch of the planked platform.

Is it this cold all the time out west, she thought. She fingered the telegram that she folded neatly and put in her pocket for safekeeping.  The edges were tattered from worry and she thought about her husband’s command that her and his baby join him in Washington.  He would meet her train in Tacoma, it said, and she knew she’d catch Hell if she wasn’t on time.  He’d wired enough money for a bus from Monteagle mountain to Nashville and for a train to Chicago, then Tacoma.  She had hidden the change in her shoe, just enough leftover to pay for her dinners but not much else.

Is he going to keep his promises about the drinking, she thought, or will he just turn meaner without Mama to watch out for me?

In a moment, the fog cleared, but the cold remained crisp and bright. Calla’s wool coat barely deflected the wind, and the baby cried, his cheeks red and burned. When he nuzzled Calla’s warm neck, she pushed down her chin to hold off the cold nose, and pushed the baby’s face into the blue coat where it could rub  against the fabric and be still.

“Boarding!” the call came down the line. “Have all luggage checked.”

It’s about time, she thought, I’m about to freeze to death.

Calla stamped on the boards to get warm, a trick she’d learned growing up in a house with only a pot-bellied stove for heat. Through her sneakers she felt an icy snap from her arches to her knees and she wanted the fog back, so that the diesel exhaust could warm her legs and lick her thighs and fill her dress to the waist, where she never seemed to be warm enough.

“Boarding!” the call came again.

Red Caps wove through them, dollies in hand, wheeling baggage onto the train. The other passengers, dressed smartly in knee-length overcoats and warm hats, lined up to board the Pullman. A conductor held his hand out to the ladies, who smiled at him and whose husbands nodded their approval, and the same conductor, his uniform as bulky and black as the car, held the door for each and every one of them.

When she was last, and when the other bags had been loaded in the baggage cars and the other people had been escorted to the Pullman, Calla waited for them to load her trunk, feeling like a blue speck against the bulk of the train.

“This ain’t right,” she said to one porter.  “Me and this baby paid to ride this train, too, just like them rich folks.”

But the Red Caps, who danced around her as if she were a loose plank in the platform, had disappeared.

“Last call for boarding!”

“Don’t y’all leave me here.  My husband will beat the tar out of me if I miss this train.”

She pulled the steamer trunk along by the cracked leather handle until it broke, then kicked the trunk, pushed and cussed it across the planks, tearing off bits of the platform with its loose rivets.

“You need a hand with that?” the conductor said from the vestibule.

“Well, yes, I need help,” she said. “This thing’s heavier than I am.”

“Bo!” His voice was deep like the sound of churning wheel pistons. “Come get this here trunk for this pretty little girl.”

With a rush of exhaust the platform filled with mist and fog, and Calla stood still to let the warmth massage her knees and thighs and panties. A ghost from the fog, the Red Cap materialized, his skin shiny black against his muted white uniform.  He scraped up the trunk then dissolved into the steam.

“You and your baby follow Bo. He’ll get you fixed right up.” the conductor said.

“Follow him? I can’t even see him.  Besides, I got me a ticket for this Pullman car, and I intend to get on it.”

“And I’m President Eisenhower.” He stuck out his hand. “Ticket.”

Calla fished in her coat pocket, finding a sewing kit, a spare dime for a drink when she got to Chicago, and the telegram. “Must be in my other pocket. Here, hold the baby.”

Calla started to hand the baby up to him, but she yanked him back before he could lay a finger on it. Don’t let go of that baby, her husband had written in the wire and she knew better than to defy John Mark.  She shifted the baby to her other shoulder where it grunted and nuzzled against her neck and she reflexively pushed its cold face away with her chin.

“Oh God,” she whispered, “please let it be there. He’ll hurt me bad this time.” She pulled out the boarding pass, also neatly folded. “Here it is.”

“Thank you, miss.” The conductor pulled open the door.”That’s missus.”

Calla snatched her stub and stepped into the car.  She nudged her way down the aisle and hiked the baby up to her shoulder. For a nine month old, he slept heavy, like a red-faced rock she had to carry from one place to another. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to add a thimbleful of whiskey to his water. She had problems enough as it was.

It felt hot inside and she was instantly uncomfortable.  The door latched behind her and she leaned against it while an old man and a young occupied the aisle putting valises and hat boxes into the overhead compartments. The old man, dressed in a black suit, slammed a compartment door as Calla passed. The baby snapped up his head and cried.

