The train is late. It rarely is.
I stand on the platform by the side of the train tracks and check my wristwatch for the twelfth time in the last fifteen minutes.
The train is rarely late, but it is today.
I let out a small exasperated groan, pick up my vintage leather suitcase from the floor, and trudge it to the nearest bench. I find a spot under the telephone booth’s shade, sit down, and wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. The other three people on the platform don’t seem to be in a rush.
The warm air smells like the platform’s rotting wood and the thousands of wildflowers that surround it. I wonder for a moment if I should go out into the field and pick a bouquet, but then rescind the thought on the basis of three main points: first, I would not be able to run back to the platform in time once I heard the train approach. Second, I would have to leave my suitcase unattended—which I wasn’t entirely confident that no one would take it. I know the French are supposed to be better than Americans in this regard, but old habits die hard. Third, I no longer had anyone to give a bouquet to.
I check my wristwatch again.
“Puis-je m’asseoir là-bas?” an old lady asks me. I look up and the sun behind her makes her seem like a dark figure with a halo around her head.
“Sorry, I don’t speak French,” I say.
She pauses and stumbles over her words in broken English. “Uh–sit. Can I sit?” She gestures to the space next to me on the bench.
I nod and drag the suitcase off the bench and onto the floor. The old lady patiently waits until I’m done to turn around slowly and lower herself with a delicate sigh. I can see her properly for the first time: she has a red headscarf tied around her white hair, and her eyebrows are nearly gone. She squints at me and the wrinkles on the edges of her eyes deepen.
“Américaine?” she asks.
“Mmh, oui,” I say, only briefly glancing at the woman and looking away. “American.” “What you… doing in France? Tourist?” Her French accent is thick.
“No, I live here.” I check my wristwatch and lean forward to see if I can spot the train on
the horizon. I shield my eyes from the midday sun with my hand. “I mean… I used to.”
I turn to the lady and she widens her eyes in curiosity.
“I’m moving back to the States.”
“Why?” she asks.
“My partner and I just… well, that’s kind of personal, ma’am.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She folds both her hands together on her lap and turns to look straight ahead. Every now and then she glances at me. I can see her in the corner of my eye as I gently rock back and forth in boredom.
“Nice in—l’ombre—uh, shade,” she mutters under her breath, still looking away from me.
“Yes, it’s cooler here.” I nod and press my lips together into a straight line.
“I like your suitcase.” The old lady points at it on the floor.
I look down at its rusty handle and the suitcase’s pale corners, scratched after years of wear and careless use.
“Honestly, It would probably be best if someone stole the damn thing,” I say and chuckle at my earlier thought. She doesn’t laugh with me. Instead, she pulls her non-existing eyebrows together in confusion.
“It would make forgetting Alex easier if I lost the things that remind me of her,” I explain, mostly to myself as I process what had happened earlier that day.
“Alex is your-?”
“Oh,” she responds at the revelation of my queerness as if something had got caught in
her throat. We both look away from each other and I can feel my cheeks turning bright red. I fix my ponytail slowly to extend the silence.
I’m used to the awkwardness of my queerness, but I don’t like it. Awkwardness sometimes gets confused with embarrassment in the minds of strangers.
I clear my throat. “Alex got it for me at an antique store in Paris.”
“Huh?” The old lady turns to me.
“The suitcase,” I say slowly so she understands me, “Alex got it for me at an antique
store in Paris.”
“Paris?” She says it as French people do. “She… French?”
“Alex? No. British. We went to art school in Paris together, and then moved here after we
“Out of all places you chose, uh-” she looks around and gestures at the field of
wildflowers, “Small town in middle of nowhere.”
My mouth starts feeling dry. I nod and a painful chuckle escapes my lips, “Well, we threw a dart at a map and picked the nearest town. We’ve only been here the summer.”
“But you moving back to America? No, no, no.” She shook her head. “Maintenant best place to live.”
I inconspicuously rub my eyes before they start pooling with tears, “I’m not moving because I don’t like it here, but because Alex and I broke up.”
“We want different things.”
“No. Turn back, fix differences, Maintenant is best place to live. Trust me. I’ve lived here
“Lady, if it’s the best place on earth, how come the train’s late?” I check my wristwatch.
She rolls her eyes at me, “Patience.”
“Well, that’s what Alex said I never had.” I slouch on the bench.
