EMPIRE ACCESS
(“Kiss Me Before You Go”)

A Short Story

by
John Richmond
(Copyright © John Richmond 2020)

He intended it to be an “in-and-out” sort of trip. Take the 4AM-ish Amtrak Empire Access out of Niagara Falls, get to Penn Station at about 12:30 PM, exit at 7th Avenue, head east on 32nd to Broadway, make a right, and, a couple of doors down, Perfumania was on the right. Once there, buy four bottles of his favorite cologne- really cheap- retrace his steps and be ready for the 3:40 PM return train.
Was it cheaper to make the trip?
Probably not.
So, was it worth it?
Well, in his mind, the opportunity to be able to return to the Hudson Valley was definitely worth more than the cost.
But, there was going to be more- much, much more.
It was nothing he had anticipated or could ever have even expected. Actually, the only thing he expected was a near-to-empty coach car with his choice of seats by the south side windows.
That is, until he boarded the car, turned toward the aisle- and saw her.
She had a smile on her face, in all likelihood because she had watched him approach the car with the few other passengers.
Now, in a flash, the ride that was supposed to be that simple, suddenly, was not.
It’s not like they knew each other, save for the times that he saw her where she worked, yet, despite the brevity of their encounters, they both knew that there was something there, between them.
However- and also- an on-the-job injury forced her to retire, further relegating any future encounters to simple chance. And, so, the months, then years passed, and what might have been, slowly- and silently- faded to something that was gone.
Until.
Until now, there seated on the same train, in the same car, facing in the same direction, and from what he knew of her- heading to the same place.
She waved as he smiled back.
“Wow,” he began once he reached the seats, “imagine you being here. Heading to New York, I would guess?”
“I am,” she replied as her smile grew. “Would you care to join me?” she asked, gesturing to the seat across from her.
He glanced from her to the seat across and then set his eyes on the empty seat next to her.
“I would,” he answered, “but I’d rather watch the Hudson unfold in front of me instead of watch it pass behind me.”
Her eyes widened as she glanced to the empty seat and then back at him.
“By all means,” she said and patted the empty seat.
“You sure?” he wondered out loud, almost facetiously. “I mean, “I wouldn’t want to crowd you or disturb your privacy.”
“I insist,” she told him, sitting up a little more straight in her seat. “It’s been waiting for you.”
He placed his over the shoulder bag on the seat across from them before slipping out of the aisle and into the seat next to her.
“Like you’ve been expecting this?” he asked as he turned slightly to her.
“I have,” she said with a self-assuredness, “from what I know about you, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and- now here we are.”
A smile broke over his face as he looked at her and said, “Indeed, so here we are.”
He paused for a moment, then asked, “So, going to see your kids?”
“I am,” she answered, “I’m surprised that you remembered.”
“You told me, last time,” he reminded her.
She looked at him- almost scrutinized him- but said nothing, nodding her head in admission.
“How about you? Going for long?”
“No, just down and back. Got to pick up a few things on Broadway, and then I’m out.”
They fell silent, together- yet in their own way- waiting and hoping that the other would begin what both of them were waiting for.
Finally, after wracking her brain for the smoothest way to begin, she decided on her two favorite topics- food and drink.
“It’s too bad,” she began, “that the food and drink car doesn’t open up until we’re somewhere around Rochester.”
He looked over at her with a knowing smile, but said nothing.
She, in turn, sensed it immediately.
“What?” she asked. “What’s behind that smile?”
“Who says we have to wait?” he replied and pointed at his bag.
“You have something?” she asked sitting up a little more straight and forward in her seat, “What?”
“Something,” he told her and then reached across and pulled the bag onto his lap. “I try my best to come prepared.”
With that, he unzipped the top and brought out a ziplocked package of what looked like Genoa salami slices.
“Great!” she exclaimed, excitedly.
“Ah, but wait,” he told her and gave her the salami bag, “there’s more!”
Well, by now, not only was she out onto the edge of her seat, she was turned completely toward him and leaning in.
“What else?” she asked in an almost child-like voice.
“Voila!” he whispered out at her as he pulled a box of Carr’s sesame crackers out and proceeded to have it fly around her- teasing her and her newfound hunger.
“You’re incredible,” she offered as the box of crackers made a soft landing in her lap.
Then, there was a pause between them as their eyes met in a way that they had never before; looking deep in an exploratory way for the apparent connection between them.
“Is there more?” she wondered aloud.
He nodded at her as he moved his left hand around in the bag, seemingly searching for something that was increasingly eluding his grasp.
“Come on!” she effused and moved ever closer to him in an attempt to see what else he was going to pull out.
Then, all of a sudden his hand stopped moving at the very instant he exclaimed, “Ah! Got it!” And, with that announcement, he pulled out a pint of 100 proof, Southern Comfort and handed it to her.
“Wonderful!” she shouted out, softly, while patting and squeezing his right forearm. “You brought a bottle!”
He paused for a moment before extracting a second bottle and announcing in a Rhett Butler sort of accent, “Frankly, my dear, I brought two.”
“Excellent!” she commended him. “But did you bring glasses or cups?”
“Glasses? Cups?” he asked and put the second bottle back into the bag and back on the seat across from them.
“Do we need glasses or cups?” he began in a professorial way, “Or do we dare to resign ourselves to co-mingling our bodily fluids from across and around the mouth of the bottle?”
She smiled, sat back- straightened up- in her seat and opened the bottle.
“I’m all for co-mingling our bodily fluids. What do you say?” she asked rhetorically, removed the cap and took a long drink before handing the bottle over to him.
He looked over at her, again, but this time in a warmer way than they were about to feel, and said, “By all means, I concur,” he said, put his lips on the mouth of the bottle and drank- at the very moment the train lurched- with a forward thrust- out of the station sealing a form of rudimentary intimacy between them.
It was almost like kissing, but not quite- not yet.
As the train progressed east, they, too, progressed to snack and drink and share the salient aspects of their lives, from the simple to the complex, from the absurdly funny to the life-altering tragic, so that by the time they got halfway between Syracuse and Utica the “basics” of “getting to know each other,” had been achieved.
After all, it was only the train to Penn Station and not the train to forever- they did not have forever.
As it happened, probably the result of the food, the alcohol, the rocking- back and forth- of the rail car- and the comfort they had discovered in their nearness, that somewhere after Utica- by the time the train caught up with dawn- they were asleep, together.
No, not that “together.”
Rather, him leaning back in his seat and her resting her head on his shoulder.
They probably would have slept like that all the way to Albany, had it not been for the quick stops at Amsterdam and Schenectady and the influx of new passengers working their way down the aisle.
He opened his eyes first, she, came awake moments later.