“Be still,” Calla said. “Hush.”

The young man smiled as she passed him.  “How do?”  His dark suit with thin lapels was nothing like the mechanic’s coveralls her husband always wore, and the man smiled like it was natural for him, not something he had to force himself to do.  She ducked her head and slipped to the back of the car. She looked up at the overheads and wished in her meanest mind that she could put the baby in one of those compartments and not be bothered during the trip, but she hated herself for thinking about it and put it out of her mind.

Out of the deep pockets in the lining of her coat, she took one of six bottles of water. She tucked it under her free arm to warm it. She whispered to the baby, “that’s colder than a witch’s tit. See what I have to put up with for you.”  But the baby slept and sucked on the coat.

When she looked around, the smiling man was stuffing a duffel bag into an overhead. He sat two rows up facing the back of the car and caught her eye then winked, and she blushed at having been caught looking. The man opened his coat, stuffed his fingertips into his waistband, and closed his eyes.

John Mark puts his hands in the exact same place, she thought. But when this man did it, he wasn’t so ill-mannered.  Though her husband wasn’t exactly crude, he had his own ideas about the way things were done and not done.  A person couldn’t tell that about him because he was so reserved that he seldom spoke, often going a full day without saying anything to anybody.

Calla watched the man sleep.  “That’s one good-looking boy,” she whispered to the baby. Then no, she decided, he just looked nothing like her husband. But looks weren’t everything in a man.  Sometimes a girl had to be practical if she was ever going to get anywhere.  How many times since she’d married John Mark had she told her mama, love and good looks ain’t what concerns me in a man. And many how times had her mama answered, that’s good, because love ain’t got nothing to do with John Mark Hawkersmith, and if he had his druthers, he ain’t got nothing to do with love.

She wished now that she had sat closer to the man to maybe have somebody to talk to.  Her husband wouldn’t know any better, so he couldn’t throw a fit like he did sometimes when men spoke to her. “I suppose I could just move,” she said, but the baby weighed a ton now and she wasn’t the kind to be hopping from seat to seat, place to place. Once she sat somewhere, she rested.

The train jerked.  Slowly at first, almost as if it, instead of the train,  were moving, the Nashville station seeped by the window.  Within seconds, the city seemed far away and unreal, like the crayon pictures she had drawn in school, using bits and pieces of colors. The picture in the window became scribbled like the lid of a cigar box: just scraps like crayons on a hot sidewalk in summer melted into a liquid of color and sound so that only the distant rolling foothills of the mountain remained.  And before she turned back to the car, the horizon had gone–not melted, just gone–and the world she’d known was flat and without color.

The sleeping man opened one eye then the other.  As he passed her on the way to the john, Calla noticed his hair was cropped short in the back but covered his forehead in front where it was parted down the middle.  John Mark kept his hair clipper-cut and slicked down with Vitalis, a style left-over from his Army days. Calla’s brother had brought John Mark home to the mountain after Korea.  She didn’t like him at first because he didn’t talk enough and when he did, he gave orders, plus he was too old for her.  But after awhile she warmed up to him.  He wasn’t a mountain boy and she had thought this hard man could be her ticket to something better, and if not that, at least something else.

Now she ached for a smoke, just one, the menthol fog that soothed her nerves and filled her lungs with warmth. But with the other baby on the way, she didn’t think she should trade food money for cigarettes since she was eating for two and feeding another. She hadn’t been smoking that long.  John Mark taught her how to smoke when they were dating and he’d shared his once after they’d made love.  To Calla, the smoke was more satisfying than the sex. Then she thought of the night before he’d left town, when he’d come home drunk again and forced her legs open because she was too sleepy to say yes.

Wonder what you’ll say, she thought and patted her still-flat stomach, when I tell you about this present you left me with.

The baby cried to be fed. Calla stood, then sat, the side-to-side rocking of the Pullman throwing her off. She stood again and by bracing with her free hand, turned to the john behind her as the smiling man was opening the door. He bumped into them then caught Calla around the waist to keep her from falling.

“Excuse me,” he said.  “I’m sorry.  Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m fine.  You can let go of me now.”

“Of course.”

