Edmond woke up as the train neared the station in Augusta. He called his mother to let her know he was close, but the phone went to her answering machine, which was odd. She should have been waiting for his call. Edmond listened to the answering machine all the way to the beep. He did not leave a message.
The station had a large indoor waiting area. There were a few people milling around inside. They were little wisps of people, and Edmond could see through most of them. He called his mother again. Nothing. It was troubling. He considered the possibility that something bad had happened to her.
After ten minutes, only a few people from the train remained in the station, waiting around in the shadows, or relegated to benches. Edmond walked outside through the glass sliding doors, toward the parking lot. If his mother came, he figured he would see her coming. He didn’t have anyone else to call for a ride; he’d estranged himself from his old friends, and now his hometown felt as unfamiliar as any other place. It was a cool summer night, but the darkness loomed around the station like a milky bubble, as if there was not a world beyond the horizon.
Edmond realized after a moment he wasn’t alone. It startled him. A woman in a knitted wool hat sat on one of the outside benches, looking out over the parking lot toward the road.
“Waiting for your ride?” he said.
“Next train,” she said. She gave Edmond a funny look, but it was hard to tell what it meant because in the dark Edmond couldn’t see her face clearly.
“Ed?” she said. “Ed Neilson?” Edmond squinted down at her. “It’s me, Ed. Shannon Mills—drama club, band? Remember?”
Edmond didn’t recall ever meeting a person named Shannon in his life.
“Shannon Mills,” he repeated slowly.
“It’s been so long,” she said. “I didn’t go to the ten year reunion. I couldn’t make it. Did you go?” Edmond shook his head.
Edmond began to remember, or thought he did. He remembered her voice. She had a beautiful singing voice. He remembered she was inFiddler on the Roof.
“Do you remember senior prom—we had this moment? Everyone was going home and we both forgot our coats or something, and it was just us in the dance hall alone together. You looked at me, and we were happy and tired. And I felt—” Edmond didn’t remember, but he nodded anyway. “Never mind,” she said, and returned to her phone.
The timbre of their interaction changed after that. She was no longer helpful or receptive, and Edmond wasn’t sure why. She seemed put off, like he had done something. Edmond suddenly wanted her to leave. Then he remembered the girl with the singing voice was named Annie Thompson. Annie was in Fiddler on the Roof. This wasn’t her. This woman was called Shannon—Shannon Mills. Maybe she’d changed her name. Edmond decided to go back inside.
“That’s right,” she said. “Just keep walking. Don’t say goodbye. You clearly don’t remember me.”
Edmond let the door slide closed behind him and pretended not to hear her.
He sat down on a wooden bench facing the tracks. Hanging above his head, there was a black television monitor for the train schedule. A disturbing thought came to him.
Edmond called his mother again. He watched the monitor above him turn on. It booted up for a few seconds. Then the arrival times came up.
Edmond stared up at the screen. Nineteen minutes, eighteen minutes, seventeen minutes.
Shannon Mills was dead, Edmond remembered now—that was the disturbing thought. She had definitely died a few years after high school. That was why he was so confused. They had sat next to each other in band. Didn’t she die in a car accident? Didn’t he hear something about that?
Maybe if he’d remembered the thing from prom—maybe if he had remembered she would have explained what happened. Why did everyone think she was dead? Who started that rumor? Was there anyone else he could call for a ride? Maybe his mother had some kind of stroke. That happened to people. That would explain everything. He took out his phone but didn’t dial a number. Instead, for some reason, he kept watching the minutes tick by on the train monitor. It was coming. Eleven, ten, nine, eight.
But the noise—it suddenly registered to Edmond how loud it had become. It was like crowds of people were moving through the station. Seven, six, five minutes. Edmond looked around, but no one was there. He began to feel warm and itchy all over his body. Four, three, two. In the distance, he could hear the train coming. One, and seconds—and by the time the train arrived, Shannon Mills was there beside him. She didn’t say anything but something invisible passed from her body into his, and Edmond finally understood this was an ending of sorts for him. It was a sad realization, and it happened quietly, like the little pop of a breaking guitar string. Then he and Shannon boarded the train together, and then they were inside. Things went dark then, and as he began to lose all sense of himself Edmond understood that this was also a beginning.
Kaj Tanaka’s fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, PANK and Knee Jerk. His story “Dolly Parton” was one of Wigleaf’s top 50 (very) short fictions of 2014. Kaj is an assistant editor for Bull: Men’s Fiction.