Tedious faithful steps hit the brick pathway, attempting to mimic the blatant urgencies of his heart. One after the other; he kept his pace. Tired hands clenched a bouquet of flowers that broke off into their own distant memories, as each petal carefully blanketed the floor. His hands, fragile and soft, drove away any hope of clasping the large black buttons that lined his coat. Which each cautious attempt they irrevocably slipped out of his hands.
Pausing for a moment, outside the train station, he wondered if he’d forgotten his keys; starring at the ground as he checked. Each pocket was accompanied by its usual tenant: his wallet, phone, and keys. They were all there. Reassured by this, he took a hold of the cold brass handle amidst a heavy large door and pushed his way inside.
A small society of patrons emerged from within the confinements of its walls. Some were in a hurry to leave, while most had just arrived. The circular waiting area, located in the center of the building, held the majority of eager on lookers, glancing up at the expected arrival times.
Mr. Mallion made his way over to an empty bench, in an effort to rest his aching back, when, he was rudely interrupted.
“Sorry old man. This one’s taken!” a young man said as he and a couple of his friends pushed Mr. Mallion aside before he could rest his weary bones.
“Stupid kids!” Mr. Mallion mumbled to himself as he searched for another place to rest.
“What was that, old man?” one of them questioned.
“Nothing, nothing,” he said loud enough for them to hear, as they all began snickering at the way Mr. Mallion limped with his left leg.
“I knew I shouldn’t have left my cane in the car. But then I might not have made it here, in time. That would have been worse,” he thought to himself as he reached an unattended bench, which secured a small table at the end.
Mr. Mallion, had been carrying closely a bouquet of flowers at his side. He placed them, gently beside him, making sure they had plenty of room, as if they were the embodiment of another person. He then clumsily pulled the sides of his coat back together, hoping that the buttons would reason with his inability to make them stay.
“These benches are always so hard on my back,” he thought adjusting himself over and over, as if a new position might help.
Mr. Mallion checked the board for the next arrival time of the Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles.
He was right on time. After shuffling through his front jacket pocket, he pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper. It read;
I hope you won’t be too disappointed when you wake up and see that I have already left. I love you, and I will miss you more than ever on this next trip, since it will be the longest that we’ve ever been apart from one another. But don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. I know it’s been difficult for us to keep up with the bills and everything since you’ve been out of work for so long. But this particular business venture will be good for both of us. I’ll be back in ten days. Meet me at the train station, 10:00AM Tuesday morning. The days will pass by quickly. I promise.
With Love, Cindy
Mr. Mallion fought back his emotions. He had missed her smile the most; and, he would tell her, once the train arrived. He continued starring at the letter, knowing that it was the last thing she had touched. He closed his eyes and brought the paper against his wrinkled face, remembering the smell of her perfume.
“Are you, expecting someone?” A man asked, attempting to take the seat beside him.
Mr. Mallion quickly folded up the letter and with a brisk shove, forced it back into his jacket pocket.
He looked up at the man standing in front of him.
Is it alright with you, if I, sit down?” the man continued, pointing to the seat as if it were far away.
“Yes,” Mr. Mallion agreed, as the man took a seat.
Mr. Mallion watched as the man sat his briefcase beside him almost crushing the flowers. He wore a dark blue suit, black shiny shoes, and a black tie.
“These trains…always coming in late. All the time! I wouldn’t care if it were any other day, but today…today’s the most important day of my life.” the man said.
“Mine to,” Mr. Mallion said as he looked down at his lap.
“Are you waiting for someone?” the man asked, quaintly.
“What’s your name?” Mr. Mallion questioned.
“It’s Max. Nice to meet you Mr…”
“Mallion, Mr. Mallion,” he said without eye contact, refusing the man’s gentle offer of a handshake.
“You must be one of those people who doesn’t like contact with, other people. Maybe you’re a little bit agoraphobic. I get that. I use to be like you, until I got into the business of business. Meeting people and shaking hands all day. That’s the biggest part of my job. It has to be done. I really hated it a first. Now, I just carry around plenty of hand sanitizer and tell myself that most people are decent at washing their hands. It’s what gets me through the day.”
