Forgetting is So Long
He sat at a table at the window of the train station diner where he could see the adjacent platform. The blinds were down but the slats partly open; he was hidden in the grey dimness of the early winter afternoon. He held her letter in his hands. It had arrived earlier that week. In it, she told him that she’d heard from a mutual friend about his wife’s death several years before. She was alone now, too, she wrote. She’d be passing through his town on the train on the way to visit a daughter. She’d get off and look for him when it stopped. She gave the date and time. If he was interested in a visit, she would like that. If he wasn’t, she would also understand.
The tea in front of him had grown cold a half-hour earlier. He’d shaken away the waitress twice when she’d asked if he wanted it warmed. He thought about the freshness and promise of the time he and the woman had spent together forty years before in college. He thought of her going off to the city to pursue her acting. The plan had been that he would follow shortly afterward. But he never did. Instead, he took the unexpected and safe offer of teaching in the music department where he’d studied. He wasn’t as talented as her, he knew, and had much less chance of making it as a musician in the city. Over the years, as her fame grew, he always sought out the theater reviews of her newest work.
The announcement of the approaching train came over the station’s intercom, and he heard its rumble before he saw it. Its whistle blew and the engine passed him along with the next few passenger cars. It screeched to a halt, the cars rocking slightly, the doors hissed open, and then there she was, standing on the platform only yards away, an older version of the same woman he’d woken up next to and marveled at so often. He stood up suddenly, rattling the tea cup and saucer as he did.
She looked back and forth across the platform. She wore a long blue overcoat, a black scarf, no hat, and, like his, grey sprinkled her hair. She held a small suitcase in two hands in front of her. He saw her eyebrows knit into a frown. Her breath came in short cloud blasts in the cold. Her eyes, he saw, held the same tenderness; he’d imagined them when he’d written all those years ago that he wasn’t coming after all.
The intercom crackled its announcement to board; the train would leave in one minute. She looked again from one side of the platform to the other. He thought of how little he’d accomplished in comparison to what she had. He put his fingertips over his lips. He watched her sigh, shake her head, turn and begin to climb back up into the train car. He took three hurried steps across the diner. The train doors hissed shut. He burst onto the platform, but the train was already gaining speed, the car from which she’d emerged well ahead of him.