As he tried to slide by her, the train rocked and he rubbed against the back of her skirt.  He caught the headrest of a seat and pulled himself into his row.  Calla smoothed her skirt and grabbed for the closing door. Inside, she expected a ladies room like the ones in the movies–velour chairs, a vanity mirror, and lighting that made the skin milky white and rich red in the right places, or an attendant, maybe, who helped the ladies freshen up and passed out hand towels and thin mints. Instead, she found a sparse metal toilet and a box of a sink with no mirror.

A towel borrowed from the rack made a good burp rag.  She unbuttoned her blouse to expose her small breast and hard nipple that the baby clamped between its gums. “Good baby,” she whispered. Her breasts always itched at feeding. Alone at home, she would have kneaded her breasts, twisting them in her fingers until the nipples turned buttery. Sometimes she felt something between her legs like the rocking of the Pullman car.

“Might as well kill two birds,” she said and sighed. She wiped the toilet seat with paper. “Woo. I feel sorry for them well-diggers.” Goose bumps danced down her legs when she peed.

The baby finished and she put him on her shoulder.  Her breast was still uncovered and the nipple hardened with the cold.  She thought of the man and cupped her breast, pinching the brown nipple and rolling it between her fingers.  Her breathing became rhythmic and she squeezed the baby tight against her.

“Tickets!” the call came through the door.  “Tickets, please sir!”

Lights seemed to dance in front of her.  “Oh God, what am I doing?” She pulled up her panties with one hand by twisting her hips side-to-side and buttoned her blouse.  The baby burped as she slipped through the door and into her seat.

Another conductor worked his way down the car.  From her pocket, Calla took the ticket stub.

“Ticket, please.”

Even as she handed the ticket over, Calla knew from the way the man cocked his head, he was looking down on her, judging her ratty blue coat, faded red tennis shoes and the new bobby socks with yellow piping that were folded over with crisp edges.

“How did you get a first-class ticket?”

She choked off words that tasted like fuel.  She looked up at the square, rigid face. “I bought it.”

“With what money?”

“Mine. What’re you saying, I stole it?”

“Ain’t said nothing. Not yet. How old’re you, girl?”

Calla watched the overhead lights dance in the gold threads on his cuff. “Old enough.”

“Speak up. If you’re a minor traveling alone, I got to know that.”

“I’m nineteen.”

“Littlest nineteen I ever laid eyes on.”He pinched the ticket stub.  “Where’s your husband?”

“I’m going to meet my husband in Tacoma. Him and my brother found work there.” John Mark’s promises clattered through her head, Things’ll be better in Washington, a man can find work there, a good job.  Maybe we can get that house you been wanting.  Maybe a washer-dryer.

“What’s Tacoma like?” the blue man said.

“Don’t know. Ain’t been there.” She thought, It can’t be no worse than home.” How many times in the last month had she heard her mama say, You making a big mistake, going off to that man. How many times had she told her mama that John Mark was her ticket off the mountain and her mama would say, but what price you got to pay for that ticket?

As the conductor examined the ticket, the smiling man came over to them.  “Is there some problem here?”

“Nothing we can’t handle, sir.”

“I don’t mean to butt in, but I couldn’t help overhearing.  I can vouch for this pretty lady.  I myself saw her buy that ticket in Nashville.  The ticket agent wasn’t nice to her, either.”

Calla wanted to stick her tongue out at the railroad man.  They were all a bunch of bastards.

“I ain’t meaning to harass nobody.  I just got rules I have to follow.” His face was as stern as John Mark’s. “You and the baby be careful.  Chicago is a big city.”  He moved on.  “Tickets, please sir.”

“Thank you,” Calla said.

The man nodded, “No problem.”

She wanted to say more, but he turned away before she could think of anything.  With his fingertips in his waistband and his feet up on the facing seat, he closed his eyes.  Calla noticed how long his eyelashes were and how clean the soles of the shoes seemed.  She liked a man who took care of himself and his shoes, instead of tracking mud everywhere and letting the boots go to Hell.

The train settled into a rhythm, gliding sing-song on the twin threads of gossamer steel rails.  Calla warmed another bottle of water under her arm and tried to stay awake, but she fell asleep. The baby nuzzled warm into Calla’s neck.  They slept together for awhile until the baby woke her up crying.

“Hush now.  Shhh.”