“Getting close?” she asked in a sleepy voice, then repositioned herself in her seat.

He nodded. “To Albany we are, we just cleared Schenectady.”

“Wow,” she replied, shaking her head to clear it.

“Were you sleeping, too?”

“I was,” he said with a smile, looking over at her.

“When did we,” she began slowly- almost coyly- then stopped.

“You mean, you mean?” he responded with equal coyness.

She smiled knowingly.

“Yes.”

“Just after Utica. I guess the bright lights of dawn knocked us out.”

She smiled a smile of content, then patted the top of his right hand.

“I couldn’t have imagined a better partner.”

He beamed a correspondingly smile and reciprocated with his left hand on hers.

“How about we get coffees in Albany?” he suggested.

“That would be nice,” she agreed.

With that, they both fell silent, each knowing that what had to be said was said. Now, all they had to do was wait until the train started heading down the Hudson to say what needed to be said with absolute clarity.
After their coffees were finished- and the train made its way further and further down the east side of the river, the nature of their conversations took on topics of a probing and revelatory intensity. Subjects like happiness, contentment, closeness, attraction and need.
Finally, as the train passed under the George Washington Bridge, she turned to him and asked, “Why don’t you stay over the weekend?”
He turned, slightly, toward her.
“Alone or together?”
“Together- silly,” she gently admonished him and then pursed her lips, waiting for an answer.
“How would we do that- and where?” he asked. “I thought you were staying with your daughter- in Brooklyn?”
There were a few quick nods from her in the affirmative.
“You remember, don’t you, that I told you that I have my own room at her place. We could stay there.”
She paused for a moment, and he, sensing she was not finished, waited.
“It would be fun,” she continued, “we could spend the couple of days- we could be close. I would like that.”
She paused, again.
“Would you?”
He shifted in his seat, not because he was uncomfortable, but on the contrary, to lean in a little closer to her.
“I would like that- I would like that a lot, but I absolutely have to be back for tomorrow morning. Things are scheduled, I have to be there.”
She looked at him, now, not with the disappointment of rejection, but with a peacefulness of believing he was sincere.
They both looked out the window and saw they were slowly beginning the final approach to Penn Station. The river, the parklands were giving way to the subterranean darkness they knew was coming.
He looked over at her, knowing time was short.
Turning in his seat toward her, he began.
“Look, I think what you’re proposing is a wonderful idea. I would love nothing more than to spend a long weekend with you.”
She, now, also turned in her seat, toward him, with anticipatory eyes and smile.
“So?” she asked hopefully.
“So,” he continued, sensing now that what moments ago was nigh-near lost, had been regained.
“So,” he refrained, “why don’t we do this. Why don’t we take a rain check on the long weekend- maybe making it even longer- say, Wednesday through Monday, when the fall comes. It’s a good time of the year in the City.”
“It is, it is,” she agreed happily.
“But, in the meantime,” he went on, “why don’t we spend some time- together- back at home? How does that sound?”
She leaned in toward him and took his hand in her’s. “What do you have in mind?” she asked.
Now it was his turn to nod.
“Well, how about we start, next Thursday? You busy?”
She both shook her head and voiced the negative.
“Where?”
“There’s a donut shop, on a side street off of Brighton, just before the high school, coming from the mall. Let’s say, coffee and a donut at eleven AM in their dining room?’
“I’ll be there,” she confirmed, then leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes, while still holding on to his hand.
“Good,” he said, then, likewise, leaned back to rest.
The train, now, moved with a determination about it, almost as if it had been here- in the tunnels- countless times before- which it had- rocking back and forth through the sidewalk-light punctuated darkness, until, finally, it stopped.
They had arrived.
The car lights came on, but they sat there like the veteran travelers they were and waited, watching the near-to-insane rush to get out of the car and off of the train.
“Let’s just wait until they’re all done and gone,” he advised her, as he sat forward on the edge of his seat.
“By the way,” he began his question, “what’s your daughter’s name?”
“Anna,” she told him, proudly.
“Where’s Anna meeting you?”
“At the ‘Big Board,’ somewhere around there.”
Finally, the car had cleared and they proceeded to stand and move to the aisle.
He reached over for his bag, then slung it over his shoulder before turning to her.
“Your bag?” he asked. “I’ll carry it for you.”
She stood up from her seat, smiled, and then picked up her purse.
“This is all I need.’
He, in turn, was momentarily surprised.
Recognizing this, she added quickly, “I have everything at Anna’s place. It lets me travel light.”
Impressed, he nodded in recognition and simply said, “Nice.”
They exited the car and made their way up to the waiting room and ticket counter level, before moving on to the concourse.
There, they made a right turn and began walking toward the ‘Big Board’ lobby, side by side.
She wanting to hold his hand- but she did not.
He wanting to alternate from hand on her shoulder, then around her waist- but he did not.
Was it too soon for that kind of closeness?
No.
Was it too soon for that kind of closeness in public- amongst total strangers?
Again- no.

