Inspired by Alice Munro, and her well-deserved Nobel Prize.
On the bench outside the station I sat and waited. If I could have felt my limbs they would have ached, for I’d been holding my muscles rigid, huddling for warmth I could not contain. My own breath mocked me with each cloud it formed. I wondered if a key survived that would open the padlocked doors. The weathered building hunkered alongside the main road. The bare birch trees shivered in the snow-filled breeze, the small dark spots on their bark made to seem to glow by the familiarity of the white surrounding. Even the building, its peeling clapboard panels flecked with grey, seemed to want to blend, cling to its small-town anonymity. I looked along the rails that ran away to my left, and to my right, and that refused to sing.
Beyond the tracks, across the street a woman leant into the wind, shuffled along the sidewalk. Her body was bent over but her head was not bowed. Instead she braved the weather, her lips pursed against it. A man appeared from a doorway, fastened the topmost button on his coat and nodded at her as she passed. They must have known each other’s names, the names of their children, their family histories. They wasted no words, only nodded. The man glanced across at the clapboard station, at the bundle huddling there on the bench. He raised a hand to his eyes, not to hail or greet, but to shield, the better to view me. He did not know me. He turned away.
Minutes ebbed and flurried. I watched the toing and froing of this black and white world. People passed by, stopped, or didn’t. I hadn’t noticed the man who had walked along between the tracks. If not for the gaggle of watchers who had assembled across the street, I wouldn’t have known he was there, kneeling on the sleeper, staring through this world and into the next. I thought at first they had assembled to discuss my presence. I felt the timbre of my body alter from huddling to crouching. They looked at me. They looked away. They looked at me. Faces appeared from behind upturned collars, pulled-down hats. Their eyes seemed to speak some local dialect I could not grasp.
Then I saw him. The snow had already begun to cling to his uniform, drawing him into his surroundings. In a town like this, in weather like this, nobody cries. Yet he knelt there sobbing, tears crusted on his cheeks. For hours I’d been sitting. I tried to stand, my legs too stiff to hold me. I looked at those watching faces. Why did they not move? Why did they not call to him, comfort him? They all turned to me, their eyes wide, each open mouth a silent plea. I stared along the track, peering into the inevitable, my heart thumping out a rhythm. Then I cupped a hand to my ear. And I prayed. I prayed that those rails would still their song.