“I wash my hands,” Mr. Mallion said quickly, so as not to be judged any further.
“See, that right there, that’s the way I have to think, positively!”
“You have to take the train, for your business?”
“Oh yeah, yeah! I go here, there, and everywhere, all the time. It was confusing at first; what train to take and when, while making sure that I wasn’t late, all at the same time. I even got stuck once in San Francisco. Nothing looked familiar to me. I ended up wondering around until I happened to stumble on a train station. Now that was luck!”
“My wife she…she’s the one I’m waiting for. She also travels by train, on business.”
“Really? She must be retiring soon.”
“No, no she’s quite good at her job. They need her. At least that’s what she tells me. That’s why she’s gone most of the time. In fact, she’s gone so much we don’t even have enough time to start a family. Well, at least not right now. I know it’s something she’s always wanted, my wife, Cindy, but she won’t stop working.”
“I see. Well this job can get addicting when you’re young, especially if there‘s a good amount of money coming in.”
“There is. In my case.”
“Well then, that’s good. It‘s good for you. You are still young. Plenty of time to make money and start a family.”
“Yes, but not for a while, hopefully. Which train is your wife coming in on?”
“The Pacific Surfliner, at 10:00AM. I was in a hurry to get here on time,” Mr. Mallion said with a smile as he picked up the flowers beside him and held them tightly against his chest.
“Those flowers; are they for your wife?”
“They are…nice. Quite nice.” Max said as he noticed the flowers had been severely wilted, sometime before their meeting, “Are you sure she wouldn’t like some roses? They have some at the gift shop over there.”
“Sure,” Mr. Mallion quickly agreed as he gazed upon them before continuing, “But I don‘t…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I know the guy who works there. I can get a discount,” Max said as he walked off in the direction of the gift shop, before Mr. Mallion could stop his unexpected courtesy.
“It’s 10:00AM already. I don’t see her. Maybe if I got up, I could see a little better,” he thought as he balanced himself with one hand on the bench as he stood.
People began to flood the building. One after the other came on and off the train. There were many children accompanied by their parents. Married couples, as well as significant others, waiting to leap into their spouse’s arms. However, Cindy wasn’t there. Mr. Mallion stood confused for a moment when the train conductor announced that the train was ready for departure.
“Where is she?” he thought to himself as he sat back down.
“I hope I’m not too late! Where is she? I’d like to meet her,” Max said as he returned with a dozen white roses, handing them over to Mr. Mallion.
“That’s very nice of you,” he said placing them on the bench beside him.
“Did she have to go and ‘powder her nose first’ as people use to say? Or do people still say such things? Actually, come to think of it my wife has said that exact saying before. That’s probably where I remember it from.”
Mr. Mallion thought to himself for a moment, then turned towards the bathrooms, wondering if Max was right.
“Ah, you know how woman are. They’re always trying to look their best. Which is strange because most woman don’t need any make up at all. All they need is some confidence. But with the way the world has evolved, all they’re going to get is how they’re not thin or tall enough.
I had a great upbringing. Well at least I’d like to think so. I was given just the right amount of love, discipline and confidence, to make me who I am today. That’s probably why I’ve been so successful so far, ‘You just have to work at it!’ my father would always tell me. Didn’t you dad?” Max said as if we were recalling his memory out loud.
Mr. Mallion turned towards Max attempted to pull himself together. Still, he wondered where Cindy had gone.
“Where did you go to school?” Mr. Mallion questioned, attempting to distract himself from feeling any worse.
“Me? I went to a good school. Columbia University, for my NBA. It was a fun school, but during the winter I was freezing. As you can probably tell, I don’t have all that much meat on my bones. I’m fragile. That’s what my friends say.”
“That is a good school. Cindy went to Washington University. She couldn’t stand the cold either. It was on a business trip that we met, here, in this city. We had our first date in this train station,” he said with a smile before continuing, “It was my idea, since, at the time she said she was too busy for a boyfriend. We were married…within the year.”
