October 27, 2008
By Kaye Toal, New Brunswick, NJ

The train rocked slowly back and forth, side to side like a hammock might, but Emma did not feel rested. She couldn't see anything outside of the windows, except, here and there like pinpricks in velvet, the occasional and fleeting streetlight. She felt like she was missing something ' that there was a curtain hung up against her window, and that the lights she could just barely see were lights from a distant place. She thought she could hear laughter, but maybe that was just the creaking of the wheels.

She was essentially alone; someone else slept far in front of her, slumped over. She couldn't see his (at least, she thTought it was a he) face or, really, anything other than the tired curve of his shoulder. She'd been watching him because there was nothing else to watch, but she hadn't really been paying attention. She'd been thinking ' she was always thinking, she was not new or unique in that respect ' and toying endlessly with her phone. It flipped open silently and shut with an ominous whack! that she was surprised hadn't woken her travel companion.

Emma opened the phone and stared at the time. Hurriedly, as if she knew she shouldn't, she scrolled through the numbers (acting as though she didn't know the one she was looking for by heart made her feel better) and pressed the call button without thinking about it. The ringing was so loud, and so damning! She wanted to hang up. Wanted to, didn't. Started to, didn't. He picked up after the third ring ' she was just about to snap her phone shut (and throw it across the car) when she heard his muffled voice. 'Emma?' It was so far away from her ear that for a second she thought she was hearing things. But then, miraculously, 'Emma?' again. Her hand shook.

'Hi,' she said, 'hello.'

He laughed, and she couldn't tell whether he was nervous or not. She hated that. She wanted the upper hand. 'Emma! You said you'd call. I just didn't expect it to take you three months.' It sounded like he was mocking her, or mocking the situation, or mocking something ' she couldn't tell that, either. Another thing she hated.

'I've been busy,' she murmurs. Then, cruelly, 'How is your wife?'

There's a long pause ' too long, she thinks he might have hung up and suddenly she feels so sick. 'Gone,' he finally says, and he's still unreadable. But there's distance now that there wasn't before, Emma is sure of that.

'I'm sorry,' she says, but she isn't. But his answer is so vague! She needs clarification ' she needs more light. 'Wait, I hate to ask, I'm sorry, but ' gone where?' He's silent, but she can hear him breathing. 'James' Jamie' gone where?'

'Away. Like you.' He pronounces each word heavily: a burden for his tongue and teeth.

'I'm coming to the city.'


'Now.' And it's true: the train is carrying her towards him, inexorably towards him, a sinuous rattling version of the midnight carriage. Emma's no princess; this is not an enchanted pumpkin. But she misses him.

His excitement is almost catching. She's so relieved he wants to see her; she's not listening to his words, she's listening to the rhythm of his voice. He's making plans: where he'll meet her, what they'll do. He will take care of everything, she doesn't have to worry. He never asks why she's on a train in the middle of the night, coming to see him. It never occurs to him that she might not be going for him (it never occurs to her, either). Instead, with the comforting up-and-down of his voice in her ear, she can think about him without guilt.

They met by accident, and she remembers the day as being none too clear ' everything was blurred edges and indistinct lines. He was too crisp against it, he in his long black coat; even the tousled curls of his hair were too sharp. She'd fallen artlessly against him amongst the giggling heap of her friends ' they having shoved her, with the perfectly sane logic of 'He's hot!'

Emma hadn't really thought so, until he caught her, because she hadn't really looked at him. He literally dusted her off, gently, with back-and-forth motions of his hands. She noticed his fingers. She noticed his eyes. He touched her hair, sweeping it back off her shoulders. 'We'll call you,' her friends had said, and one ' Alice, the boldest ' cackled 'Or you call us!'

Later, they assured one another that they never did this. 'I never do this,' he said, just before kissing her.

'I never do this,' as her deft fingers undid the buttons of his coat and slid up underneath the worn cotton of his shirt.

'Emma? Are you listening?' The cell phone shrieks feedback and she yelps. The sleeping person doesn't even stir.

'Of course,' she says, and hears him smile.

Of course, it didn't start like that. Nothing ever does. It started with coffee. What is it about coffee, Emma wants to know, that makes everybody act like idiots? Everything starts with coffee. Coffee or food. A little innocent dinner, that's what they all say, and the next thing you know...

He'd brought up his wife early on, his kids soon after. He'd offered such extensive commentary on their science projects and teachers and crushes and various idiosyncrasies that it shocked her ' really shocked her ' when he said they were in San Diego, literally an entire country away. They were little. He was afraid they wouldn't remember him, when he saw them again.

She'd asked if they were divorced or separated, and he'd said he had no idea. It wasn't his choice. She had left him, and he didn't know what to do about it. No divorce proceedings were going on, so she wasn't completely gone ' she was just in California, fornicating with someone he wasn't sure even existed anywhere outside of his mind. He had evidence of him, though; his kids didn't call him 'daddy' anymore. 'Is that legal?'

This was without doubt the saddest thing Emma had ever heard. She said as much, and he looked at her with something she couldn't name fitting hard against the angles of his face. 'Who are you?' he'd asked, sounding genuinely curious.

What she didn't know was that he'd fallen in love with her when she answered 'I'm Emma. I told you that.' It wasn't her answer; it was the look in her eyes, the lift of one corner of her mouth. She'd known exactly what he meant the entire time.

'How close are you?' he asks, and her cell phone clicks ominously.

'I don't know, I can't see the signs. I've been on this train for my entire life. I'll be with you soon.'

'I'll meet you at the station, I'll go now. I'll be there when you get there. You won't even have to look for me.'

Emma smiles. 'Okay,' she says, and her voice is so soft he almost doesn't hear her. She doesn't say goodbye because it isn't goodbye.

He doesn't, either. 'You're everything,' he says.

She closes her phone and looks out the window, watching the random lights flash by.

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