Empty Train Tracks

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about the last conversation between a man and a woman.

Submitted: February 24, 2015

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Submitted: February 24, 2015

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Empty Train Tracks

The rolling hills that lay across Hudson Valley were long and white. And they offered the train station that stood in the valley no shade. The train station stood in between two lines of train tracks that ran up and down for hundreds of miles. And the station cast a long rectangular shadow on the earth, and in the shadow was a table that stood before a bar. The bar was near the main entrance of the station, and hanging across the open door of the bar was a curtain made of bamboo strings. A man and a woman sat at the table in the cool shade, while the sun gleamed brightly in the clear blue sky. The day was hotter than usual, and the temperature outside was slowly increasing. The man and the woman watched several passengers waiting for the train that would come in twenty minutes. The train stopped at the station for a few minutes, and the passengers began to fill its carriages. Then after some time the train left and moved on to Atlanta.

“It’s pretty hot today,” the man said and wiped a few drops of sweat from his brow. “What should we drink?” he asked the woman sitting before him.

“I don’t know,” she answered.

“How about beer?” he asked her.

The woman shrugged her shoulders, and the man called the waitress to their table.

“Two beers,” he said.

The waitress, a woman with short brown hair, nodded and then disappeared inside the bar.

“I hope it’s not this hot in Savannah. It’ll be hard working in this weather,” the man smiled at the woman, but she did not say anything; she was looking absently at the hills in the distance.

The waitress came back and placed two glasses of beer down on the table. The man picked up his glass and drank part of the beer.

“Did you know Amy is married? It seems like yesterday that I saw her walking home from school.”

“Beth just told me yesterday that she married that boy that always came by her house.”

“What’s his name?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I think it’s something like Brad or Matt.”

“Wasn’t he the boy we met at the carnival last week?”

“Maybe,” she picked up her glass and drank from it. She set her glass down and looked about her. A train had just arrived, and passengers were pouring out from its carriages.

“It’s crowded today,” the man said as he looked around and saw the passengers that had stepped out of the train.

“Train stations are always crowded,” the woman said.

“But some days are more crowded than others.”

Somewhere nearby a train left the station and the rumbling sounds of its wheels rolling on the tracks echoed loudly throughout the bar.

“Wonder what the jobs are like in Savannah,” the man said.

The woman did not say anything.

“I hope they pay more, then I’ll earn enough money so we can get married,” he said with a small smile on his face.

The woman looked down at the table and then said, “I thought you said we’re going to get married after you come back from New York.”

The man sighed, and said, “We already talked about this, Anne. I don’t have enough money for our wedding.”

“We can borrow money.”

“We can’t borrow money for the rest of our lives.”

“We can use my mom’s money just for our wedding.”

The man brushed his hand through his hair and said, “I still have to pay her back. I can’t live off of her money for the rest of my life.”

He looked at the woman and then said, “I’ll only stay there for a few months to earn enough money, I promise.

“That’s what you said last time,” the woman said, quietly.

The man let out another sigh and said, “I know. I promise it’s not going to be like that this time.”

“I don’t understand,” the woman said.

“We’ve talked about this before. Can’t you just try to forget it? I’ll be gone in a few minutes. Let’s try to forget all of this and have a fine time.”

“All right,” the woman said.

The man sat back in his chair and drank more of his beer, and then said, “When’s Beth going to get married?”

“In two months.”

“I guess I can’t come to her wedding then,” he said.

“I guess not,” the woman echoed after him, and then fell silent.

She drank from her glass, and then said in almost a whisper, “I don’t understand.”

The man groaned inwardly and waited for her to speak.

“Why do you always think about money?” she asked.

“Because that’s what we need most right now,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.

“You never think about us, Nick.”

“I always do,” he said.

“You’re always going somewhere to find money. I hardly ever see you.”

“I have to find money. After we have enough money, I’ll stay with you and everything will be find,” he said.

“What makes you think that?”

“Money’s the only thing we need to be happy again,” he said.

The woman looked away towards the hills and then looked back down at her glass. She opened her mouth to speak, but the man cut her off and said, “We already talked about this. I promise I won’t stay there long. I’ll come home as soon as I have some money, then we’ll get married.”

The woman did not say anything. She picked up her glass and drank the rest of the beer. “It’s getting pretty bright,” she said as she shaded her eyes with her hand.

“Let’s move to another spot.”

The man and the woman stood up, left the money for their drinks on the table, and then walked into the train station. Inside the station the woman looked at the people carrying baggage, waiting for their train. She saw a couple hugging each other tightly as they heard the bell and the rumbling sounds of their train. She sighed and continued to walk on.

