From her window seat on the train, Ruth watches the cluster of teenage boys on the platform. They posture in the dusk as a tall girl, black hair swinging in a high ponytail, draws near. As she skirts the group, their boldness swells, and the boys whoop and holler.
Ruth fumbles for a caramel along the bottom of her purse, removes the silvery foil, and pops it in her mouth, sucking hard to savour the sweetness as the girl fades in the distance. Once, Ruth starred in such a vignette.
A wide-shouldered fellow with a full, dark beard takes a seat across the aisle, facing her. He looks so like Thomas when they met a lifetime ago. Broad, powerful hands. Square-shaped nails. She concentrates on the view out the window, but his presence tugs on her, dragging her eyes back. She can almost feel the warmth of his palms against her face. The sharp, muskiness of sweat, moist lips kissing carpentry callouses.
Gone for two years. Each day longer than the one before. She’d prayed she’d go first.
The bearded man’s eyes skim across her face—a glance, less than a whisper. Once his gaze would have lingered over her creamy skin and thick auburn hair tied back with a red velvet ribbon. Once he would have sought her gaze and smiled.
She crunches the last of the candy, sticky bits clinging between her dentures as the train shudders and lumbers forward. The man flashes a sharp look at her and shifts to stare out the window, arms crossed. Heat blooms up Ruth’s chest into her cheeks. He must think her a crazy old bat, gawking like that. She licks her sugary lips, dampening tender cracks resistant to beeswax and aloe, and focuses on the rushing trees and how the moonlight casts ghostly shadows across the landscape.
Thomas called her Luna—beautiful and mysterious as the moon. And now he is the moon, drifting through the heavens, while she is left, pinned to earth like a beetle squirming under glass.
Her children will be shocked at first. Horrified. The room they arranged at the nursing home looked nice enough on the tour. But it is tiny, and she has a lifetime of possessions. Sheila, her oldest, separated her belongings into categories: Give Away, Donate, Take-to-the-Dump, Keep—the size of the piles in ascending order. Like a set of Russian dolls, her world is shrinking.
“Mom told me I’d get the Hummels,” Sheila informed her younger brother, Charles, the last time they came. Poor Charles threw his hands up in the air, giving in as always, a born peacekeeper. Like his father.
Ruth witnessed the exchange from her easy chair. They thought she was engrossed in the fighting on Judge Judy, but she knew what was going on right under her nose. For a moment, she considered snatching the row of porcelain figurines from the display case and smashing them on the linoleum. Snapping the head off “Goose Girl,” making “Apple Tree Boy” plunge from the branches. Thomas bought the Hummels for her, each figure tied to a memory between them. They meant nothing to Sheila. Other than money.
After they left, Ruth took a permanent marker and wrote Sheila or Charles in shaky letters on the bottom of each figurine. Fifty-fifty. Otherwise, Sheila might scoop them all up.
Such a bitter thing to love your child, but not like her very much.
At the next stop, the bearded man disembarks. He stands on the platform, searching right and left. Go where your heart is, Ruth wants to shout. That’s what she’s doing. Writing the final act herself.
The train picks up speed and her heart leaps at the thought of seeing Thomas. She leans forward, willing the train to go faster. The full moon made her decision. Tonight is the perfect night.
Clutching her purse, she readies for the next stop—a sleepy town on the edge of the Saugeen River. Thomas caught many a trout in those waters swirling with hidden life. Many years ago, they attempted to swim there, but the current almost carried her away, and he’d wrapped his muscled arms around her, pulling her close.
She laces her palsied fingers together, bones fragile as a bird’s neck, and inspects the crescent moons at the base of each fingernail. Lunula. She whispers the word, her tongue kissing her palate with each syllable, the word ripe as a berry in her mouth.
She is water, bending to the pull of the moon. To the mystery ahead. To Thomas.
She will become Luna again.
Dawn Miller’s most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Typehouse, Jellyfish Review, Guernica Edition’s This Will Only Take a Minute anthology, and The Maine Review, among others. She lives and writes in Picton, Ontario, Canada. Connect at www.dawnmillerwriter.com and on Twitter @DawnFMiller1
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