“That sounds about right. I mean, it almost sounds like a ‘true love’ story. It seems that the two of you were meant for each other.”
“We were! We are. I always told her that. Whenever I would say it she would just smile back at me. Smiling, was her way of saying that I was right. Although, when it came to arguments I got very few of those smiles. But when she had the time, and it was just the two of us, she would smile just because…just because she loved me. At least that’s the way I took it. Who knows, maybe she was just humoring me so that she could get on with whatever business deal came next.”
“Oh I don’t think it was for that reason. How long have the two of you been married?”
“About 50, no 51 one years now. Sometimes I forget,” Mr. Mallion said looking directly at Max.
“See you were meant for each other. I don’t know anyone whose parents have been married that long. People don’t stay together like they use to.
My parents would have been together…just about 51 years, if, it weren’t for my mother’s death some time ago. Oh how I miss her smile. Seemed to me to be a lot like how you described your wife’s. She too would smile at me that same way. Just because. She would always tell me, when I was still a little boy, how handsome I would grow up to be. She said that I would grow up to look just like my father, with this same clef-chin.
Would you look at that? I think you have that same trait as well Mr. Mallion,” Max said as he gripped and pulled at his chin, attempting to compare it Mr. Mallion’s before he went on with his tangent, as he tended to do when he could find an eager ear to listen.
“I know I might be handsome now, but I use to be one of those kids that had a face full of acne. The friends I did have, at that time, all looked the same as me. We were, outcasts together.
High school was just the worst experience I had to go through. Thank God for my good grades though. Straight A’s got me into the collage of my choice. So if I had to do it again. I guess it would be better not to change a thing.”
“She should be here. Maybe she got the time mixed up,” Mr. Mallion mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Oh nothing. I was just saying that she probably wrote down the wrong time. Maybe she meant to say a later train.”
“She could have gotten caught up in whatever work she was doing. Business tends to be an all-nighter type of job. We barely sleep. But I’m sure you know that, being married for so long.”
“Yes. I remember those days,” he said feeling depressed.
“Look at that,” Max said looking up at the board, “My train isn’t coming in for another hour. Ugh.”
“Oh it’s not your fault. I just hate waiting for trains. It’s worse than waiting for the bus. At least those come by every twenty minutes or so. Since I have some time to kill, I’ll stay here and wait with you.
That is, if you don’t mind the company.
I’ll admit that I do have a habit of talking too much, so just tell me to shut up at any time. Unfortunately it’s also a bit of a nervous habit. This business deal that I’m making today will change my life one way or another.”
“So it’s serious?”
“You bet it’s serious. It’s the difference between me living in an apartment or a house for the rest of my life. I have to get these guys to like me.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. You seem confident enough.”
“Enough? Enough won’t cut it with these people. They are like sharks sitting around an elongated oval table, just waiting to devourer their next victim.”
Mr. Mallion smirked, feeling the need to laugh at what he said.
“You think that’s funny huh? Well I’m glad that I was able to make you laugh.”
Mr. Mallion let his giggling escape his lips until he could no longer hold it back, “You are funny!”
“Thank you. I try. I really do.”
The two men sat for a couple of minutes laughing until Mr. Mallion suddenly remembered why he had come in the first place. His face went back to its worried state, as he continued to clench the wilted flowers within his wrinkly hands. He twisted himself about the bench, watching and waiting for her to arrive.
“So tell me more about Cindy? What’s she like?”
“She’s…well she’s beautiful.”
“I would assume, and…”
“She just has this way with people. She’s a real people person. She gets her way with people by knowing what that person already wants, sort of like a salesman would. At first I thought it was a bad quality. But the truth is that without it, she just wouldn’t be herself.”
“Where exactly, did you two meet?”
“It was at a bakery called, Frost My Cake, not too far from here. I was there, picking up a cake for a friend. The owner, I believe Anne was here name, had gone to the back to retrieve it, when she walked in. She had her hair twisted up in one of those clip things but it kept falling down on either side. She walked in carrying a large empty box in her hands. I remember seeing a large heavy purse at her side which was closest to me. It was continuously falling off her shoulder, as if it were trying to get away.
