Genre: Historical Fiction
Location: A railroad station
Object: A bag of rice
Swish, swish, swish went the attendant’s broom, slowly sweeping up bits of trash and dust in front of Adam’s polished black boots. He had never before cared about the appearance and upkeep of his shoes. Before the war. Before Germany. Before Hitler made a mess of the world. He had fifty-seven minutes until his train departed.
It was difficult to get comfortable on the hard bench, not designed to hold a sitter longer than the time between trains. He took several deep breaths and when he closed his eyes, all he could see was her, in a white dress with flowers in her sunset hair. The guests all standing around, smiling, laughing, a few with tears slowly streaming down their happy faces. He had sat in the back. He needed to see it with his own dry eyes.
He looked down again and looked at the ticket clutched in his hand. Forty nine minutes. It had become wrinkled and sweaty with nerves from leaving his home for the first time. The train would take him to a boat and then to another country. He was going to fight a war. He was leaving his family. He was leaving her.
He shook his head and tried to shift his thinking from her being his and something he was leaving to just another person that he once knew before the world fell apart. He looked up at the clock above the ticker reading off the arrivals and destinations. Forty minutes.
Beside him sat a bundle of rice. It was tied with a yellow ribbon. When the short white-haired lady handed it to him at the entrance to the church, he thought how heavy such a small thing could be. It felt like it was full of rocks, not rice, and if it had been he might have stayed to throw them. But it wasn’t. And he didn’t. He had heard the words and the promises and the vows and then he couldn’t take it anymore. He had stood up, crouched and shuffled with quiet apologies to make for the exit. He didn’t want to see the kiss. He didn’t want to see the rings. He didn’t want to hear the applause for the life he was supposed to be living. Besides, he had a train to catch and a war to fight. It was clear this one was already over.
Someone had a left yesterday’s copy of the Daily Missourian on the seat next to him. He picked it up. Thirty-three minutes. Over two million men called to serve. But not him, not her husband. He bore some condition, something about being legally blind. He shifted in his seat again, a woman and her screaming infant sat down behind him. He wondered if she would notice if he switched seats. Thirty-two minutes.
He got up, and started pacing back and forth slowly in front of the wooden bench. Again he looked up to the clock and then down at his wristwatch. It took him twelve seconds to walk slowly from one end of the bench to another. He did it twenty times. His shoes were new and made a hollow click-clunk, click-clunk reminding him of the heels his mother wore on Sundays, cooking dinner and washing dishes and setting the table and making sure his father’s glass never emptied. He couldn’t yell if he was drinking. Twenty-eight minutes. He wouldn’t want any of it to spill.
The baby’s wails started getting louder, echoing off the high ceilings and marble floor. He looked over at the mother, bouncing the red-faced child feverishly on her lap. He thought about Evelyn’s children. Twenty-two minutes. He wondered if they would look like her, if they would have her same auburn hair, her large eyes, her temper. He wondered if they would be born slightly blind too, if their father would shelter them from anything hard and ugly in the world.
Fourteen minutes. He sat back down, smoothed his creased pants, picking a bit of lint from his knee. Seventeen minutes. He decided he would become a war hero. He would go to war, and if he must, he would die trying to protect her and her future children and her blind husband. He would be honorable.
The baby continued to cry, louder and louder, its face now turning splotchy and purple. It wasn’t inhaling enough air to compensate for its sobbing. He stared straight ahead thinking it would be better to hear screeching planes and wailing sirens and guns and bombs than her explanations and promises to remain friends. Maybe he would hear screaming women and children. Nine minutes.
He heard the low train whistle and everyone around him shuffled towards the platform. Five minutes. He got up too, pulling his sack filled with standard clothes and socks and bars of soap and a picture of his mother and a rosary she made him promise to pray. He checked his ticket again. He would be on a beach in France in less than twenty-four hours. Three minutes. And as he turned to leave, he saw the bag of rice sitting there. He picked it up, untied it and poured it slowly out as he walked to the train. The five or six pigeons that had been innocuously milling about the popcorn stand suddenly swarmed the trail following his heavy feet. One minute.
He boarded the train, took his seat and stared out the window at the birds pecking and clawing and consuming every last grain. The train began to move. Adam would land on the beach the next day, wade in the water, and take only one step on the sand, and at about the same time that a bullet hits him in the stomach, his intestines spilling out into the water, the pigeons’ stomachs would be bursting within them, their cooing turning to squawking and then finally going silent as their bloated bodies fell to edge of the tracks.