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William Quincy Belle 

Marsha Meets the Train

 

Marsha Walters sat in a window seat on the morning commuter train, staring at the city’s suburbs as they swept by. The saga was ending today, but she realized this was the beginning. Life as Marsha had known it had come to a dead halt and now, at the age of forty-one, she would have to start all over again. She had heard of turmoil; she had read about it in the newspapers. But nothing, absolutely nothing, had prepared her for the life-altering upset of divorce. It was like somebody had ripped out her heart and stomped on it. Can anything be worse?

“How are you doing?”

The voice sounded far-off. It seemed as if the person was talking to somebody else, not her. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts; it was a miracle she paid attention to anything at all. She had been forced to look through not only her purse but every pocket, not remembering where she had put her ticket and had almost missed the train. Then, after having got on the wrong car, she had had to walk through several coaches to find her seat. It had been a nightmare.

Marsha had no idea how she would survive.

“Marsha? Are you okay?”

The voice was more earnest. She turned from the window and looked at the man sitting beside her. Arthur Jones was a name she had found in the Yellow Pages. It had been a wild stab at finding a lawyer, any lawyer, who would take up her cause and defend her interests. She hadn’t known who this man was, what his credentials were, or whether he was a good lawyer. Fortunately, choosing Arthur had turned out to be the one thing she had done right since this nightmare started. He had been knowledgeable about divorce, pro-active in pursuing her best interests, and kind. She very much remembered him being kind.

Marsha had felt stunned, flustered, angry, depressed, and a host of other overwhelming emotions. Through this churning mix, her judgment had become clouded, often causing her to be frozen into inaction. Arthur had helped her get unstuck, get focused on the matter at hand, and get to work resolving the disputes. When it came to negotiation, Arthur was a Rottweiler. He was thorough, prepared, and backed up everything he said with case law, so her husband and his lawyer couldn’t refute anything. Arthur repeatedly threatened to go to court, citing more cases to prove his side of the argument. The fighting lasted for months, but the other side capitulated. Arthur had made a compelling case, and her husband’s lawyer must have convinced him to settle and pay the price instead of going to court and risk paying more.

“I’m fine.” She was tired. She felt drained. The months of negotiations and fights had taken their toll, and she didn’t have an ounce of energy left. “I’m distracted.”

“You won, Marsha,” he said. “You got yourself a good and fair settlement.”

“I’ve come to realize that, but it doesn’t wipe out the divorce—the end of the life I once knew and expected to have for the rest of my life.”

Arthur nodded. “Divorce is one of the hardest of life’s lessons. Your world has been turned upside down. You try to make sense of it but fail. In the end, you can’t make sense of divorce any more than you can make sense of love itself.

Why do we fall in love? Why do we fall out of love? Who knows? At least the legal process you’ve gone through attempts to deal with the end of the marriage and the division of your collective life. It doesn’t mend the heart, but it will make your situation more comfortable.”

Marsha sighed. “Thank you. You’ve said that before, and I hope one day to better grasp the sense of your words. I understand them intellectually, but I’m not sure I get it emotionally. Bill was a good man. Bill’s still a good man. But it’s like, one day, the man I loved turned into a crazy person, a stranger to me. Where did all of that come from?”

Arthur shifted in his seat and leaned toward her. “For every door that closes, another opens. Yes, it’s hackneyed. Yes, it’s a platitude. But I hope you will, in time, come to see it’s true. The world’s a big place, Marsha, and there are many opportunities out there waiting for you.” He tilted his head. “Are you seeing the counselor?”

“Yes. Although I sometimes wonder if he might not be ready to slit his wrists, having to listen to me drone on and on about the same issues over and over again.”

“You need to give it time.”

“I suppose. It’s just that sometimes I feel in such a hurry for something good to happen. How long can someone feel sad?”

The train had slowed. “I think we’ve got another five minutes to the station,” Arthur said. “We’ll catch a cab to your husband’s lawyer’s office.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d say we’ll have the paperwork signed and be back out within the hour.”

The PA system buzzed, and a distorted voice announced the station. Passengers got out of their seats and rummaged through overhead compartments; a few walked down the aisle to line up at the exit. Marsha and Arthur remained seated as the train slowed to a crawl. He patted her hand. “It will all be over soon.”

She nodded but said nothing. Her nineteen-year marriage had come to an end. She was alone. She felt scared.

Marsha had no idea what tomorrow would hold or how she would sort everything out. What was her new, single life going to be like? She’d have to manage a household by herself: Fix things or arrange for things to get fixed, pay the bills, and, of course, go to work for the first time since before her wedding. Will I someday date again? Will any man be interested in a forty-one-year-old woman? She felt old, used, and worn out. God, what a nightmare!

The train came to a full stop, and more people headed toward the exit. Arthur stood and retrieved his briefcase from overhead. People were disembarking.

“Shall we?” 

“Okay.” Marsha stepped out of her seat and walked toward the exit. The line had disappeared.

She trudged through the propped-open door and stepped across the vestibule connecting the carriages to the next car.

“Marsha?”

She stopped and turned around, looking at the open door. “Oh.” She walked back and stepped down to the station platform.

