She stood there without a coat and really, she needed one. It was cold outside – not bitter mind you, but a wet cold. The mist was chilling and when the bleak sun rays intermediately slipped from behind the heavy clouds, the light reflected coldly in the dripping moisture that clung to the bare tree limbs. The sluggish, he’d almost say lazy rain semi-solidified upon the winter brittle tree limbs and bushes, pulling the branches down toward the ground. So he stood there and watched her and pondered; why would she be without a coat in the middle of the semi-freeze?
So he continued to watch, intrigued, despite his concern regarding her lack of forethought. He enjoyed watching women. She looked down at her feet and studied her brown, nondescript shoes with more solemn attention than they deserved. She glanced up and he realized that oddly enough she smiled, in a sort of tired accepting fashion, at the long and bleak trail of the empty railroad tracks. He frowned in returned and glanced about for the person who must be teasing her — certainly someone must be — or perhaps she was thinking of someone. A young child that acted out to perhaps cheer her on dreary afternoons or perhaps she was thinking of a long term lover who knew her moods and who knew she didn’t do well on rainy days. He peered about certain someone must have caused that Mona Lisa smile but the train depot was empty outside of her and him.
He kept his distance, tactically checked his chin for any roughness; a sign that he wasn’t careful enough this morning while shaving but found his chin faultless. He didn’t understand the rage today to allow so much stubble on a man’s chin. It was nothing new, chin stubble. He remembered his grandfather, from the old country, German to the core, going a day or two without shaving, especially during harvest time. However, no matter how tired the man was he wouldn’t go out socially without a good shave. Why young men thought that going about in public with what he reasoned was a harvester’s beard made them sexier or more intriguing to women, was beyond him.
He glanced over at the young woman again who was now just inside the depot, standing alone by the door. She was staring right at him. She ducked her head, embarrassed to be caught in the act of obvious assessment. Though she looked away, he tried to give the woman a half smile and a nod. Wasn’t he doing the same? Looking her over? He just didn’t get caught – he wasn’t embarrassed.
What was there to be embarrassed about? A sixty-something, thick glasses, his tie too wide for present style dictates, his sports coat was a good fifteen years old, not quite navy blue and his khaki pants were ironed – taboo. He knew when he reached his destination he would be the only man there, young, old or otherwise with a plaid shirt. He knew he looked neat in appearance which of course would make him appear fastidious and unattractive.
He took out his well ironed, white, cotton, ’kerchief and wiped lightly at his nose to hide a smile. He had no idea why he thought it was funny to appear as a fussy old man but suddenly it was funny.
“Excuse me?” Her voice was soft and he could tell it took a lot for her to approach him.
“No one is at the ticket counter.” She turned to look at the vacant counter to confirm the obvious. He knew Mr. Mullins would be in the back making tea and spreading too much mayonnaise on his hard salami sandwich; a fact that he had to push out of his mind quickly for fear his disgust for Mr. Mullins and all things sandwich would show upon his face – and she would certainly misinterpret that. “I was wondering – do the trains run on time?”
“No, I’m afraid not. I do hope you are not trying to make a connection in the city.”
She smiled, almost it seemed in relief. “No, actually I’m not. I was just here to get away for awhile. I’m in no hurry to get back.”
“Ahh, you live there then.”
Her face became suddenly still, void of animation, and almost pasty. “Well, I work there.”
He could only nod, not knowing really how to take her odd reply. He wondered suddenly, with dread, if she was going to start telling him her life story. How she was alone in the world, working for next to nothing for a man who had everything and existing in a small garret apartment in a rather run down part of town.
But he felt his shoulders relax for she simply turned away and walked back to stare out of the window, watching the mist gather into pools of muddy water upon the sidewalk and along the tired tracks that never varied in direction since the day they were laid to accommodate the so few who used public transportation.
He looked about at the depot, not changed since sometime in the 1970s – and at that the only change was disconcerting. The railway had thought it best to do away with the long time wooden benches and replace them with spoon-like fiberglass seats that not even the most agile of hoodlums could slouch into a workable, relaxing sit-down. Most in the small town were outraged at the change and so the renovations stopped – the wood and glass of the depot were saved for prosperity. The benches? Most were saved and had places of honor in homes around the small town; his own front entrance sported a sanded down renovated bench – it glowed in shining glory there under soft lamps and amid walking sticks and umbrellas. Of course, no one sat on it any longer. Good company just wiped their feet and kept on toward his large living room – forgetting about the bench altogether.