She rocked in the seat, panicked to keep him quiet.  She knew a crying baby was the sign of a weak mama.  As the baby and the train rocked in unison, Calla noticed the man watching her. He whistled until the baby finished crying. Stealing glances, she noticed the man had dark skin and black hair that seemed tossed onto his head.  Her husband’s hair was already thinning. She remembered the feel of the crow’s feet on John Mark’s squinted eyes and then the down-turned corners of his brittle smile that didn’t dance like the white scar on the young man’s cheek bone. His eyes were smooth and only crinkled when he smiled.

“That your baby?” After finishing his last tune, he stood, caught his balance, then swung into the seat beside her.  “Is this seat taken?”

“Yes.”

“You mean it’s taken?”

“No, I mean it’s my baby.  The seat ain’t.”

“Pretty baby.”

“Thanky.”

“Pretty as its mother.”

“Hush up with that.  I ain’t pretty and you know it.”

“Pretty as a picture, so don’t try to be modest.  You traveling alone?”

“You’re awful nosy, mister.”  She put the baby on her shoulder and pounded some burps out of it.

“Just making polite conversation.”  He hummed again, then stopped.  “Any harm in that?”

“Ain’t selling nothing, are you?”

He laughed. “I’m a Navy man.  What do I have to sell?”

“Navy, huh?  You don’t look like you been in the Navy.”

“Just mustered out.”

She whispered.  “You got a tattoo?”

He cupped a hand beside his mouth. “Seven of them.”

“Seven?  Naw.”

“Naw.  You crack me up.”

“You ain’t got seven tattoos.”

“Have.”

“Prove it.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?  You a liar?”

“Nope.  Just can’t show them to you.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know you that well.”  His eyes whistled an exotic tune at her.

Fingering the wisps of the baby’s hair, she turned her head away from the man, suddenly sorry the conductor had interrupted her in the bathroom.  Calla patted the baby’s diaper and kept watch on the window.

“Care for a nip?”

“Huh?”

“Warm you up a bit.  Cures what ails you.”

“I don’t drink.  I’m a Baptist.”

“Isn’t everyone down here?  Here’s a joke for you, why don’t Baptists have sex?  It looks too much like dancing.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a joke, you know Baptists don’t dance.”

“I used to dance.”

He took a sip from his muted silver flask.  “Good stuff.” He patted his breast pocket. “You smoke?”

“No,” she said, though she craved a cigarette and wondered how satisfying one would be right now.

“Boy, you don’t smoke and you don’t drink.  No vices at all.  At least you can’t lie about being a virgin.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”

“You got a husband?”

She fanned her left hand to display the white gold ring.  “Yes, nosy, I do.”

“Where is he then?”  He tapped a fresh pack of Chesterfield’s against the back of his hand, unzipped the cellophane and slid off the wrapper.  Gently, he withdrew a cigarette, reinserted it and withdrew another.  Cupping his hands around the lighter, he massaged the roller. The flame, set barely above the wick, lit the tip of the cigarette.  He drew smoke deep into his lungs, blew rings that drifted level with his head before they were stripped of their shape by the humid draft.

She watched the phantom rings float away.  She yearned to cup the rings in her hands, to fold them neatly, crease the edges and stick them in her pocket along with the wire.  “Tacoma.  He’s been in Tacoma looking for work.”

“I’ve been to Tacoma, Seattle too.”

“What’s it like?  Bet you it snows a bunch up there.”

“Been all across the country.  Mexico, France, Philippines, Cuba, too.  Strange and wonderful world we have here.”

“You don’t say.  France.  What’s France like?”

“Cuba’s like a woman.”

“You’re strange.  I didn’t ask you about Cuba.”

“Sure you’re not wanting a cigarette?”

Her hand almost trembling, she plucked one from the pack.  “You tempted me into it.”

“The only way to resist temptation is to consent to it, that’s what I always say.”

The smoke sifted from her lungs into her body, settling her hands and her nerves.  Funny how fast a cigarette did its business.  She tasted the menthol and ran her tongue around the edge of her teeth and even blew a small smoke ring.  Things seemed much clearer now.  Her heart stopped beating so fast. “So, where you headed?”

“Home.”

“Where’s that?”

“Chicago.”

“Anybody ever tell you that you look like somebody famous?”

“Never.”

“You don’t, now that I think about it.”

He started whistling again, a deep, dirge-like tune.  “You like opera?”

