Drew Falconeer

Too Late

Drew Falconeer

Found it. He was driving home, a hard day at work. Pushing the car fast on an empty highway, speeding through trees and houses quiet as if no one ever lived there. Cobwebs gleamed at the corners of his imagination. Tired, dazed by the gray of the road, the green of the fields, the white and the red of the signs, a long forgotten scent hit him right in the face and combed his memory backwards in the shape of a girl, and a book. A closet he removed from existance opened, flooded his vision, blurred his awareness. Dozens of expired love letters randomly piling up with the vehemence of a hundred falling houses of cards. Hazy days consumed by spying on each other through the pages of a textbook, dropping a pen for an excuse to sneak in just one more accomplished smile. Chilly nights spent camping with a patched up backpack, hungry for a future made of uncertainty. Holding hands, making love in the lake and laughing as if there were no water that could drown them. Holding hands, crying for a breakup that only made sense for a day, and then was already too late.

He got home, spotted the house through a line of identical ones perfectly placed side by side, lined the car with the clean, organized pathway to the garage. He rushed inside, forgetting the neat briefcase on the passenger seat, forgetting to scrub his shoes on the doormat, straight to the storage room. One box said “dad,” another one said “summer,” and a large, sturdier one said “parts.” He moved them away and finally reached for the one that said “books.” Opened it, coughed his way through the dust, grabbed the blue, lean one with a foreign author’s name on the side. Turned a few pages, and there it was. A discoloured, yellowed photo. In it, he was yelling something, rage in his eyes and in his long unkempt beard. His left hand was raised in a fist, while his right was gently holding a girl with curly and long black hair. The girl was holding a sign with bold, firm words on it while sitting on a fence made of people and sneering at a line of expressionless guys wearing uniforms and helmets. Her left hand, though, was locked on his wrist, barely noticeable due to the bad aging of the picture. He stared at that for what he thought was twenty years. But was instead just one minute.

From the hallway echoed a woman’s voice: “Honey? Are you back? Where are you? The kids are waiting for you to drive them to the mall like you promised. Are you there?”

“Yes,” he heard himself replying without thinking. “Sure honey. Yeah, I remember. I’m coming.” He put the photo back in, closed the book. He lost it again.

Platform 25

Drew Falconeer

Platform 25, a train station. Early morning. It’s cold enough so his breath makes clouds. He looks left, no signs of his train. Yawns, painfully. His jaw almost cracks open. He should sleep, but his fractured right hand doesn’t make it easy. Neither does standing up, and the train is not coming.

Less than one hour ago, he was in a bedroom, a modest place, fourth floor, thin walls but lots of padding in the right spots to cover the screams. A girl, short, black hair, maybe twenty-five, was sitting on the floor when he left. Small splats of blood, not hers, on the floor. She was crying.

He looks to the tracks again. Nothing comes. Behind him, an old man with a broom whistles an outdated tune. The old man seems happy with his job, or too disillusioned to care, and keeps sweeping while looking dubiously at the sky. No train, yet.

Only two hours ago he was telling the girl what to do, how to move, what to say. She was wearing only a pair of secondhand black sturdy platform sandals, her back marked with deep, long scratches. She was chanting words that didn’t belong to her; she was obeying every instruction. Happy.

On platform 24 a woman is coughing hard, covering the grossness with a paper bag. Croissants are in the bag. She quickly bites into one, looking around to see if anyone noticed her. He did, and reaches for his left pocket. Pulls out a small digital camera, points it at the woman, makes sure she isn’t looking, shoots while she munches the croissant. He keeps the camera in his left hand, and plays with the controls without looking, making them whirr and click. It’s cold; the train is not coming.

Only three hours ago he was sitting on a couch, sipping wine from a cup. The twenty-five-year-old girl was kneeling at his feet, her face blank, her eyes glassy and empty, her mouth slightly opened. Her blouse still on. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t think, only listen, and probably feel.

It starts snowing. He tries to take a shot of a snowflake on the sleeve of his coat, but the camera refuses to focus, and gets so freezing cold it almost burns his only functional hand. He puts it back in the pocket. Sighs. There’s a young boy a few feet down the platform, black thick beard and a huge backpack, undecided about the snow, who opens his arms wide and looks up to the white sky smiling with an open mouth, then immediately retreats looking for shelter as if he just remembered the ice on his torn up inadequate clothing. The right hand pulses with pain; he tries to move the fingers but gets punished for the attempt. Feels like blood clotted with fabric.

Only four hours ago he was standing in the room, the short girl right in front of him. He was whispering things into her ear, her chin reclined on her breast, her eyes closed. His left hand was placed firmly on her right shoulder while the other one was holding her wrist abandoned along her thigh.