Of course, there were the Smiths. They wanted two of the benches and insisted that the carvings and the overall wear and tear of the benches made them pieces of art. He snorted aloud at the memory. Checking himself, he glanced over at the young woman to see if he had offended her at all with his noise of disdain, obviously not, she didn’t even look in his direction.
Works of art indeed. He knew they had no intention of cleaning up the wooden benches while their copious amount of children and now grandchildren still charged about their house as if they were aboard Vice Admiral Halsey’s Enterprise, during the battle of Midway…
“I’m sorry to bother you again…”
He stood abruptly and she took a step back. He tried to smile but he knew that his attempt at trying to look friendly only made him come off as condescending so he tried to frown just a little as if the next words out of her mouth would tilt the world.
To his delight, she fought a genuine smile. “I was wondering, just how late does the train arrive? I thought of going over to the café for some coffee…”
He interrupted her. “OH, I’m afraid it maybe a little late for that. I think the train is nearly here. ”He was swelled with his own good luck. Mr. Mullins had come around the depot and was standing on the sodden wooden planks outside. He must have been notified that at last the errant train into town was coming ‘round the bend.
She turned following his glance past her. She flushed slightly and said “Oh. Well, I guess that’s what I get.”
He wasn’t quite sure how to respond to her – what sort of retribution had she received? He had only stated a fact and it certainly wasn’t an inconvenience to let her know the train was imminent; as a matter of fact the timing of the situation was wonderful, it reminded him of a Sherlock Holmes story but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the title.
She turned and seemed to wander away from him, rather than walk in any one direction. He cocked his head slightly; a habit his last lover found particularly annoying. He smiled to himself and wondered what that eminent and profound woman was doing with herself lately.
He heard the clatter of the slowing train and the low warning whistle. He filled his lungs, suddenly exuberant with the thought of the two-hour train ride, and a day and night in the city. He had some shopping to do, then a late supper with one of his long time sorority friends. They planned to meet at their club, and though the dress code was a nuisance, he was looking forward to the all-male company the club offered. He liked women but only in small doses.
He turned and she was standing in the rain, huddled was more like it. He was instantly annoyed. Why on earth didn’t she stay in the station until the train had stopped and was ready for passengers? He shook his head but determined, he grabbed his umbrella and headed in her direction. He walked up to her and extended his deep, black umbrella over her.
“You could have stayed in the station…” she was obviously crying. “What on earth is wrong?”
“I don’t want to go.” Her voice was strained and hiccuped out her words. He wanted to run. Hand her the damned umbrella and run. She was young, probably sentimental and had heartbreaking thoughts of never seeing this tiny, little, quiet, peaceful, peering, scrutinizing, gossiping, town again.
“My dear young lady, I’ve lived here all of my life, you’re better off in the city and facing the heartbreak of leaving this antique encrusted little tourist town once a year on vacation rather than being tethered to it and all its gossiping politics for the rest of your life.” He heard Mr. Mullins clucking in the background and it was all he could do to keep from turning on the old man and glaring him into his grave. He turned back to the young woman, “What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Abraham, how do you do?”
And for the first time in his life, he saw a romantic glimmer of hope for she smiled through her tears, “I’ve always wanted someone to say that to me,” she said softly “but I don’t think your name is really Abraham.”
He looked hard at the simple, almost gray woman before him, young, her eyes red from crying and she needed a tissue for her nose. Her hair curled under the misting rain and the little bit of makeup she wore was blotted on her face. “My name is Nathaniel Barrett and I am the proverbial “Philadelphia Lawyer,” which has allowed me to retire early and work on only what interests me in the world of high finance. I hate romantic books, antique dealers, and the crushing academic weight of “women’s studies.”
“I’m Sarah Lewis, I’m a poet and essayist. I majored in women’s studies and I love anything old.”
He stood staring at her as the train spewed exhaust and clanked contently to a stop He smiled at the young woman without thinking how he must appear; “Pleased to meet you,” he said.