“Don’t know.  Ain’t heard none. I like rock and roll myself and my husband, he’s big on country and western.”

“I’m not much for western, though there’s something about country girls I really like.”

He brightened and hummed.  For miles, he watched the window, a music stand that held the notes to his score.  Calla shifted the baby to the other shoulder after covering her coat with the soaked hand towel.

“When we get to Chicago,” he said, still watching the window.  “How about I show you the sights.”

“You mean going drinking?”

“Nope. You’re underage.  Besides, I meant sight seeing or dancing, that kind of thing.”

“If you was to buy a girl a present, what would it be?”

“Something that would match her beauty.”

“Wouldn’t be no washer-dryer, would it?”

“What kind of present is that?”

“You said you wanted to go dancing? That’d be fine. I’d like that.”

He leaned toward her. His scar jitterbugged in the light. “Your husband won’t mind?”

She laid the baby down on the seat beside her and covered him with his blanket.  Without the child’s weight, her shoulder felt like it was rising. Calla took a drag of the cigarette and blew smoke into the sultry cabin air. “My husband won’t know.”

They made their plans and he told her about his family’s home in Oak Park and about the lake and the jazz clubs downtown where they played music better, faster and with more guts than anywhere else on earth.  For hours he talked and she listened and the memory of the mountain and John Mark faded with each passing mile.  In time, she fell asleep with him still talking.

Then the baby woke crying, red-faced and gasping for air. Calla snatched him into her arms. His jagged cry rang through the car as if he were a train coming to a crossroads, blasting its air horn at passers-by. The other passengers watched Calla and the baby, and they began to whisper to one another. Calla tried a bottle, but the baby bit the nipple and cried despite it. Her attention darted down the aisles to the faces of the others until she rested on the dark man. In his eyes, she found no waltz, no slow dance, no help. She moved the baby to the sticky warmth of her neck. Calla felt the little cold nose and the soft cold lips against her skin. She hummed and rocked and pressed her head against her son’s cheek and warmed that too.

The train stopped in the Chicago depot.  Calla closed her eyes.  In the darkness, she felt herself still moving, still traveling, still fluid.  When she opened her eyes again, the man had stood.

“Got to get my stuff,” he said.  “Be back in a minute.”

Calla nodded.  The man slipped ahead of the other passengers to get his duffel bag.  He pulled on an overcoat while Calla gathered up the baby and their things.

“My train to Tacoma leaves in half an hour,” she said.

“Backing out on me?  I thought we had plans.”

“I just….”

“Come on.  Let’s get some coffee and we’ll talk.  Stick close to me, though.  Guys in this station get a load of you, I’ll have to beat them off with a stick.”

As they left the train, she stepped onto a concrete slab landing. A wrought iron rail separated the platform from the rest of the station. Calla held the baby high when they stepped through the turnstile and up the four steps to the main floor. The baby opened its eyes to the cold swirl of passengers leaving the platform.

A Red Cap whirled by her. “This you trunk.” He flicked the trunk off the dolly and wheeled into the crowd before Calla could stop him.

“Lord help me.” She tried to jerk the trunk along with her free hand. “Why didn’t they just put it on my next train.”

The man smiled.  “I had them get it.  Let me give you a hand.”  He hefted it up by the good handle.  “You don’t pack light, do you?”

The wind swept around her, moved her away from the cars and the noise of the train.  The current of people carried her toward the main terminal. She was glad to get off the train and back on solid ground.  There were things to think about, but first she needed a cup of loud black coffee.

The restaurant warmed her up. She felt the heat on her face, on the back of her hands. She heard the bright clink of flatware, dark whispers of conversation, the resonating shine of chrome-lined counters and stools where she sat.

“Coffee?” the man asked when the waitress came over.

“Coffee.” Calla said.  While she waited, she fed the baby a half a bottle of water.

The coffee came hot.  Calla considered, then decided against, the cubes of sugar and the metal pitcher of cream.  She would take it black and brightly steaming.  While rocking the baby, she poured coffee into the small saucer to cool it, then sipped from the saucer until the baby was finished with his bottle.

“Interesting way to drink coffee,” said the man.  When she didn’t answer he said, “You worried about something?”

“Look, I don’t know about this.  My husband won’t like it if I miss the train.”

