by Yancey Malachi Cates
A young girl stands on a train platform. She is waiting for a train that will never come. The hour is well past for it’s arrival and she knows the engineer is a stickler for promptness. He has a timetable to meet and it’s the whole of his existence, he would never be late unless… And so another train, an eastbound train, not a western train, like the one she is waiting for, roars past, it doesn’t even slow as it approaches, it has no business with the likes of us.
Her train will not come and she knows this. And so she steps out in the path of the on-rushing velocity, the impact is sudden and stunning and it’s done.
I weep, and eventually Arn puts his hand on my shoulder, asks me what is wrong. I shake him off, wipe my face… I hadn’t seen him walk up, I was enthralled with the pretty, strawberry-haired girl with the huge blue eyes made red with her sadness.
The station is small, almost unused. Amtrak only stops here when I buy a ticket to New York. I’d been alone here for several hours, Arn and I got our signals crossed and he wasn’t here to meet me. I was returning from Paris, my weeks with my daughter Jasmine, who was showing her first signs of womanhood. I’d taken the train to New York then a plane to Paris, and when my trip is over, I’d do it all in reverse. The train relaxes me, it’s my favorite way to travel.
I came back a day late, stealing that day with Jasmine to wander the Louvre and talk about nothing in my favorite company. When I called Arn to explain, the overseas connection failed us and Arn thought I was coming in much later then I actually was. And so I sat in the darkness of the rural night, a million stars watching me, wishing I’d recharged my cell phone on the train.
The girl and I waited alone together, each lost in our own painful reveries. At first I mistook her for a member of the living, and we waited in silence together. I didn’t think, in this day and age, a woman alone would want to talk to a stranger in a lonely corner of the world. But as my eyes attuned to the darkness, I realized that what I had thought was fog swirling lightly around her was the halo of the deceased and I knew what she was.
I decided to speak.
“I’m Yancey,” I offered. Her shoulders stiffened with a little trepidation and I waited.
“Pansy,” she replied, her polite Southern upbringing overriding the situation. It always does in all of us. A Southerner will offer a polite “how do you do” to a man with blood on his face before he runs away screaming murder. It’s just how things are done.
The stars became brighter, more luminous and I knew I’d moved into the magic of my gift. All things happen for a reason, at least in my life.
“Who are you waiting for?” I asked, trying to sound casual. I didn’t want to frighten her.
“My husband, John Earl Hambry,” she said, a swell of pride in her voice. She was a newlywed, I could tell from the tone. “He went to Charleston on business.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked. I needed to know if she understood that she was dead. Ghosts have no sense of time and this troubles them.
“Seems like forever,” she said, with dismay in her voice. She turned to face me, I guess she’d decided I was harmless.
“You don’t know how long you’ve been married either, do you?” I asked. I’ve had this conversation a hundred times in my life.
She shifted nervously from foot to foot and finally turned away from me. I could tell she might suspect I could answer all those questions she’d so long avoided, but she wasn’t quite ready. I waited, gave her time.
“The train never seems to come,” she finally sighed.
“Not many people take the train these days,” I responded, and she looked at me.
“I’m so cold,” she offered and I stood, took off my coat and wrapped it gently around her shoulders. I held it in place to make sure she had the corporeal energy to hold it herself. “Thank you. This place is always too quiet. It’s nice to have someone to talk to.” I nodded, smiled at her. “You’re a handsome young man. Are you married?”
“What a shame. I’m truly sorry. And so young. I think if anything happened to John Earl…”
“You’d kill yourself?” She looked at me with large, blue eyes, haunted eyes. “Truth is, you did. There’s a story around here about the Ghost of Pansy Hambry. Seems she married the man of her dreams and he went away, on a business trip. The train was late, and Pansy decided there was a train wreck and John wouldn’t be coming home, so she threw herself under a train. And some nights, if you go to the station in the evening, you can see her ghost, waiting for the train.” She didn’t take her eyes off me, she stared and didn’t move. My coat fell to the platform, she no longer had the energy to hold it. “What she didn’t know was that there was a train wreck, a huge train wreck and John was injured but he didn’t die. He never remarried and some nights, they say, he still comes here hoping to catch a glimpse of her.” I reached out and touched her cheek, it was icy.
“Are you saying I’m dead?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, that is just the craziest thing…” She turned back to the tracks.
“Pansy!” I heard a voice call and turned; an old man had appeared. He was standing near the station, barely visible against the white clapboard. He was a ghost, too and she turned, saw him. He looked old, very old, and he had the weak signal of a newly made ghost.
“Who are you?” she asked, troubled, confused.
“It’s me, Pansy. It’s John!” He was getting weaker, transitioning to the next place.
“My John is young and handsome!” The tears touched her cheeks again…
“It’s been a lot of years. Come with me Pansy! Come with me! I don’t have much time.”
“YOU’RE NOT MY JOHN!!!” she screamed, putting her hands over her ears and closing her eyes.
I watched him, the look of horror on his face. He looked at her, I could tell he wanted to come to her but he couldn’t. He had to go.
“Go with him,” I said. She moved to the edge of the platform to put some distance between us. “You’re just stubborn!” I said and walked back to my bench.
He faded then, she didn’t turn to look at him. He changed, got younger—if only I could have made her look at him but I was locked out.
“Is he gone?” she said, finally.
“That wasn’t my John.”
“It was. And you’ve lost him again. Here’s a piece of friendly advice. In a few years, I don’t know how many, an angel will come for you. Go with it. End this.”
She nodded sadly and turned back. I heard the phantom train on the tracks barreling for us. She cast me a look and smiled.
“Come see me again?” she asked.
“Of course. Nobody should be alone…”
“I wish I could see the world just once more. All I’ll ever see again is this…”
“If I could take you with me…”
“That’s what all the boys say.” And she turned and fell, like an angel from the walls of heaven into the path of the train.
I turned back to Arn. “I just met Pansy Hambry,” I said.
“Odd. I just came from the hospital. John Earl was real sick and they didn’t…” He looked at me and I shook my head.
“John Earl passed about a half hour ago,” I said.
Arn nodded. He sat beside me.
“I take it she stayed.” He sighed. I nodded again.
“Well, Yancey, leastways she’s got us.” I grinned a little.
“Yeah,” I heard her voice on the wind. “At least I got you…”
“At the very least,” I agreed and Arn took me home.