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Trio - May Pham

Slow Train

The man waited at the train station. The man was waiting for a train that should have come fifteen minutes ago. That is at least what the ticket said. He didn’t mind so much. The family near him did. The mother, a round woman, bickered and whined about the late train as if it was the cause of all the problems in her life. Observing the mundanity of her problems, the man could almost believe that. The father was trying to keep a positive attitude which frustrated her even more. The two kids worried over their parents’ non-stop shouting. The older girl put her iPod on after a few moments, trying to drown the silver-edged noise. She couldn’t take it anymore and yet there was nothing in hell she could do about it. It was like taking a shower to clean yourself of irremovable grit.

The man smiled at this. She could probably understand one day, understand that an iPod just wasn’t enough. He turned his attention elsewhere. Unfortunately there was nothing else that interesting at the station. It was an ordinary station, in fact so ordinary that it was almost extraordinary. Open air. Platforms either side of the tracks. Stairs leading up to the ticket booth. Dirty but not unbearable. Among the people, there was the man, the family, an old pink lady using a walking stick, a college couple that busied themselves with themselves— kissing— and another man whose clothes suggested he was going to the city for some work related thing. The sky was blank and bright and the sun glared down on them, uncompassionate, in that ordinary train station.

And yet it was not ordinary. Not for the man at least. This was the train station he should have been at two weeks ago. It was the train station that would have brought him to his kid if he hadn’t forgotten. The man had tried not to forget; in fact he thought there was no way he could have been made to forget. He’d written the date on his calendar, he’d told any interested listener at the bar about it, he’d even told his girlfriend about it. She wasn’t happy but she understood. They had been together long enough now that she saw what it meant to him. For god’s sake the man hadn’t seen his kid for eighteen months now. Those were the terms he’d been given and he had pretty much abided by them. On occasion he went to the city to his kid’ school to spy on her from afar, but for eighteen months, not a word was spoken between father and daughter. He had been nervous about going to court that day, he’d been nervous about how his daughter would react, how the judge would evaluate his new lifestyle, how his. . . but he forgot. It didn’t matter anymore. His ex-wife was calm when he called to apologize.

“Scarlett,” he said, “about yesterday. . .”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like it came as that much of a shock,” she said.

There was an awkward pause.

“Your lawyer turned up though. Showed the judge how good you’d been, that you’d got a full time job and stopped drinking.”

Another pause.

“For God’s sake Julian, don’t you care? Do you even give a damn? When you didn’t show, she started crying. Crying. Crying because. . .A six year old, Julian, a six year old helpless at court,” she said.

Julian was silent.

“I’m sorry.”

He hung up the phone. He got a call from his lawyer about an hour later telling him that he could go see his kid in two weeks. Now it had been the two weeks. Now it was time. Except the train was late.

Julian’s eyes followed a mosquito to the ground before him, he had really meant to go. He had. He meant to catch the train early for it was a morning hearing. His plan was all laid out perfect, but then his girlfriend called. She invited him for dinner. He accepted. He would still have time to reach the train station, right. Not like it was a party or anything, and it would calm his nerves. He’d be with the most adorable woman in the world. The man drove there thinking about when he would ask this woman to marry him. And that boy . . . that five year-old boy with that blabbing voice. He kept repeating how he had been the first in his class to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. Julian had shown him that when they had first met. The boy was a slow learner but he got there in the end.

Dinner was good. Just some white sauce pasta with prawns from this Italian joint about a five minute walking distance from her place. He’d been there a lot actually, usually taking a cheese pizza. It was good cheese pizza.

They put on a movie afterwards. He could not remember what it was. He just sat there watching her. It was a treat for the boy too, he was usually meant to be asleep by ten on a weekend.

Well, the night turned quickly into morning and his girlfriend was in a rush to get to work. He was feeling so happy that when she asked him to babysit her kid, he didn’t think. When he did think, he thought he loved this woman, how could he refuse.

The family was silent now. Yet tension was still there. The younger brother looked nervously at his sister, who avoided his gaze. Julian looked up at the sun in the empty sky. How would his daughter react to him now? He didn’t think the scene would play out too well. It had been re-imagined in his head a hundred times this fortnight and no matter how hard he tried to keep positive, he never could. Maybe it would be better not to go, he thought again. Scarlett gad been doing just fine with their daughter, and his daughter was probably reluctant to see him. She was his daughter though, and thinking of passing up the chance hurt him. But his daughter could refuse to see him if she wanted, those were the terms. She could simply say no and that was that. No more to it.

The family stood up. The train was coming in. the family briskly made their way into the train without a word to each other. Everybody else got on the train. Now it just stood there, doors wide open, inviting him to come in. Asking him to come in.

Trio by May Pham, online publication

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