“It’s because you… young. You’ll learn patience with time.” The old lady massages her
left hand and then stretches her arms in front of her body.
“It’s not just that. As I said, we want different things for our careers, and we have
different ideas of what our family would look like…”
“La famille est importante,” she says. I think I understand what she says and nod.
“She wants children,” I say, “And I’m afraid of bringing kids into this awful world.”
“The world isn’t awful.” She pokes my shoulder with a long, bony finger and gestures to
the wildflowers once again. “Look!”
“No, I see that,” I scoff. “But we moved here because a friend of ours got beaten up in the
city.” I put my fists up and gesture as if I were going into a boxing match to make sure she got what I was saying. “He was out drinking with his boyfriend and got beaten up pretty bad—spent some weeks in the hospital. It almost feels like we moved here to run away from it all.”
“Well, how am I supposed to bring a kid into that world?”
“How are you not?”
“The kid would get bullied every day for having two moms.”
“My son on train…” she says and smiles softly. “Ma petite chérie—He have hard
childhood. He fine now.”
“Why was it hard?” I want to check my wristwatch again, but it feels impolite to do so.
“La post-guèrre. His father américain.”
“Really? Is that why you speak some English?” I ask. She shrugs without offering any more information about her past.
“Y a-t-il de l’amour entre toi et Alex? Do you love Alex?” she asks. The old woman
reaches out to hold both my hands in hers and I do not flinch.
“Well, every morning I check her horoscope before I check mine.”
“Je ne comprends pas,” she says and pauses. A soft breeze runs through the platform.
Another couple there sighs in relief at the cool air—the woman lifts her long hair off her neck to cool down her shoulders. The old woman next to me readjusts her headscarf.
“I love her the way you love people who you’re going to love all your life,” I finally say.
The old lady nods. She understands that.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it,” she says. Off in the distance, we hear a whistle. All
of our heads turn in that direction.
“It’s here,” she whispers. “Time to get up.”
I stand up and stretch out my both arms to help her. She takes them although we both know she doesn’t need them. The old lady adjusts her skirt as the train rolls in and I pick up my suitcase.
I guess this is goodbye, I think to the lady, the town, and Alex.
“Merci,” I say. It’s the only thing that comes out of my lips.
“A toí,” she responds with a soft smile.
I waddle to the train holding my suitcase with both hands. I let a tall middle-aged man hop off with only a briefcase before climbing in. I look back and see him running to the old lady and embracing her with both arms. She looks like a fragile small porcelain doll in his embrace.
I look away. My chest feels tight.
I walk to the first unoccupied row and sit down. I place the suitcase to my side and let out a deep breath. I close my eyes and bite my lip.
“Oh, what am I doing?” I whisper to myself.
I jump to my feet and sprint out of the train. I run across the deserted empty platform and onto the dirt road that crosses the field of flowers. It’s a quicker route to my apartment with Alex than the paved road that swivels into town.
I run as fast as I can. I trample any plant in my way. My thighs chafe with each step where my shorts end.
Far down the dirt road, by the edge of town where the wildflowers and the long grass stops, I see a short figure in a flowy summer dress.
“Alex!” I yell at her and wave my arms.
“Sadie!” she screams back. Alex is running towards me. “Alex!” I run faster.
We collide into each other’s arms and fall into the long grass. She pets my hair, my face, my arms in a flurry of adrenaline.
“I thought you were gone!” she says in her British accent. Alex’s blonde hair gets caught in my mouth as she tries to sit on her knees. I pull them out with my hand that isn’t pinned under Alex’s body.
“I got on the train.”
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” She manages to sit up and rests her hands on her lap the same way the old lady did. I’m still lying with my back on the ground. “I thought I had missed the train and you were gone forever.
“I’m so sorry, Alex.”
“Me too.” She leans forward, pulls my face to hers, and presses our foreheads together. “I take back everything I said. I don’t want you gone.”
“We can work anything out.” Her breathing begins to slow down. “Please don’t go.”
I wrap my arms around her waist and bring her onto my lap. Alex rests her cheek on my
shoulder. We sit like that for quite some time, inhaling the sweet perfume of the flowers and each other. Alex is playing with my hair when she looks around and asks, “Sadie, where’s your suitcase?”
I check our surroundings too without lifting my hand off her soft thigh.
“I guess I left my baggage on the train.”