She stumbled into the room in the same way that she stumbled into my heart.
It was when she came to the counter and set everything down, that our eyes met. And I…well I just froze. I didn’t know what to say. I thought, in that moment, that I had forgotten how to speak. So of course the first thing she said to me remains a blur to this day.
“Excuse me. Yeah hi. Do you know where she went? Anne. Did you see her?” Cindy asked.
“Anne, oh yeah. Yes. She went to the back to get the cake I’m picking up,” I replied.
“Oh good! I thought I had gotten here too late. I remembered her telling me that the store closed sometime between 5pm and 6pm. I just couldn’t remember which. I have a horrible memory,” Cindy said tossing her head back with a hearty laugh.
“So you‘re a friend of Anne’s? Or are you just picking up a cake?”
“No, no. I’m picking up some cupcakes for my job. I have to do a big presentation for this company. I found out that the owner really loves cupcakes so I thought it would be my chance to make a good impression. Frost My Cake makes the best! I really want the company to have something to remember me by,” she said as her purse fell completely off her shoulder and tumbled down to the ground.
“Oh, I think you’ll make an impression!” I said as I knelt down and assisted her in picking up her things.
“I know. I’m sort of clumsy,” she said as the rest of her hair fell out of the clip laying itself on either side of her face.
“Your hair is quite beautiful,” I commented, handed over her wallet.
“Thank you. I don’t normally have it down because it always gets in my way. It’s that stage where it’s in between the lengths I want it to be. So I normally just clip it up,” she said as she twisted it behind her head and slid the clip back into place.
“You carry a lot around with you,” I noticed, as the words slipped from my lips.
“I have to. My whole life is in here. Without it I’d be lost.”
“You have…children?” I asked as sort of a backwards question whilst I picked up a couple of photos that were scattered amongst her things.
“No, those are my nephews. I’m not married, and I don’t have any children of my own…yet,” she said quickly taking them from me.
“So you live nearby, I’m assume?”
“No I’m just visiting. I travel all over, for work. But, I have been here before, many times. My business keeps bringing back to this city for some odd reason.”
“Oh,” he said when Anne appeared from behind the counter with the cake, and handed it over to me.
“That’s a good looking cake,” Cindy said.
“Yeah. I know my friend will love it.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you…”
“Dave, and you,” I said holding out my hand.
“Cindy. Very nice meeting you,” she said as we shook hands for the first time.
“Then you just…walked out?” Max asked.
I walked out because I was nervous.
I didn’t know if I should ask her out on a date, or what I should do. I knew it couldn’t lead to anything because she was just visiting, so, I walked out.
Then I stopped myself.
When I turned around she was behind me, waiting and smiling. That was the first time I saw her smile. It made me feel whole, in a way that I had never experienced before.”
“I was just wondering, that is if you’re not in a hurry to get back, that you’d like to go to dinner with me, tonight. I mean would you, like, to go to dinner…with me. If you’re not too busy…already.”
“Of course. I would love that,” she smiled as the words flowed from her lips like falling rose petals from a blooming flower settled gently within a flower bed.
“And that’s it. That’s how it all started? She had that special something that I had never seen in any woman before. It’s what has stayed with me, even to this day. It’s what keeps me going,” Mr. Mallion said as he placed the wilted flowers beside the roses, on the bench.
“She sounds amazing,” Max replied as he listened attentively.
“She is! She is quite the amazing woman. And, I’m all the more amazed to have come across her, that day, at the Frost My Cake bakery.”
Max momentarily glanced up at the message board. It read, Arrival time, Pacific Surfliner, 12:30PM.
“It looks like Cindy will be coming soon. The next arrival time for that train will be in twenty minutes.
My train’s almost here,” Max said as he gathered up his things.
“It was nice talking with you Mr. Mallion,” Max said as he got up from his seat politely thanking him for his time, and their conversation.