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.  Just wire him that the train got delayed or your got lost, or they lost your trunk.  That could happen.”

“What about my baby?  I can’t take him to no jazz clubs.”

“No problem.  I’ll phone my mom up.  She’ll be glad to baby-sit for us.  She loves kids.”

“I don’t know.”

“Sure you do.  Wait here. I’ll be right back.”  He gulped down his coffee and walked out to a bank of phone booths on the other side of the station.

“What have I got myself into?” she asked the baby. “His mama won’t do it and that’ll be it.”  She patted his diaper as he bounced and hummed. Calla thought of taking the baby down, but she kept him there, a small timid comfort.

“Maybe what your daddy don’t know won’t hurt him. Wonder what it’s like to dance and sing all night.”

“Is this seat taken?”

A big woman, red muffler wrapping her neck and chin, politely sat on the stool next to them.  She signaled with one finger for a cup of tea.  She unwrapped her face, unbuttoned her smile.

“Cold enough for you?” she said.

“Sure is.”

“That’s a fine little boy you’ve got.”

“Thanky.” She smiled at the baby’s quiet blue eyes. “I always thought so.”

The woman dropped two sugars and a teaspoon of cream into her tea. “You have quite a load there.”

“Guess so.”

“Your husband’s giving you a hand, then?”

“My husband’s in Washington.  I’m on my way to meet him.””But the man who just left?”

“He ain’t my husband.”  Calla felt the rush of embarrassment and anger.  “Not that it’s any of your business.”

The woman sipped her tea.  “Of course it isn’t.  Didn’t mean to intrude.”

“He’s just a friend I met on the train from Nashville.  He’s real nice. He offered to take me around to see Chicago and go to a couple of places.  Things like that.  He’s gone to call his mama to see if she can baby sit for my son.”

The woman didn’t look up at Calla.  She stared straight ahead, the tea cup touching her bottom lip.  Calla followed her line of sight to the clock on the wall.  The train to Tacoma was set to leave in fifteen minutes.  The boarding call would come soon.  Calla shoved her hands in her pockets, feeling the sewing kit, an empty bottle and the telegram.

“I sound stupid don’t I?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.  My friend’s just got this way about him.”

“What’s his name?”

Calla searched their conversations and realized they had never introduced themselves and that she was considering giving her son to a woman she’d never met, even one who was probably harmless.  She looked back at the clock.

“Lady, I got to go.”

“Let me help you then.”

“No thanky.  I can handle it.”

“Now girl, a baby and a trunk is too much for anyone alone.  Let me help.”  She held out her arms to take the baby.

Calla pulled away.  “If you’re wanting to help, carry the trunk.”

The woman smiled without a sound: her eyes whispered a promise.  “All right then.”  She finished her tea and hefted the trunk in an avalanche of motion.  “Such a big trunk.”

Calla held the door. “Everything I own.”  The wind met them with gust of glistening air.  The woman’s face, raw against the cold, turned bright pink, then dull red before they climbed the steps to the platform.  While Calla held her son close, the woman hoisted the steamer trunk to her shoulder, seeming to swim in the sea of passengers.

“Thanky very much,” Calla told her when they reached the train.  A Red Cap, signaled by the woman, loaded the baggage.

“Take care.”  She patted the baby through the blanket and wrapped the scarf around her head and neck then stepped into the crowd until she disappeared, swept away.

Calla stood above the churning crowd, searching, separated by the wrought iron rail. “Please don’t come back. Don’t tempt me again.”

“Boarding!” the call came down the line.

Calla caught a glimpse of a bobbing face in the crowd. She clutched her son until he cried.  The train blew a dirge-like horn: people covered the platform like fog.  The man grabbed the railing and jumped up to the edge of the platform.

“Found you!” he said.

“Boarding!”

“Stay.  We’ll see the sights.”

Bodies pushed past her, careening in different directions, as if she were a smooth, hard stone in a rapid stream.

“Stay!”

She clutched the baby.  Her son cried again, unheard in the cacophony of light and motion.

“Stay!”

He held onto the rail with one hand and stretched out the other to her.  Somebody yelled for her to board.  As she allowed herself to be washed onto the train, she looked past him, eyes unfocused, as if he were a opaque dream lost in the deep shallows of sleep.

By | 2016-09-16T16:48:15+00:00 September 16th, 2016|Stories|0 Comments

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