A man rushes to catch his train and finds he arrived early.
| I should have left hours ago, I chided myself, clamping my trilby to my head with one hand and swinging my briefcase with the other. When I woke up that morning, my watch told me I had eight minutes to make the next train to Chicago. No time to shave, I’d packed my toiletries into my case and planned to shave on the train. As I approached the railroad station, my run stuttered to a jagged lunging; The clock over the station stated the time was 9:45. An hour and fifteen minutes away from the Chicago train’s arrival. Confused and still catching my breath, I pulled up my sleeve and studied the ol’ wristwatch. I suppose I didn’t realize when I woke that it had wound down in the night.
Sighing, I made my way to an ironwood bench and plopped down on it, quite worn from my little stroll. Cracking open my suitcase, I found relief that my razor had stayed wrapped in its burlap instead of slicing up my paperwork. I hadn’t brought a hand mirror to assist in shaving, alas I felt around my face and shaved by touch. A little more raspy there, smooth here, stubble over there.
It wasn’t until I nicked my chin that I finally noticed her across the way; a little girl no older than sixteen perched feebly on an adjacent bench, her legs squeezed tightly together with her pale, thin arms crossed over a small twill portmanteau in her lap. In the wind, the hem of her tweed tent dress beat against her ruddy knees, her white thread-bare stockings barely holding enough heat to her legs. With her head bent, only her muddy locks were visible, spread over her shoulders underneath a straw boater with a frayed white ribbon.
Wiping a bead of blood from my chin with my handkerchief, I squinted at the cardstock tag on her bag’s handle. It seemed to be marked with dainty, messy handwriting, and quivered with her cold trembling. It didn’t feel as cold as she was affected, but not everyone could handle the fall winds in Minnesota. I remember the hesitation in slipping off my dove-gray suit jacket, fearing I would frighten her as I approached her bench. I leaned over her and gently set it over her shoulders, causing her to flinch and look up at me. Her eyes were widened, yet dark and sullen. Her cheeks, which may have held rosiness before, now bore the shadows of hollow dimples, and her pointed nose made her face look like a rat’s. Her lower lip quivered as she pulled the jacket snug around her small frame.
I gave her a little smile and returned to my bench, packing up the razor and clicking my suitcase shut. Rather than returning to her previous chin-in-chest position, she continued to peer at me from across the way, with what emotion I couldn’t tell. As I relaxed my posture, the distant sound of a chugging locomotive approached. Not mine, I thought as I absentmindedly checked my watch again, then looked at the station clock; The ten o’clock train was set for Boston.
With a screech of brakes, a hearty 2-10-4 pulled in. As the doors of the passenger car slid open, suited stockbrokers and salarymen scurried out, eager to get home and blocking my view of the girl. As the light crowd dispersed, I realized she was no longer on the bench, and had left my jacket behind. I turned my attention toward the train, where the girl was tapping on a window, barely loud enough for me to hear. She waved at me with a shy beam. I waved back to her and she hopped down from the seat, disappearing from the window into the aisle.
With the train slowly livening up again, I stood and ambled over to the bench, picking up my jacket when something seemed to flutter down from its loose fold. I adorned the jacket, barely warmed by her frame, and plucked the beige tab from the dusty earth. Why, it was the tag from her portmanteau. Barely legible, the scribbling read, “We love you Sidney, don’t forget us!” I turned back to the tracks, meaning to return the card, but the locomotive had already barreled out of sight.