The man and the woman walked silently through crowds of people; some were crying, some were laughing, while others were struggling to say their goodbyes. The couple walked towards a platform that stood beside a train track and stopped next to a column that bore the platform number. The man leaned against the column, placed his bag on the ground, and gazed absently at the people walking by. The woman saw another couple standing nearby. They were holding hands and talking quietly.

“Why couldn’t we be like them?” she asked as she gazed at the couple.

The man looked at her for a moment, and then said, “Cut it out. I’ll be leaving in a few minutes. Can’t you be happy, just for once this time?”

“Why can’t you stay with me?”

The man did not say anything. He knew what he would say and what she would say back to him. They had argued about this since he came back from New York, when he told her about his trip to Savannah. He had met her three years ago, when his father was still alive. He was dependent on his father’s money then. A few months later his father, who had suffered from a weak heart since birth, suddenly passed away. He went to New York to find a better life, but the new environment did not suit him. He came back to Dawson and promised to marry Anne, but money always seemed to stop him from keeping his promise.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

The woman looked at him and then dropped her gaze.

“We can’t get married, not right now. I can’t give you the life you’re living right now.”

“But…”

Before she could say anything, the train’s noises drowned out her voice. The train stopped beside the platform and some of the people nearby began to climb onto the carriages. The man and woman slowly walked towards the train. They stopped a few feet away from the train, and then turned to face each other.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

The woman did not say anything; she only wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. She placed her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes and thought of the next hour, the next day, the next week—the time when he would not be by her side. She had said goodbye to him before at this very train station. She tried to control all of the emotions that flooded into her mind at the same time. She heard the loud chattering and hundreds of footsteps echoing around her, but she ignored them. She did not want him to go; they could use her mother’s money and have a wedding.

“Don’t go. You don’t have to go. We can always use—“

He pushed her away from him and held her shoulders. He shook his head and said, “I can’t. I don’t want to live on her money.”

He gazed at her for a while, and then said, “Come with me, to Savannah. We can start a new life there. You can help me, and then we’ll get married.”

She stared at him, her eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open. She could not say anything. He had never asked her to come with him before. She had always lived in this city, she could not imagine going to a new city and starting all over again. She averted his gaze and looked down at the ground.

He saw the expression she wore and quickly changed the subject. “I…I think it’s time for me to go.”

She let out a deep breath, and slowly followed him to the compartment door on the train.

“I’ll write to you when I get there,” he said.

She nodded, but could not say anything more. He took her hand in his, held it tight against his chest, and leaned towards her and kissed her. He suddenly felt a lump in his throat as he tried to say his next words, “I…”

The bell on the train rang loudly as the train engine began to churn. The passengers began to run over to their compartments, climbing quickly onto the train. The man released the woman’s hand, kissed her again, swung his bag on his shoulder, and slowly walked towards the train door.

Before he walked into the compartment he turned around and called out to her, “I’ll be back, soon. Take care of yourself.” He waved goodbye and then disappeared inside the train.

Steam flowed out from the train as its wheels slowly rolled along the tracks. The people standing in front of the platform waved goodbye to their friends and their loved ones and then watched the train disappear into the distance.

The woman stood in the midst of the crowd and then walked towards the entrance of the train station. She thought of his question, but she could not bring herself to answer it. She knew what she would say, but she could not say it. She walked out of the station and looked towards the direction his train was heading to. She looked around her and saw a couple dressed in simple clothing walking together, talking and smiling to each other. She turned away and saw another couple dressed in rich garments, standing side-by-side, but their faces were emotionless. She thought of what he had said, and her reactions to his words.  She thought that maybe they were both wrong; maybe they did not need money after all; maybe all they needed was to stop thinking about money; maybe she should have left this town and gone with him; maybe this time he had really left her.

She buried her face in her hands and then slowly took them away and saw the bright sun gleaming before her eyes. The usual sounds of the train station now became faint and distant in her mind. Her eyes became hazy as they gazed at the empty land where the train tracks stretched out towards the big cities. A soft breeze swept past the woman and then abated before it could move through the valley.

She suddenly walked back into the station and moved quickly through the crowds and then stopped at the platform, where she had said goodbye to him. She stood before the empty train tracks—her face bore no emotions, her eyes gazed at everything that stood before her, and yet all she saw was the old, rusty railway. He had left, but she was still here. He had asked her to come with him, but she never answered. She looked towards the direction the train had headed to, but she could only see the blinding sunlight. 


© Copyright 2019 MellyHamilton. All rights reserved.

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