February 23, 2011

Waiting...

I stood nervously waiting on the empty platform, the snow building up by my business shoes. I could feel the cold coming in, it wasn't pleasant and I shook them free of their freezing prison for a moment. My gloved hand wandered into the pocket of the camel hair jacket that kept me from freezing to death. As my fingers wrapped around a familiar shape, I knew my business today. I had to avenge someone, someone who was betrayed too easily, like a crumpled piece of paper, wantonly tossed aside. As my thoughts became more and more intense, the less I realized how hard I was squeezing the object in my hand.

Suddenly, I saw it in the distance. It was more like it had seen me. I quickly walked over to the signal box and pulled a lever back. Above my head, a wig-wag signal began to slowly rock back and forth, monotonously blinking its yellow light, seemingly trying to call for help in the pitch black of the snowy night. The interurban blew its whistle, acknowledging a stop for me. As it hissed to a stop, I saw him, sitting there in the smoking section of the car. A frozen look washed over my face as I imagined the past, the conductor looked at me at the top of the steps. "Come aboard sir." Momentarily, I was caught unaware and I boarded. As the door closed behind me, the heat of the car, my glasses fogged up forcing me to pull them from my face. My vision returned.

I meagerly walked down the aisle of the non smoking compartment, A large mother with her two sleeping children bundled in snow clothes. Their mittens on a long cord still hung over their necks. A navy officer sat behind her, his pristine black uniform highlighted the gold buttons and medal bars on his chest. I came to the frosted glass door, with the word "Smoking" etched into the foggy glass. Pulling it back, the smell of a few camel cigarettes and a pipe lingered. I sat in front of the quarry, a cigarette squeezed between his fingers, a curling wisp rose to the ceiling and the ash hung for dear life. His gaze was fixed on an advertisement screwed into the wall. It was for a new suburban development in Levittown. I pulled the seat in front of him to reverse, and momentarily, he was surprised at the new addition. I sat in front of him, his face screwed up in anguish, accentuating his old features, hardened from years of hard work. He drew his hands up to his overcoat lapels, and pulled them in, making him look almost like a wrapped up pug. He knew why I had come, he knew what I was going to tell him, and he most certainly knew what I was going to do.

Before I said anything, my hand fumbled around in my pocket for the hard object that had been waiting for him. As my fingers wrapped around it, he winced, expecting the worst. I drew it out and slowly cradled it in my hands. It was a small wooden case, about the size of a pencil case, and as I pulled back the catch to open it, I saw him breath a sigh of relief. Or as close as he could get to relief. The little brass hinges squealed a little as the lid opened, and I pulled out a dog tag, a small rosary and a photograph. "Mr. Clemson, I grew up with your son Bill. I knew you, and you knew me. But before you say anything, let me finish first. You wern't around much for Bill growing up. I saw how you hurt Mrs. Clemson that day you disappeared, Bill wasn't any better for it either. But the war rolled around, and he and I served our country, but for him, he served it fully to the end. When I came home, your wife, she's not here anymore. She's gone Frank. So is Bill."

His furrowed brow gave way, that expression of relief had turned upside down, as he realized the gravity of what I had just said to him. He looked at me, almost gasping the word, no. A thin, dirty tear rolled down, following each crease and crack in his face. I handed him the picture, rosary and tag and he couldn't contain himself. His head bowed over the objects now in his hands, a low sob came over him, and his body began to shake as he held the last items of what once was his family. The gnarled hand that held the rosary clenched it tightly and began to thumb each bead, and the sound of prayer began to fill my head. A bell clattered in the other compartment signalling that the train had stopped at a station. I gathered up myself, shut the box and left the old man alone.

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