Arthur followed. “Let’s go through the station and see if we can catch a taxi.” He moved ahead and held a door. Marsha crossed the waiting area, walking out to the street. She stood still, staring off into space.

“Hmm, I don’t see any cabs.” Arthur pointed. “Let’s walk to the other side of the tracks and see if we can catch one there. That side’s closer, anyway.”

Arthur took her elbow and guided her up the street. They walked the length of the station, turning at the railway crossing. The lights flashed red, and the bell sounded. He looked down the tracks and saw nothing other than their train. “I thought they would have deactivated the crossing. Let’s cross through and head there.” He pointed to the station on the other side of the tracks.

Arthur walked around the pedestrian gate and started over the crossing. Marsha followed. The horn of a train blared down the tracks. “Let’s hurry,” Arthur said. Marsha half-walked, half-ran to keep up. She kept her head down to avoid stumbling on the tracks.

The horn now sounded continuous. The two had crossed the first set of tracks where their train remained when Arthur glanced to his left and stopped. Marsha continued, staring down.

***

Dean surveyed the tracks, gleefully rubbing his hands together. Today would be a memorable highlight of his hobby as a railroad enthusiast. He and his son, Aaron, would be witnesses to the end of an era: the final run of the EMD diesel-electric locomotive. Due to shrinking passenger service, the railroad had decided to retire the engine, and Dean wanted to record its last express run from the suburbs to the city’s center.

They had the perfect vantage point. Their camera, mounted on a tripod, pointed along the railroad lines toward the central station. The microphone was sensitive enough to capture all sounds, from the horn to the rumbling of the cars as they roared down the rails. This was going to be a great day and a great clip.

“Double-check the focus, son.”

“Okay, Dad.” Aaron leaned over, peering through the viewfinder. “Focus, okay. The shot covers the station.”

“Battery?”

“It shows fully charged. Memory is at one hundred percent. We’re good to go.”

Dean smiled at his son. “Excellent, Aaron. This is going to be a perfect record of this last moment in history.” As he glanced at his watch, a horn sounded in the distance as the crossing activated. “Right on time.” The red lights flashed, and the bells clanged as the gates came down on either side of the station. “Start the camera, Aaron.”

“I’m on it.” Aaron pressed the shutter button, bending over to look again through the viewfinder.

Just five minutes ago, the two had watched the local passenger service pull into the station and followed the people disembarking and swarming over the platform. Some made their way to the south-side terminal, while some walked around the front of the train to cross the tracks to the north side. At the sound of the bells, those people on the crossing scurried out of the way. A locomotive horn blasted again, but it was much closer now.

Dean stood with a hand raised over his eyes, gazing down the tracks. He was excited. This would be a great video, a once-in-a-lifetime film. The horn let out a blast, and the sound continued uninterrupted. He knew the train would soon be roaring into the station.

A movement to one side caught his eye: a man and a woman hurried from the gate onto the main part of the crossing, moving from the south side to the north. The horn was screaming as the couple arrived at the track where the express would be coming through. Three hundred thousand pounds of locomotive roared into the station at sixty miles per hour. The man turned, saw the train, and stopped. The woman walked to the edge of the tracks, and the hurtling mass of metal slammed into her.

Dean heard a distinct thump and had little time to process that several objects flew at him. Instinctively, he ducked, but something hit his leg and knocked him to the ground. He heard several screams as he raised himself onto his elbows and shook his head. On the ground beside him, he saw an arm.

Aaron stood over him, mouth agape, looking beyond him. Dean twisted on an elbow to look back. There was the body. It was the woman who had crossed in front of the train. Her right arm was gone, and the right half of the head was missing.

Dean tilted his head down and threw up. He heard people running up. Somebody yelled, “Phone the police!”

He coughed and spat, mouth burning from the stomach acid. He tried to sit up, but a wave of pain shot through his right leg. It was at an odd angle. Dean wondered if it was broken.

“Are you okay?”

Dean looked up at a police officer. “I think my leg is broken.”

The officer crouched down to examine it. “Don’t move. I’ve radioed in for an ambulance.” He looked over at the tripod and camera. “Were you filming?”

“Yeah, I believe I caught the whole thing.”

“Good Lord. We’ll want to look at that.” The police officer stood. “Hang in there. Help is on the way.”

Dean watched the police officer approach a man standing over the woman and heard him ask, “Do you know this woman?”

The man, eyes saucer-shaped, ignored the officer and stared at the body.

“Sir?”

The man didn’t move.

“Sir?” The policeman put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”

The man blinked, dazed. “What?”

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know this woman?”

“Yes.”

“Are you related?”

“I’m her lawyer, Arthur Jones.”

Dean saw the officer’s surprise.

“We were on our way to sign the final papers for her divorce,” Arthur said. “Marsha was going to be a free woman.”

“You mean they weren’t yet divorced?” The police officer looked at the body. “I guess he won’t have to pay alimony.”

He paused, then turned back to Arthur. “We’ll need to get a statement, and we’ll need you to identify the body. Don’t go anywhere.”

Dean heard a siren in the distance. It was getting louder.



 

William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem." 

This story is part of the 2017 short story collection "Death is a Many-Splendored Thing", available on Amazon.

 

You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (https://www.WilliamQuincyBelle.com) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).

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