by Than Pence
Sarah takes a train to her grandmother's home one last time.
|She sat down with a petite grunt, wiping hair off her forehead. The train station had been too warm and Sarah was glad to be sitting in the air conditioned cart. She wasn’t thrilled about the circumstances.
As a teen, she rode this train every summer to her grandmother’s in St. Louis. Sarah spent a month there, following the school year, and then went back to Chicago. It had been a trip she enjoyed every year. Ever since graduating high school, she hadn’t made the trip as much. Focusing on her college courses, she let her grandmother’s visits fall to the wayside, always telling herself that there would be time in the future to make one more trip.
Only here she was now, in early June, traveling to pay her respects.
A man sat across the aisle and immediately started reading a book. Sarah noticed the title and rolled her eyes: it was by Michael Crichton. In college, she had dated a man that had been obsessed with Jurassic Park. “The book, Sarah, not the movie! The book is so much better and... poignant!”
Presently, Sarah couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the memory, at the fact that the word “poignant” had been used to describe such a book. She chuckled thinking about Kyle, how upset he’d get when she oversimplified Jurassic Park. His eyes went wide, his mouth agape: a sight to behold.
Looking from his book, the man said. “Something funny?”
Sarah stared. “Uh, no. No. Just remembering a joke.”
“Uh huh.” His face looked stern. “Well, I couldn’t help noticing you’re sweatin’ like a pig.”
“Excuse me?” Caught off guard, Sarah felt completely affronted by this stranger’s choice of words.
“The sweat. It’s unseasonably warm out there, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, so what? It’s warmer all the time. Global warming and all that shit.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe something else, maybe nothing.”
“Are you saying you don’t believe in global warming?”
He closed his book around his thumb and turned towards her. “Now, why would I believe in it if I don’t know for myself how warm or cool Earth was fifty years ago, or even ten years ago? I was just a little tyke then so I wasn’t paying attention. Just getting’ tan from playing outside too much and lovin’ the hot, swimmin’ weather. Now, yes, the heat does bother me, but that’s what summer is all about: getting’ hot.”
Uncomfortable with the connotation, Sarah turned her attention to the window and watched as the train pulled away from the station. Of course global warming is real. The whole freakin’ planet is warming up. Ass. She didn’t want to say this to the stranger directly because he might’ve continued down an even more uncomfortable path of conversation.
Time moved slowly. Sarah recalled from her childhood how she would get antsy sitting on the train, alone, careful not to talk to strangers. She focused on what they passed. Now, everything was different. The train passed through small towns that appeared to be rundown or completely forgotten. She imagined that the trickle-down effect from the increasing hard economic times were what caused such small towns to suffer so much.
What Sarah usually enjoyed during the train ride was not on the way to her grandmother’s, but on the way back: a vast field of yellow hibiscus bloomed in early July. Sarah would always hate leaving St. Louis, but the hibiscus field helped make it easier. She would open the window and take in the fragrances and watch it stretch for miles outside of St. Louis.
Sometimes, Sarah would ask her grandmother to come back with her just because she knew she’d enjoy the flowers too. She had hated leaving but she also loved it because she never had come across another field so vast and thick with so many beautiful flowers.
Hours passed. The train usually took almost six hours to get to St. Louis from Chicago. Sarah found herself nodding off from time to time, but she mostly focused on the world outside, intently ignoring Michael Crichton’s fan across the aisle.
A fragrant aroma hit her suddenly.
Looking at her watch, Sarah knew they would arrive in Missouri soon enough, less than an hour from now. But the scents were so intensely familiar and she couldn’t help but feel sad. She knew she was going to a funeral but she had promised herself she wouldn’t feel sad or guilty about not getting to see her grandmother sooner. There were some things, like heatstroke, that weren’t always avoidable.
Thinking on the cause of her grandmother’s death, she glared a baleful eye at the book-reading stranger. He gave no notice and she turned back to the window… only to be greeted by the most wondrous sight she’d seen in years.
Yellow hibiscus stretched as far as her eyes allowed. Sarah felt a stirring in her heart and she wondered if she had forgotten exactly when the flowers were supposed to bloom. No, it was July. School ended in June, I stayed with Gram for a month, and the flowers were here on the way back. With disbelief, she took in the awe inspiring vision.
Tears began to fill her eyes as she realized she was sad because this was what had greeted her each year after she left her grandmother. Only now, her grandmother had left her and that’s what had incurred this fated train ride. Wiping her eyes, the stranger looked over and said, “You okay?”
She felt like telling him to go to hell, but she didn’t, only nodded.
“You allergic to the hibiscus?”
Not wanting to get personal with the strange man, she nodded again.
“That’s a shame. Especially since they bloom earlier and earlier each year. It’s the heat. I’m just glad I don’t have allergies.”
Continuing to stare out the window, Sarah admired the flowers and what they represented, hoping she could get all the tears out before arriving in St. Louis one last time.
Word Count: 1,000