Winging to Nowhere – by Donna Gagnon
Sylvia’s standing on the platform but the train isn’t there.
The cheque wasn’t there, either, not on any one of the seven times she checked the mailbox in the hallway today. The little silver key’s getting worn at the edges. It turns in the lock, brightly singing a hope of happiness, only to sound a dull note of disappointment at the emptiness it uncovers.
He’d promised it would be there. Tomorrow, he’d said.
“Sorry it took so long, Syl. But I’ve posted it. Trust me.”
Before she emptied out the fridge, tossing a year-old jar of mayonnaise into a garbage bag already overfilled with eggs and meat and butter well past their best before dates, Sylvia had deleted Brian’s phone number from her cell phone’s memory. The cheque hadn’t arrived, yet another of his promises lay stillborn, bleating pathetically on the carpet of her rubbed worn stamina and she’d decided to return to Nowhere. A place that she was convinced had no knowledge of the stupidity in her heart. A town with cloudless skies, people who smiled without guilt and a clear remembrance of a raven-haired girl from a wealthy family with a very engaging laugh. A friend that didn’t ever need to know that she’d left for a while to go adventuring with a man who tore her skin, convinced her to give up everything to his projects and owed her half a million dollars. A town filled with faces that would not disapprove of her now abject poverty.
In Nowhere, she’d been happy. That’s what she firmly believes and that’s why she continues to stand on the platform with empty pockets. There’s nothing beside her, nothing in her hand and not a train in sight.
An umbrella rises and settles somewhere above her head. Sound becomes muffled. A haze of polyester red swirls in the air. Sylvia closes her eyes. She smells patchouli and curry.
“There are no trains, Miss.”
“But I bought a ticket.”
“The machines don’t know.”
Sylvia opens her eyes. She looks at the man standing beside her. He’s very small and the centre of his head is nothing but freckled, pink skin.
“What don’t the machines know?”
The little man sighs. “Come inside.”
He holds the umbrella high above him, keeping both of them dry as they walk back into the station.
“It’s warm in here. I didn’t even know …”
“I think there’s much you don’t know, Miss.”
Sylvia’s laughter echoes up into the high ceiling, bounces across the hard ceramic floor. The small man flinches.
“Wherever you thought you were going isn’t there anymore. Sit. Here, this bench is close to the heater.”
“Look, I was just trying to get back to Nowhere. How complicated is that? Trains every forty minutes, making three stops along the way. I didn’t even need to bring a snack.”
“There were bombs today. I heard it on the radio. Which isn’t working any more. There’s a couple of chocolate bars left in that vending machine over there. Would you like one?”
She watches the damp little man trudge over to a vending machine.
“I’ve only got enough change left for a small Mars. That’ll have to do, I’m afraid.”
He unwraps the chocolate as he walks back towards her and takes a small bite out of the end of it. “Mmmm, there’s nothing like a bit of sugar, is there? Here.”
Sylvia takes the bar from him and examines the jagged edges. She smiles and licks it until it is smooth again.
The man hops up onto the bench beside her.
“My name’s Horace. What’s yours?”
“Sylvia. Lovely.” He wriggles around sideways, places his tiny, chubby fingers on her thigh.
“I’ve been working here for 23 years. Opening the doors, cleaning the floors, selling tickets to people who come and some who go. I have to tell you, Sylvia. It doesn’t bother me that the trains aren’t running anymore.”
“But why aren’t the trains …?”
“I told you. Bombs. Terrorists. They did it. Finally, really did it.”
“And there won’t be any way for me to get to Nowhere?”
“Not today, Miss. Probably not for a very long time. Do you have family there?”
Sylvia stares at Horace’s hand as it lies heavily against her leg. His fingernails are rough. Corrugated like he doesn’t drink enough milk. A little grey underneath. From cleaning toilets, Sylvia thinks.
“Yeah. Mom’s there. And a bunch of cousins. I haven’t seen them for a long time. My brother, Saul, he got killed in an accident at work. His wife’s still there, I think. And at least two of their kids. We had money, you see. Dad did okay in the stock market and we all ended up pretty comfortable, you know? His solicitors said he’d really done a good job keeping his affairs in order before that bus hit him … I screwed up. Bad.” Sylvia sighs.
Horace moves his hand up towards her face. He touches the tears, presses a finger against her cheek.
“Nowhere was a lovely place. I went there once. But it’s gone now.”
Sylvia stares into the little man’s eyes. Slowly, she nods. “Yes. It must be. And it’s never going to come back, is it?”
Horace licks chocolate off his finger. “No.”