The year 2011
They had agreed to meet at a small café on the platform of the train station. He had arrived earlier to fortify himself with a beer in advance. He was halfway through his second when she plopped down in front of him across the small greenish cast iron table. She had an uncanny ability to do that – suddenly be there without the slightest sign or hint of approach.
Her curly black hair had recently been cut and bounced across her shoulders as she swung off her backpack and dumped it at her feet. He gazed at the backpack that was emblazoned with the flag pins of all the countries they had traveled to together over the past 10 years they had been a couple. An inseparable couple.
“Hi”, she said softly, a little dampness around her inscrutable deep brown eyes. She was wearing her usual bright red lipstick on her full lips. This always served to highlight just how pale white her skin was. If she were any paler, her face would be practically translucent. The lipstick made her mouth look like blood splashed on freshly fallen snow. Nevertheless, she could not be described as anything less than stunningly beautiful and turned heads wherever she went, even if she had just gotten out of bed and was wearing a track suit. She had a perfect body, breasts not too big and not too small, hips just right, 5’7″ and she seemed to slink more than walk.
“Hi”, he said gruffly, lighting a cigarette. His appearance had been in decline since she had announced she was leaving a few weeks ago (not that his appearance had been any great shakes to begin with seeing as he was a drummer in a local rock band). He had grown a straggly beard and his shock of long, wavy hair was so unkempt he almost looked like Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons. His eyes were red and sore from the late nights either consoling himself with his friends or staring at the packed boxes gradually piling up in the apartment.
“So, I managed to get everything shipped”, she said.
“I noticed yesterday that everything is gone”.
“Are you okay”?
He stared at her incredulously, long streams of blue smoke billowing from his nostrils.
“Sorry”, she said.
“I just wish you could give me a reason that makes sense”.
“We’ve been over this so many times”.
“Okay, but I still don’t understand why you can’t even tell me where you’re going”.
“I’ve told you. You’ll find out one day”.
“One day“, he spat out bitterly.
“I promise”, she said, reaching across the table and taking his trembling hand, rubbing the top of it with her thumb. “We will see each other again. I have no choice in this and it’s not because I don’t still love you. I love you more than you know”.
“I wish you’d stop saying that”, he said fiercely. “If you didn’t love me anymore this would be so much easier”!
At that moment, the setting sun tripped through the arc of the tunnel at the far end of the station, splattering refracted gold rays arbitrarily across the platforms.
“Oh shit”, she said, shielding her eyes. “Can we switch places”?
“Okay. Look, I’m sorry for yelling. What time’s your flight”?
“Couple of hours. Oop, here comes my train”.
Shivers of fear snaked back and forth across his scalp as the train rumbled slowly down the tracks. With loud whistles and clangs, the train ground to a noisy halt beside them. As they got to their feet, she slung on her backpack and threw her arms around him. She’d never hugged him so tight. He could barely breathe.
“Remember when we first met up in the mountains of New Mexico 10 years ago”? she whispered in his ear, holding onto him as if he was a life line that had been thrown to her in a storm.
“Remember how it was just us? No one around for miles. Remember how cool the air was up there? How blue the sky was and the white sand down below? And the way we made love in the mornings? How it felt like we were in a perfect dream”?
“Of course I remember”, he croaked.
“Don’t ever forget”, she said as she somehow released herself from the embrace and was on the train before he could blink an eye. The train started to roll out of the station and he ran back and forth along the platform looking through the carriage windows to catch one last glimpse of her. He couldn’t see her anywhere and then the last carriage of the train disappeared through the end of the station and he slumped into a platform seat, head in his hands. A few minutes later, his train came in on the opposite side of the platform, going in the opposite direction – back to the city – back to his half-empty, heartbroken home.
The year 2021
Immediately after she had gone, 10 years ago, he had done his best to track her through the Internet. He was able to follow her through London, Rome, Istanbul, Cairo but after Ulan Bator, the trail went cold. He knew she knew he would track her and she had obviously found a way to shake him off in the barrens of Mongolia. He interrogated the handful of friends that she had but she had severed them off, exactly as she had done with him, and none of them had any idea where she was. As the weeks, months and years went by without a word from her, his futile searching had become more and more infrequent.
Now, however, on the 10th anniversary of her departure, he decided to pack a bag and drive to the small town of Rich Creek, Virginia to try and hunt down her sister who apparently lived there. In the entire 10 years he had been with her, she had refused to discuss her family – except to say once that her parents were dead and that she had an older sister in Rich Creek. He had been unable to find the sister anywhere online, no phone number, nothing. He had been tempted to drive out before, but to him this seemed like bone fide stalking as opposed to ‘legitimate’ online ‘investigation’. He didn’t care anymore. At this point, if anyone could tell him anything – anything at all – the sister could.
He got out of the car, took a deep breath and walked down the garden path, a jumble of weeds growing through the cracks in the flagstones, towards the front door. He knocked, waited a little while and knocked again. Finally, the door creaked open and a plump, red-faced woman peered out over bi-focals perched at the end of her crooked nose.
“Yes? May I help you”? she asked.
“I’m really sorry to bother you ma’am – but would you happen to be this woman’s sister”? he asked, generating the hologram from his phone.
“Why… why… yes, I was”, she gasped. “Why… why do you want to know”?
“Um, I was her partner for 10 years. She left me in 2011 and I just wanted to see if you know if she’s okay. She said she would be in contact with me and there has been nothing”.
“Is this some kind of joke”?
“My sister was killed in a car crash in New Mexico in 2001”.
“Sorry, there’s a mistake. Sorry to have bothered you. Thank you”.
“Okay, sir. But that’s her. She had been with this drunken politician who covered everything up.
“I was with her for 10 years”!!!
“Sir, if you don’t believe me, she’s buried in back of the church just down the road, third tombstone to the left of the big Elm tree”.
Here lies Elizabeth Duncan Reed (1971-2001)
His head reeling, he collapsed to his knees before the headstone and wrapped his arms around it. “Oh Beth… Beth”, he stammered, the tears streaming down his cheeks. “It’s Dave… I can’t believe I finally found you… I will… I will… see you again… one day…”
He could swear he felt the ground tremble lightly, just for a moment, beneath his knees.