Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Train

Thomas White

Dear Charles,

This post card is to let you know that I am going home on the train tomorrow. It’s clear that things can’t work out for us and I won’t wait any longer. I wish I could say that I’m leaving because my mother is sick or because my sister is having a baby, but those things aren’t true. I have been foolish trying not to let go. I know saying goodbye on a post card seems cowardly, but after all the letters I’ve written to you, it seems the most fitting.



Flies buzzed about the half-eaten egg sandwich Charles had dropped on the bench beside him. He waved at them with the packet of cards and letters Rebecca had sent him over the past three years, but the flies wouldn’t go away. The green ribbon holding the stack together had come loose from being waved about. He dropped his hat over the sandwich and tried to re-tie the packet as he watched other people gather on the platform for the coming train. He checked his watch as he fumbled with the ribbon.

Rebecca should be here.

In the shade of the depot building, a family had gathered around a frail woman with white hair. There was some kind of medical band around her arm; a nurse held the arm, cupped at her elbow. The nurse held a suitcase in the other hand. A bent bald man holding his hat stood to their left. His eyes were wet with age. He must be the woman’s husband, thought Charles. There was a woman who had to be their daughter standing next to her own husband, and a teenaged boy, their son, standing with them.

A little girl wearing a bright yellow dress played tightrope along the shadow-line cast onto the platform by the building. She waved her arms about in a feigned need for balance, her white patent-leather shoes flashing in the sun as she stepped along the line. The younger woman said, “Becky, stop that and come here. The train is coming. Grandmother is about to leave.” Charles watched the little girl drop her arms and stand in front of her grandmother. The old man fingered his hat like rosary beads. The boy kicked at a spot on the platform with his shoe. His father touched him on the shoulder and he stopped kicking. He sunk his hands deep in his pockets.

The depot doors opened and people spilled out onto the platform. They began to queue at the edge of the platform where a Porter had placed a small wooden step. The grandmother and nurse moved toward the line, the family following. Charles stood up, his letters from Rebecca clutched like a hand full of too many playing cards.

Rebecca came through the doors, a suitcase in one hand, purse in the other, a locker key between her teeth. She dropped her suitcase at the end of the queue, opened her purse, put in the key and pulled out her ticket. Charles walked toward her, veins pounding inside his tight shirt collar, the notes and letters held before him. Rebecca looked up at him, shook her head, and turned away. She smoothed a wrinkle from her skirt.

Charles stood in the middle of the platform watching the others board. The frail woman and her nurse climbed aboard. The family stood and waved, except for her husband. He turned and walked back toward the shade of the building still rotating his hat in his hands.

Charles watched Rebecca board the train. He could see her move down the aisle and take a seat to the inside. He walked to the window of the train car where she sat and held up her letters to him. One by one, he pressed them flat against the glass, wishing he could push them through to her so she would stay. A man in a fedora opened the window. “The lady says to tell you ‘No’,” he said and snapped the window shut. Some of the letters stuck.

The train rocked and began to move. Charles stood with his arm in the air, cards and pages slapping against the Pullman car windows. Torn bits of paper held in the air and chased the train as it pulled away.

When the train was no longer in sight, Charles looked down at the scraps of paper on his shoes and across the edge of the platform. He let his arm fall and turned back toward the depot. The little girl ran about gathering the pages, the green ribbon tied to her wrist.

“These are for Grandpa,” she said.


Thomas White owns and operates a Bed & Breakfast on the National Historic Register in Dunlap, Tennessee.  He is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and the Appalachian Writers Association. His writing can be found online at Southern Hum, Write Side Up, and at a former incarnation of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  He is an associate editor for the online literary journal, Smokelong Quarterly.

© Thomas White

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012