A tall, slender man with a gray uniform and a train company hat approaches him holding a large book and a heavy iron tool. Pens stick out of his front pocket. He wonders what the book is for. And the tool. The pens are probably for the book. The train company guy has a mustache, and passes by. He watches him walk away, and the traces of his shoes on the fresh snow. The train is not coming.

Only five hours ago they were sitting at the table in the living room, the girl giggling while he swung a pendant with a crystal back and forth in front of her eyes. She was amused, she was every time, and excited. Just a few minutes before going completely blank for the rest of the night. The pendant kept swinging, reflecting and casting multicolored lights all across the dimly lit room.

A different young girl walks by, a heavy coat with fur lining, a wool hat that makes her cute, sheepskin goofy boots; she looks for the same train, glances over the horizon tempted to balance on her tiptoes to spy a few inches further. His tummy flies. That is not okay. She makes a sad face at him, meeting his eyes by accident, for the train is not coming.

Only six hours ago in a kitchen the black-haired girl was frying some pancakes, telling him stories about her recent past while facing the electric stove, he sitting at the round table behind her. Her voice happy and full, more so because they hadn’t meet in a long time, and she knew he was interested, waiting for pancakes with anticipation in his eyes while watching her shoulder blades dance under the blouse between the oven and the sink.

The different girl has red hair, barely noticeable under the wool hat. She reaches for her large purse, rummages in it and pulls out a ticket. It seems to match, platform 25. Satisfied, she hides it in a pocket and produces some large audiophile white headphones. Places them on top and around the cute hat and covers her ears with unknown sounds. Savors it for a second, then starts walking slowly up and down the platform. She keeps glancing at him, her eyes seem big and brown, while slowly walking the platform making U-turns every thirty steps, bored because the train is not coming.

Only seven hours ago he stepped down from another train, and the short girl who will have her back scratched ran fifty feet across another platform to leap onto him and threw her arms around his neck. He kept her off the ground for minutes, held her so tight that her breath got heavier and shorter. She was crying and laughing.

The station broadcast system announces a delay. The old man with the broom chuckles at the announcement; he stopped sweeping as soon as snow started cleaning everything in his place. The woman on platform 24 lets the metallic voice cover her coughing. The young bearded boy pulls his knees to his chest, and uses his backpack to further protect from the cold. The uniform dude can’t be seen anywhere and his traces are fading away covered by fresh flakes. But the brown-eyed girl looks directly at him; she smiles while the metallic voice repeats the announcement. As if amused by the delay, she dramatically closes her eyes and lets her head follow the rhythm of the music in her headphones. Just for a few seconds. When she opens them again, he’s staring at her. His right hand tries to reach deeper into his pocket, but the pain is unbearable. His middle finger can only brush the thing it is looking for. Actually, a train is coming.

Only seven months ago he met the black-haired girl in a parking lot. Leaving a cinema he went alone to, he met her eyes while they were both looking for the car. His was a rental one; hers was a beat up van. They seemed to have been assigned the same parking spot, but her ticket had a misprint. She laughed warmly at the accident; he reached in his right pocket for the pendant and the crystal. Left the city the next day, he would have been returning there often.

The train approaches platform 25. He gets a hold of the thing in his pocket, but the pain suggests to let go. A bone protests, reaffirming the fracture with sinister noises, but the pinky reaches it and makes it wrap around itself. Got it. The different girl is minding the train, showing him the back of her head, while actually making a point of getting up on his car. She slowly accompanies the movement of the train to make sure she’ll be where he’s standing when it gets to a full stop. He can’t help noticing that. That is not okay.

Exactly one hour ago the short, probably-twenty-five-year-old black-haired girl with scratches on her back, a blouse that was now on a chair, and only a pair of secondhand black sturdy platform sandals to cover her pale skin was answering questions she didn’t know were being asked, her lips were forming words she didn’t know were being spoken. So happy about it. And he froze at some of those words; he froze at the specific unusual answer to a specific usual question. Hit the wall with all the strength allowed to his right punch. Her eyes snapped back alive and wide awake at the grinding sound
of his bone breaking. She was sobbing on the floor when he slammed the door, leaving behind much more than just some blood splats on the floor.

The girl with the heavy coat with fur lining, the wool hat that makes her cute, the sheepskin goofy boots, the red hair barely noticeable under the wool hat, and the large audiophile white headphones slows down to a halt and with unauthentic politeness lets other passengers get on the train before her. She makes sure he’s in the line just behind her when she finally gets up. Pretends to be confused, lets him choose a seat and only then she turns to him, points to the next one, and asks with a straight face:

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

“Yes, I am sorry” he says.

Takes a while for her to realize. His voice is broken. His eyes are heavy with tears. His smashed hand is resting, empty and bloody, on his lap.

The train leaves.