a literary review
When the man of trains exits her life, it’s both quiet and abrupt. The letters stop arriving, although she continues to keep writing. She imagines the sealed white envelopes in the ether of the postal service, piling up in a back corner office in the middle of the West, forming a passageway to lost correspondence. Other lovers might be amid her pile, lost too in the absence of existing in the mind of their partner. She and the lost lovers search for a truth in their experiences.
The trains continue to run, chasing each other from one station to the next. One day, she thinks, they will stop and he will exit, wondering where he left her, but it will be a lifetime before he arrives again on her tracks.
His hands jostled hers as she made her way from the saloon to her small quarters. He could not do any more than set his hands to hers; his sense of propriety wouldn’t allow even the briefest kiss. The next day, as the sun dipped into the horizon, he played the guitar for her in the backyard riddled with dirt and mesquite trees, sitting behind the clothes she’d hung to dry that morning. He tapped his boots in time with the music and bellowed a sad song, and she swayed to his music, letting her yellow skirt slide from side to side. She watched as sweat shone on the side of his face, trickling down from his black suede hat, forming small circles on his red-rose trimmed Guayabera. Splotches of darkness formed on the floor of her backyard, fading the second they hit the ground. A hummingbird scurried in and out of the quiet melody searching for nectar to suck. Time passed into the evening until all they remembered was the melody of each other’s voices.
Then, one day, he exited the town the same way he entered: alone and silent. She had known the day would come for weeks, but she never anticipated the plummeting feeling in her stomach as she understood he had taken a route far from her. So she searched for him by writing. At first, he did not respond, still in transit to his next destination of solitude. Then, the letters came so frequently she could not keep up, and she was happy, knowing she was in his thoughts, even if in a meandering kind of way. Three months he wrote and inquired as to her being. Each time she opened the seal of his letter, she wondered if this would perhaps be the last time he wrote. Between the words on the page, she hunted for hints of boredom, for a weariness she knew could overcome young men, for a foreshadowing of his exit from her life. She wondered when she would long to hear his voice or yearn for a companion in the flesh.
The letters stopped arriving with the first indications of spring. The palo verdes blossomed as yellow as the sun, and the mountains turned an even darker beige as the rain ceased to fall. The saguaros wore new hats of magenta and the rattles of the snakes grew louder. He was gone like the last dredges of snow—melted and invisible. Boredom, she surmised, took hold of him and in its wake another distraction. She wondered if the other woman danced to his sad songs or argued with him into the middle of the night. Perhaps this woman was louder than she, more assuming and approachable.
His letters she tucked into a wooden box, so full she could not shut the lid. She placed the box on her mantle and watched each day as it became a relic of their lost affair. The final letter she read over and over again, looking for some sign of this new distraction in his life, but she found only train time tables and descriptions of his northern town. Perhaps there was no one else, she thought, only the quiet solitude.
And so she wrote to him, eventually ceasing to send the letters but keeping them in a box of memories she refused to let die. Each time she closed the lid, she looked out the window and saw the bougainvillea and the cacti in the heat, and heard the exhalation of their story: the sound of a train in the distance.
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Erin Armstrong received her MFA from The University of Arizona in 2011. Her work has appeared in The Blue Guitar, FoundPolariods, Marco Polo Magazine, and is forthcoming in InkinThirds, Harmony Magazine, and Fiction Southeast. Additionally, she writes a weekly poetry series for Channillo. She lives in Seattle, Washington.