“Thank you for the flowers,” Mr. Mallion uttered, offering an honest smile in return.
“You’re very welcome. It was very nice meeting with you again Dad. Tell mom she’s wonderful, and that I’m sorry I couldn’t have been here to see her again. I do miss her…just as much as you.”
“I will,” Mr. Mallion said as Max walked off towards the train that was waiting just outside the double doors.
Mr. Mallion returned to his more comfortable state of grief, watching as people continued to walk by. Feeling tired, he let his head fall back against the top of the bench, when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. There were a stack of newspapers lying on top of the small table beside him.
He reached out for one.
His eye sight came into focus as he read the title of the article on the first page.
“Remembering The Past,” he said aloud, “Hmm…I wonder what that could be about.”
With that he was immediately tossed into an intrigue that peeked his interest as he forgot where he was and began reading: Suicide car crashes into Bus!
“What?” he said aloud as he continued, “Suicide driver crashes into a greyhound bus while twelve remained in critical condition? A man who was suffering the pains of a divorce, decided to head full speed into a bus that was on its way to Las Vegas. The man, as well as the driver of the bus, lost control, and the two tumbled until their momentum brought them to a screeching halt. Men, woman, and children died a terrible death, while family members were left to mourn the loss of their loved ones. We remember those who died 44 years ago including: Ester Callis age 67, Clara Johnson age 61, Celestine Stigma age 57, Arthur Michaels age 73, Anna Brandon age 65, Margaret Dillan age 50, Allen Timly age 24, Michael Rogers age 39…and Cindy Mallion age 31, as well as several others who were never recognized, due to the disfigurement of their bodies after the fire.
Tears filled his eyes, as they had done before, and each time that Mr. Mallion snapped out of his latent dementia. It quickly became impossible for him to continue reading. The paper, now free from his hands, fell into his lap as he began gripping the frail armrest at the side of the bench.
Mr. Mallion closed his eyes.
He tried to hold back the intense emotions that became him, in that moment. Severe shock took over his body as if he were violently shivering from a cold. His mind raced with uncontrollable thoughts, as he wondered how he could have put himself through this so many times before.
After releasing the heavy breath he was keeping to himself, he settled. His breathing then returned to normal as he scanned the room with bold caring eyes, one final time.
“She’s not coming…” he realized before turning and looking down at the two bouquets that lay at his side.
“No, she’s not.
She hasn’t been back for the past 44 years. It was good to see Max again, though. He’s grown so much since the last time I saw him. I knew he would become a businessman, just like his mother. He was always…so much, like…Cindy.”
Mr. Mallion continued to stare at the flowers as if they had something to say in response. For a moment, he wished they could. He wished that they had told him a long time ago. However, the flowers couldn’t and wouldn’t speak to him. They just continued to lay their silently at his side, making no effort to rise their heads and look back at him. He smiled, feeling content with their inability to embody human emotion, hoping that, someday, he could do the same.
A blinking light caught his attention on the announcement board overhead that read, “Now boarding Pacific Surfliner northwest-bound to Los Angeles.”
He slowly got up from his seat as the top two buttons of his coat came undone, once again.
“Oh, if only I could get them to stay! If only Cindy were here to help me. If only she…were here again,” he said as he reached back into his front coat pocket and pulled out the letter, carefully reading it over, for the last time.
“I’m so tired. I should be heading home now,” he thought.
Mr. Mallion reached down and picked up the flowers he had brought, leaving the fresh white roses behind.
He walked down the walkway and over towards the entrance doors with his noticeable limp. People continued to rush around him as if he didn’t exists, making no effort to excuse themselves if they accidentally brushed against his shoulder. Still, he walked on, taking no note of them. After reaching out for the door he paused and looked back at the train which had already begun its departure.
“Tuesday, at 10AM. I won’t forget. I would wait an eternity to have you back with me, again. Maybe you won’t return this Tuesday, or the next, or even the one after that. But I will still come for you. You have always been there for me…and I…want to be the one waiting for you, Cindy.
When the train comes.”