Random Arrivals: 5

Freewrite fiction, continued from here.

The station at Frank is not much bigger than the MacLeans’ garden shed, but there are fifteen or twenty people crowded onto the platform. Some of them are disembarking. They holler hellos or head straight into the building. Others are saying long goodbyes and inching closer to the passenger cars. As they all shout to be heard above the clang of the engines, it sounds as if the Tower of Babel just came tumbling down, right here in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. I hear the gruff gutturals of German, or something like it. There’s a tall, blonde couple with two small children at their feet, speaking a language so strange that they might be making it up on the spot. And there’s a group of dark-skinned, bearded men in white turbans. They’re wearing robes instead of trousers. I find myself staring rather rudely and I force my eyes away.

Even amidst the chaos, I have spotted Mr. Bailey. He stands to the side of the crowd, one hand in his pocket. The corner of his jacket is askew, revealing a plaid work shirt and a stripe of suspenders. In his free hand, he holds a bowler hat, bumping it against his thigh as he scans the platform.

It’s not his clean jacket nor his hat that betrays his identity. Many here are dressed in their traveling best. It’s the way he chews on his lip, the anxious way his gaze flicks from face to face. The white-wrapped men are between us, half concealing me, or he would have found me by now. I’m the only woman on the platform as far as I can see, with the exception of one plump and full-skirted matron. Mattie has disappeared, probably through the building already.

I know I should step forward and give him something upon which to fasten his gaze, but I linger one more minute, assessing him. My husband. My soon-to-be husband. He’s young still but a little portly, round-faced and red-headed. His thick neck looks pinched by his shirt collar. The hand holding the bowler hat is thick as well, big-boned. I suppose that could mean clumsy, or it could mean strong.

I blush. All this way, for days on the train, I’ve kept the thought of an actual marriage — to a husband I don’t know from Adam — tamped down in the back of my head like a candle flame under the snuffer. Now the snuffer slips off and the candle flame turns out to be burning still. My whole body flushes and I feel my stomach roil in hot panic while my cheeks flame red.

At that moment, while I’m sweating like the locomotive and trying to fight the urge to race from the platform, the group of white-wrapped men shifts to board the passenger car and I’m exposed. Mr. Bailey’s eyes lock on mine. For the briefest of moments, I see the expression on my own face mirrored on his. It’s as if our nervousness arcs between us in a quivering, electrical line. Then I look away, look at my feet, fight to catch my breath.

I almost succeed before he slides across the platform and offers his hand.




If you’d like to read the whole story:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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