Only one accompanied the deceased.
There was only one other passenger in the old black locomotive, separated from the dead by a single car. Everyone else thought it would be too sad. Everyone else thought it was morbid, traveling with the one they were mourning.
But she didn’t.
She sat alone in the last compartment of the second to last car. The few beams of sunlight that penetrated the grey clouded sky illuminated her pale features. Her dark brown hair was neatly combed. Her pale blue eyes scanned the passing countryside. And on her lips was the faintest hint of a smile.
Her memories were the source of her smile. All of the funny mishaps she’d shared with the deceased. All of the good times she’d had with the dearly departed. Each played itself out in her head before subsiding for the next reminiscence.
The girl stood, opening the steel door to her compartment. It always surprised her how light it was. She goes out into the stuffy hallway of the car, the blaring red furnishing contrasting with the somber mood of the occasion. The girl carefully balanced herself as the train moved and walked slowly out of the car, crossing over into the last car. Here she slowly made her way to the last compartment, constantly trying to avoid tripping until her hand rested on the cold steel door. She opened it and stepped into the temporary burial chamber. Just as she’d done an hour ago. And an hour before that.
The shiny black casket sat plainly in the middle of the room. As if it had always been there. As if this was it’s proper resting place. The girl slid onto the seat to the right of the casket, staring down at its open top. The deceased was laid out in front of her. Her light brown hair parted in both directions, her eyes closed, her mouth drawn in a neat little line.
They say the deceased always look peaceful, but to the girl the corpse merely looked bored.
“Hi, Mom,” The girl said, her smile extending.
“Remember homecoming last year?” She asked the corpse, “My date came to the door, and even though I’d told you how to say it a million times you still mispronounced his name.”
She laughed as she recalled the story, but the laughter died as quickly as it had arrived. The smile faded from her face. Once again reality hit her. Her mom was gone, and she was never coming back. No matter how many stories she shared with the corpse it would not respond. She was dead.
Until now everything had been a constant. Her friends would always be her friends. She would always go to the same boring high school in the same boring town. And everyone she loved would always be there.
A careless bus driver and a phone call later that all fell away. She had to face the fact that her mother wasn’t constant, she was dead.
Everything is temporary. That was the lesson. That was the fact that she still refused to believe.
At first people had tried to comfort her. And the sympathy of these strangers only angered her.
“You’ll be okay,” They’d say.
“I am,” She’d reply.
“You’ll get through this,” They’d say.
“Through what?” She’d ask.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” They’d say.
The last one hurt, because she always wanted to say, “My mother’s not lost, she’s dead.”
But those words really stung. They forced her to face the ugly truth. They made her realize that she was never going to see her mother again. She’d never open the door again to find her mother waiting. She’d never be pestered about boys, or music, or when she had to be home Friday night. She’d never say “I love you, mom,” at the end of a phone conversation again. All of that was in the past. All of it she wanted back.
In the train, a single tear rolled down her face.
Still, she could take solace in her memories. 17 years was not enough time with her mother. But 100 years wouldn’t be enough either. She never wanted to say goodbye to her mother. But now that she had to, she might as well remember the good times she’d had with her mom.
As her mind floated back to the past, she left. As she sat down in the last compartment of the second to last car her mind went to memories of their trip to Florida two years ago. On that trip her mom had pretended to be British to confuse strangers. And the faintest hint of a smile graced her face. She was content again. And as she stared out the window she knew full well that in an hour she wouldn’t be. The cycle would repeat itself.
And she was okay with that, if only for now.