The weathered face tipped its hat, passed by. The conductor smiled, guy must have fallen off a lot of horses, He thought, watching the old cowboy stiffly clamber off the train.
The cowboy clutched the fleece collar tight about his throat as the icy wind slapped his face. He lit a cigarette, scanned the white world surrounding him. The snow was gray, flecked with soot and ash, adding to the somber stillness of a sky reluctant to give up night.
He blew a cloud of smoke into the frigid stillness, damn, how could it be colder in southern Oregon than in eastern Montana.
Horns honked and lights flashed as the half dozen passengers who’d exited ahead of him scurried for their rides. He looked around, side tracks filled with empty boxcars, a neighborhood of vacant warehouses, a place prosperity had years ago passed by, like so many other dying towns.
hauling a beat up suitcase, he trudged towards the unlit station, plopping down on the sagging slats of an ancient wood bench.
He leaned back against the station’s peeling paint. Winter’s hanging on here too, he thought, looking up at icicles hanging from the drooping roof. . He stretched the leg that always ached when the temperature dropped and inhaled the cigarette.
His body shivered again. Damn, it’s cold here, and not a sign of life. He’d written, told her he was coming, but she’d not written back. He knew letters were out of style, had been for a long time, but he’d never owned a phone. It had been awhile, her wedding day, the last time they’d seen each other. A lot going on that day, they’d barely talked before the newlyweds set off for Vegas and he drove back to work in big sky country.
He blew more smoke, chuckled, that pickup had died in Idaho and he’d had to hitch the rest of the way.
Something must have come up. Didn’t she have kids now, twins?
He propped the aching leg up on his suitcase, sighing with relief for the small comfort gained. He heard a familiar noise to the left. Another train coming, heading south.
Then he remembered her, saw her on that hot July afternoon, remembered chasing her on the beach, hearing her delighted screams as they splashed, laughed, as waves lapped around their bare white feet.
He smiled, remembering catching up with her, both of them out of breath.
She’d looked up at him, thrown her arms in the air and simply said,
He’d never forget the joy that one word gave him as he picked her up and hugged her, that last moment of happiness before her mother, his wife, had died.
She flashed through the station and burst out onto the platform.
It was empty, no one in sight, only the end of a freight train receding in the distance.
Damn! she cursed, stomping her boots on the worn wooden platform. the twins had been sick all night. Gary had worked an extra shift at the mill, they needed the money. He’d come in after midnight and collapsed on the couch in his work clothes, never uttered a word, fast asleep.
It was three a.m. when the girls finally dozed off. She’d crashed, slept right through the alarm.
She remembered the letter. He was arriving on the early morning train, the train that had passed through nearly two hours ago.
“Damn!” she cursed again, “why don’t you get a cell phone?”
She looked down to see a boy with an armload of newspapers staring up at her.
She stared back.
“He said you might come, said you’d be a woman with pretty blond hair. here,” he reached out a hand with a folded piece of paper.
“Where is he? Where’d he go?” she replied, absently taking the note.
the boy pointed to the train nearly lost in the distance, “I think he hopped that freight.”
The boy went inside to load up the paper box
She stared out at the empty landscape, threw up her arms and screamed,
the white paper floated onto the dirty snow.
Moral: Timing is everything