Then what was it?
It was both of them knowing that a time for parting would soon be upon them, yet, totally not knowing how to handle it.

Finally, they reached the corner around which- to the right- would be “The Big Board.”
They stopped, looked, scrutinized and surveyed the room, trying to find an empty- and as private- a spot as possible.
“Over here,” he said, spying a space by one of the pillars, then taking her by the arm and directing her that way.
“There you go,” he told her once she had leaned back against a pillar that faced the concourse and the shops. “From here, you’ll be able to spot her once she gets here.”
She nodded, looked away, then quickly looked back at him.
“I guess this is it,” she finally managed.
He looked at her intently, scrutinizing what he thought was a soft glint in the corner of her eyes.
“Just until Thursday morning,” he reassured her.
“You promise?” she asked.
“Cross-my-heart,” he offered in words and the corresponding gesture with his right hand across his chest.
They, then, free-fell into a prolonged moment of awkwardness until she finally broke the silence.
“I suppose you should go, your time is short.”
He readied himself to leave, shifting his weight- slightly- from one side to the other, while at the same time transferring his bag from his right hand to his left, then back, again.
“I suppose,” he said in a resignful tone. “Okay, so, I’ll see you Thursday?”
“You will.”
“All right, be careful and be safe,” he said in a concluding sort of way, then turned to leave.
It was then, that she called out to him, “Wait!” in an affectionately forceful voice. “One last thing,” she added.
He turned and walked the few steps back to within inches of her.
“Yes?” he asked.
She pulled herself off of the pillar and stepped forward to meet him.
“Kiss me before you go,” she said in a soft, delicate and unmistakable way, just before they embraced on the edge of the concourse.

END

John Richmond has “wandered” parts of North America for a good portion of his life. These “wanderings” have taken him from a city on the Great Lakes to a small fishing village (population 200), before heading to Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and then on to a bigger city on the Great Lakes- Chicago- then, eventually, New York City. Since then, John Richmond has made his way to a small upstate New York town and has sequestered himself in his office where he divides his time between writing and discussing the state of the world with his coonhound buddy- Roma. Recently, he has appeared in Front Porch Review, The Oddville Press, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Indian Review (India), Adelaide Magazine (New York/Lisboa), Pudding Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal (2), Ygdrasil (Canada) (2), Oddball Magazine, Lipstick Party Magazine, Hackwriters (U.K.), Quail Bell Magazine, StepAway Magazine (U.K.), The Potomac (2), Peacock Journal, Embodied Effigies (2), Streetcake Magazine (U.K.), Former People Journal (2), The Other Story, Nazar-Look (Romania) (2), Lavender Wolves, Indiana Voice Journal, Fuck Fiction, The Greensilk Journal, The Corner Club Press, Danse Macabre du Jour, The Tower Journal, Stone Path Review, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Rogue Particles Magazine, From the Depths, Flash Frontier (N. Z.), riverbabble (2), The Writing Disorder, Lalitamba, Poetic Diversity, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, ken*again (2), Black & White, SNReview, Voices de Luna, The Round, Syndic Literary Journal, Slow Trains, Forge Journal, and is forthcoming in Green Silk Journal.

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