The snow lay like powdered sugar shaken liberally over the sidewalks and roads. Her cream stilettos were caked in the stuff, and it was beginning to seep into the cracks between her toes. Elaine trudged down the sidewalk and wished for a sunny beach in St. Thomas accompanied by a strawberry daiquiri; a paper umbrella would be a thoughtful touch.
Five minutes late. She was never late. The train station was getting nearer. Her shoulder ached and she adjusted her briefcase. If it wasn’t for those damn terrorists taking over the planes, I wouldn’t have to travel like this, she thought. Train stations were dirty, common places without a bookstore or a decent wireless connection.
She checked her reflection in the glass door before ducking inside. Her hair, pulled back into a neat twist earlier in the morning, was ruined now by the large flakes nesting in it. What would Marla think of her disarray? It wasn’t her fault; it was the snow, really. She smoothed her hair with a manicured hand and click-clacked over to the ticket booth.
“Have I missed the 7:40?” she asked the man in the window. He looked up from his magazine.
“Miss, the 7:40 ain’t coming for at least another hour. Didn’t you hear about the delay?” He shook his head and returned to his reading.
“No– I’m not from around here, thank you,” she said sweetly and walked away. He seemed even less helpful than the impertinent desk clerk who’d lost her room reservation yesterday. She shuddered, thinking of the stained 200-thread-count sheets at the Holiday Inn. Oh, it would be so nice to be home, she sighed. Was there any place to get some cafffeine around here? Her watch read 7:49. She had time.
Elaine grimaced at the lack of coffee selection at the diner across the street, knowing the drip coffee with Sweet’N Low would fail to satisfy her yearning for a skim cappuccino. Hunger overruled her objection. The young girl at the register gave her a cheery “Goodnight” along with her three fives and three ones.
She had just stepped back into the wind and managed to wrestle the diner door shut when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She whirled around, senses heightened in the darkness. He smelled like a briny fish washed up on the Jersey shore; his matted hair peeked out from under a backwards baseball cap. Kids these days. They didn’t even know how to wear a hat properly.
“Excuse me– ma’am? I hate to ask you, but can you spare some change for a phone call? I’m all outta cash and need to call my grandma.”
She took in the young man standing before her, pulling her briefcase closer to her chest. His silver chains were long enough to touch the jeans sagging around his hips. Calling his grandmother– honestly, who did he think she was?
“I’m sorry,” Elaine fumbled as she started to back away. “I’m really late and I have to go–” She kept her eye on the station as she hurried towards it.
Safely back inside, Elaine perched on one of the few unforgiving bucket seats left in the waiting area. Might as well get some work done, she thought, pulling out her computer to rehearse tomorrow’s speech. She was reviewing her notes for the fifth time when she noticed the young man enter to use the payphone across the room, shoelaces trailing on the wet floor. Probably calling a friend to help him get out of trouble. She quickly slid the laptop back into her briefcase and headed for the ladies’ room.
Four stalls edged in rust stood next to a spotted sink with a broken soap dispenser. Spider veins crisscrossed the yellowing tile ending under a clouded window. She smoothed her bleached hair and reapplied Primrose Pink to her thin lips, noticing a miniscule crack crisscrossing her reflection in the mirror.
I do care; I do what I can– what more can I do? she thought. Really, it’s like trying to stop a flood with a spoon. Elaine carefully blotted her hair with coarse brown paper towels. Hiding here was foolish. She went to reclaim her seat and noticed it had been taken by an old woman in a red checked flannel shirt. Her head drooped low over her folded arms; she wouldn’t be moving anytime soon. The only seat available was next to the dubious change-beggar. It was either that or stand in stilettos with a full briefcase for at least the next half hour. He looked up from a complimentary travel magazine when she sat down.
“Look, I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t have any cash on me and I was kind of in a rush–” she said.
“Hey, no problem, it’s all good.”
“Well, I’m glad you were able to make the call.”
Silence ensued. Elaine breathed a sigh of accomplishment– she had neatly diffused the situation. Fifteen minutes later the man checked his watch and exited the station as car lights flashed in the large front windows.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to have the honor of introducing our speaker this afternoon.” The presenter looked out at the expectant luncheon crowd over her thin gold spectacles. “The woman you are about to hear from is truly an example of what leadership in Helping Hearts is all about. Her tireless work on behalf of the less fortunate has been an example for my own life, and I am deeply grateful to call her a friend. I know that she has gone above and beyond to make this organization what it is today. It is our pleasure to honor her with this year’s James Montgomery Distinguished Service Award. Please give a warm welcome to Elaine Kirkpatrick.”
Elaine smoothed her tweed skirt and climbed the steps to the podium, pausing to give Marla a quick hug. She placed her notes on the stand and waited several seconds for the applause to die down before beginning her carefully-rehearsed speech.
I wrote this short story awhile ago, but for some reason this week, I remembered I still had it. It was originally published in my college’s yearly literary anthology. Thought you might enjoy it!
Original note with the story:
“I was intrigued by the idea of a character whose outward, rather misguided desire to serve others is incongruous with impulsive, inward feelings.”
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