The Train Ride
Only four stops left, and Allison didn’t know how to say it. Her mother sat across from her, eyes furrowed, looking out at the greenery and small village houses whipping by in quick succession. Time was moving all too quickly for both of them these days. Allison continued her pattern of looking down at her fingers, drumming incessantly on the off-white linoleum table between them and furtively stealing glances at the woman sitting across from her.
“Just say what you need to say, Ally,” her mom exhaled, pushed to her breaking point. She knew there was something heavy hanging there from the moment she saw her daughter pacing the floor of the train station, waiting for her to arrive. Aside from the expected hellos and hugs and how-are-yous, nothing of real value had passed between them from the moment they got on the train to the present. And time was running out.
Allison met her mother’s expectant glance, and just as her mouth slightly cracked open, she pressed her lips together in frustration, sat back and (as her mother sighed in gratitude) finally stopped drumming her fingers on the table. Instead, Allison crossed her arms tightly around her sagging frame and curved her back into the seat. And her mother couldn’t help but let a small grin emerge on her face. Finally, the truth. But there was even less time now, so she leaned forward, placing her hands palm down on the table in front of her daugther, and pleaded.
“Ally. It’s time.”
But Allison couldn’t voice her feelings, not yet. She couldn’t release what had been pent up within her all of these years. There had not been enough time for thinking, for reassessing. Closure was precious, and Allison didn’t want to screw it up. And the train exhaled suddenly, sending out a billowy cry, and as they both looked into one another’s eyes, unblinking now, they knew the train was slowing down.
Then Allison’s mother did something unexpected. She stooped over the barrier between them, ran her fingers lightly over Allison’s forearms and gently pried her daughter’s arms apart. She pressed their hands together and did not let them go as she leaned back and settled into her seat once again. All while the train began to slow, and her mother held onto her daughter’s hands until they came to a complete stop.
As Allison was just about to speak, to finally utter the words she’d been holding onto for far too long, her mother stated simply, “I know,” before squeezing her daughter’s hands once more, then releasing. And she simply stood up and glided away towards the exit without saying another word. Allison could no more go after her mother than she could speak the words, so she watched her walking away in silence, as if watching a movie, as if this were not happening to her at all. Perhaps it was only a dream.
All Allison had to do was stand up. All she had to do was walk after her mother and say everything that was held between them and laid bare on that off-white linoleum table during that train ride. But instead, she merely watched her mom come in and out of view as she passed in parallel across each train window on the platform at her last stop. Allison didn’t cry as she watched. She stared mutely, immobile, as if in a trance. Perhaps she would cry later. Perhaps she would whisper what it was she wanted to say to her mother in the darkness of her room while she cowered underneath her blankets. Perhaps not.
The only truth of it all was Allison missed her chance. She could not speak to the woman she so desperately needed to speak to, not even at this final parting.