The last stretch of new train tracks had been laid in catty-corner fashion. Funny how the engineer who directed this strange design was never seen again once the last spike was driven and the champagne toast drunk. Perhaps he knew the chaos he’d caused and wanted to get away before his crime was discovered. Those passengers returning to the station had no problems as the tracks were split and only the tracks for outgoing trains were affected. But what an affect those catty-cornered train tracks had on those who dared to ride! You’d think you were on the train to Boston and arrive in Timbuktu, or to New York and find yourself lost in Shanghai. It was unbelievable. It was magical.
“It’s so much fun!” declared a pretty girl I met on the afternoon train from Baltimore to Istanbul. Scratch that. She wasn’t pretty. Like the train ride, she was unbelievable. She was magical. She was oh so very fun! She was also the loveliest, most vibrant creature I’d ever seen, this girl with sparkling emerald eyes and hair like a western sunset. Was it because I was shy that her taking my hand emboldened me to speak? I stammered out my admiration for her beauty, and her laugh both charmed and comforted me like one of my best memories.
“You’re a sly one,” she said, her voice with an Irish lilt, and she gave my hand a squeeze as if applying balm to my troubled soul, adding, “I like that.”
That’s how my empty life suddenly became perfect. Each day Fiona and I tried a new destination, and each day was a sweet surprise.
We bought tickets for Switzerland to see the staircase traversinertobel bridge. “We’ll race across it!” Fiona said, clapping her hands with excitement. Reading the fear in my eyes she promised, “If you catch me, you can kiss me.” The train stopped in Bangkok, not Switzerland, so we rode an elephant instead of climbing the bridge. That night I dreamed of chasing her.
In August, Fiona begged for cool weather. We bought tickets for Moscow.
“I don’t speak Russian, do you?” she whispered from the corner of her mouth. “Not a word,” I stage-whispered back.
“Russia is where the train will stop if the wee men have their way,” she said with her eyebrows raised high. “Get your best spy face ready.”
Maybe the train was listening. While we didn’t end up in Russia, neither of us spoke a word of Eskimo either. At least Fiona no longer found the weather too hot. She even asked me to put my arms around her to protect her from the cold.
“Do you trust me?” I asked, my voice almost a gasp because of the lump in my throat. Fiona moved closer to me. “Of course, Johnny.”
Her trusting me simultaneously filled me with unbelievable joy and made me almost cry with pain.
Sometimes she’d bring a thermos of hearty Irish stew. Other days she’d pack a picnic basket of home baked foods. But when we’d come upon just the right restaurant, only eating there would make our day complete.
Once we planned a picnic in Yosemite and found ourselves in Tiananmen Square outside of the biggest dim sum house in the world. While Fiona’s lunches were always lovely, we agreed dim sum like this might never come again. Besides, I liked buying Fiona lunch; her face glowed with childlike surprise when she tasted something new. She, in turn, liked sending me home with any uneaten picnic food. Lying in bed that night, I ate her sandwiches and pondered on how to make my home our permanent destination.
I was eating more than ever, so I was surprised when my brother Mark said I was losing weight. “You are skin and bones, John. What’s up? It’s been almost a year since–”
I stopped him. No point going there. I had traveling to do, and I had someone wonderful to travel with.
The next day felt special like something was going to happen. I asked Fiona where she’d like to go, and she replied, “Wherever the train takes us.”
She leaned her head on my shoulder. Once I heard her sigh. When I felt the train slow down, I cleared my throat and took her hand. She looked at me with those familiar emerald green eyes and smiled. But her eyes no longer sparkled and her smile was sad.
I kissed her. “Fiona, will you marry me?” “Johnny, you know I’m not the lass for you.”
The fog raced in–curling, menacing, smoking fog–and my heart stopped. Then the conductor called out, “Kinsale, County Cork! Everyone off for Kinsale, County Cork!”
They tell me that I screamed for a long time and that it wasn’t till the doctor injected me with something that I stopped. I think there were a lot of injections, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember much before the shock treatments.
I let the doctor believe that I’ve now accepted that Caitlin’s dying wasn’t my fault. But it was. We’d both been drinking. She insisted on driving us back to her parent’s house because she knew the way better in the fog than I did. When the car stalled on the tracks, I jumped out and thought she would too. She sat there mesmerized, her emerald eyes staring into the lights of the oncoming train. I screamed – I ran to save her – I was too late.
Do Irish deer have green eyes?
I killed Caitlin and I killed Fiona. If I’d driven that night, Caitlin would be alive. If I’d fought against the shock treatments, I’d be traveling with Fiona. The doctor claimed Fiona wasn’t real, and my brother brought my passport with no stamps in it since the trip to Ireland I made with Caitlin as proof that Fiona did not exist.
I do not believe the disbelievers.
I went to the train station immediately upon discharge from the hospital. In fact, I can’t seem to stay away. I know my vigil there is to punish myself for not saying yes yes yes Fiona, I will chase you across the bridge. Maybe I need to watch the destruction of my dream; I need to allow the wee men to show me what might have been. Either way, the difference between what I must live now and what I had then is clear.
Rail by rail and spike by spike, the catty-cornered section of track is being ripped out and replaced with a forward moving track. Onlookers nod approvingly. How quickly people are willing to give up on magic—but I will not give up on love!
©2017 Leslie Muzingo
About Leslie: Leslie Muzingo grew up in Iowa but relocated to the Deep South some years ago. She has recently begun spending her summers in Prince Edward Island and finds great similarities between PEI and the rural Iowa of her youth.
She was published in last year’s Iowa State Writers Guild, The World Retold, (2016). Her stories have also been found in ‘Literary Mama‘, (2015) and Puff Puff Prose Poetry and a Play (2015). She considers herself an emerging writer. Her emergence is a slow one as she has so many things she likes to do, and there are only so many hours in a day.
She recently had a story published in the anthology, “Two Eyes Open” by MacKenzie Publishing.
Another story of Leslie’s will appear this spring in “The Forgotten and the Fantastical, IV” by Mother’s Milk Books.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @sootfoot5.