THE GRAVERS LANE LOCAL
By Edith Boyd
The job in the city was working out for me. Actually, the job wasn’t great, but the apartment I chose, and the train I rode to work were fun. Each had separated me from a bad trend I had leaned into; getting wasted with my friends, complaining a lot, and accomplishing little.The downward spiral my life had taken since John’s telling me he needed space. I needed a change of locale and a straight job. Cooper Products offered me a generous salary, and an opportunity to choose a small apartment of my own.
Nicole, my sister-in-law, helped me decorate my place with her special flair. Not only was she artistic, she was a good bargain hunter, so the finished decor didn’t cost me a week’s pay at Cooper. She also tuned me into the Gravers Lane Local.
I began to enjoy the 8:10 A.M. Local, even though the 8:20 Express would get me into the city more quickly. It was comforting to see regulars at the Stanton Street stop; a retired couple walking with the self-satisfied gait of a strong portfolio, and a dreamy young couple who boarded with the guy twirling his fingers through the woman’s cork-screw curls. Their bliss warmed me more than my thermos of coffee. I imagined a long, happy future for them.
My imagined dream for them began to inhabit a great deal of my ride into the city. Perhaps it was to buffer me from the bland emotional life at Cooper Products. Or to protect me from reminiscing about John. I pictured the young woman, whom I named Ginger, to wear a traditional lacy wedding dress, and for her ardent suitor, Eddie, to be casually dressed, and for their nuptials to be an outdoorsy kind of thing.
When Ginger caught my eye, I hastily looked away, as I didn’t want to meet them, and find their names or their lives to be normal or banal. Nicole began to worry about me. I was nearly friendless since I moved, and managed to insult my partying crowd. Nicole sat with me in my window seat, which she decorated, and clinked her wine glass to mine. ” Beth, you seem obsessed with these people on the train,” she said sincerely.
Had my interest in them become a pathology of sorts? I wasn’t aware of the frequency of my tales of the train. For Nicole to assert this, I felt the need to venture into an evening class, or to join a book club, and get out of my head. I was careful to avoid speaking about my train people during the remainder of Nicole’s visit. She was not only my decorator. She was also my first guest. The night Nicole referred to my train obsessions, I re-iterated how lucky my brother Joe was to have met and married her.
Later that evening, I opened my windows and heard the gentle thwack of a bat hitting a ball and calls of “little help” from the field behind my apartment. The ball field reminded me of our childhood home. Behind our home was a ball park, and as I settled into my new digs, I remembered playing Monopoly or Scrabble with Joe, on hot summer nights, with players’ comments and cheers chanting a gentle chorus in the background.
As taken as I was with Ginger and Eddie, I began to develop an interest in others who passed through the portals of The Gravers Lane Local. There was the accountant whom I passed on the streets of the city, when the train reached its destination. I don’t believe I imagined his occupation, as I saw him enter an accounting firm, briefcase in hand, no chit chat with the vendors on the street corners.
And a cardiologist and I struck up a few conversations on the Local, when we happened to land on the seat next to the other. I noticed his name tag under his tan cardigan, and asked him about his field. I remember the morning well… slightly chilly for early fall, when I worked up the nerve to say, “What kind of doctor are you?” He hesitated, and answered, “A good one,” with a charming smile, then quickly became serious, and said, “A cardiologist. I work at City Hospital.”
“ Do you work in the city?” He said with an earnest tilt of his head. I could picture trusting him with my medical care, then shuddered that I would need it at my age.
“I work in marketing at Cooper Products” I replied, straightening my shoulders to look the part. He clearly didn’t find my occupation intriguing, as he gave me a tepid smile and settled into his seat, and then, remembering his manners, he asked a few questions about my work.
I liked Dr. Baldwin, even though we had few further conversations during our morning commute. He was akin to a pillar of normalcy in my new life in my new neighborhood. We often just nodded to the other, after he boarded at the same stop as the well- heeled retirees. I didn’t know the walking couple, but the strut was not that of a couple who had worked any graveyard shifts in hospitals or diners.
One crisp, fall morning, I was so taken with the orange and gold maples, that I almost missed Eddie alight from his seat, to greet Dr. Baldwin as he made his way down the aisle. A frisson of fear crept up me that I couldn’t quite explain. Of course it was possible they were neighbors, or Eddie’s dad was a golf buddy of the doc, but something primal in me told me that was not the case.
Somehow, the wedding with lilacs and ivy, or sand dunes and seascape, with Ginger ethereal in her beauty, seemed iffy to me, and I noticed my coffee thermos was no longer hot or even warm. Beth, get a hold of yourself, I said, in my best fatherly voice…..this day dreaming has gotten outta hand. My dad’s pragmatism collided with my lifelong fondness for fantasy.
But my job was not inspiring, and the train trips so interesting, with the varied people and views whizzing by. The mesmerizing sounds of the train slowing for yet another stop, had become as soothing as the summer sounds of baseball when I first moved to my apartment. Who cared if Nicole thought I was becoming a bit unhinged?
I did, and I was very relieved when I received a message from my brother that he and Nicole were throwing a Halloween party. I hadn’t been to a party since John and I were a couple, the thought of which sent a stab of pain right through me. I distracted myself by thinking about Ginger and Eddie.
Uh oh. Here it was again. The fantasies about the Gravers Lane Local. Easier on me than facing the extra twenty something pounds I was carrying around. I was avoiding my parents as they wouldn’t say anything, but the arch of my mother’s eyebrow would be enough to let me know how she saw me.
Unable to stick with Atkins or join Gold’s Gym, I decided to dress as a witch or a dragon, something I could pull off without working off the weight. Not one of those sultry witches…I would be the old-fashioned kind, dreamed up to scare kids, for whatever reason some crazy person decided to scare kids. I considered asking Nicole to whip something together for me, but realized she would be busy decorating their home, and I sensed I may have become a bit of a pest, leaning on Nicole too frequently.
The invitation to the party sparked a resolve in me to begin walking and getting in shape.
After the Local deposited me back home, I began to walk through my new neighborhood. I said good-bye to Ben & Jerry, and started to improve my diet. As I started to feel better about myself, I became less interested in Ginger and Eddie.
Or so I thought. A week before Joe and Nicole’s party, I saw Dr. Baldwin approach Eddie at the Stanton Street Station. He grabbed Eddie’s wrist, as if taking a pulse, and my heart clenched. Could Eddie be a patient? It certainly seemed that way. I couldn’t ask Dr. Baldwin, and I didn’t want to break the Eddie and Ginger spell to find they were Travis and Ashley. Nor could I express myself, yet again, to Nicole.
I threw myself into finding an attractive witch costume. My walks in the neighborhood and my climbing the steps at work had helped me shed some of the pounds that were plaguing me. I found a fun witch’s outfit, complete with hat and wand.
While shopping for my outfit, I was surprised to hear Nicole’s gentle voice asking if there was a stand alone scarecrow decoration. As I rounded out of my aisle into hers, She nearly shrieked,
“Beth, look at you, wasting away! You look great!” And then, she knitted her brow and said, “Are you O.K.? You’re not sick or anything,” …her voice trailing away.
“Ahh, thanks. No, I’ve been exercising and gave up ice cream. Does it really show?”
She placed a few things in her cart and hugged me tightly.
We stayed that way for a few seconds, and my throat caught, thinking of her support in the early post John dregs, withholding judgement of him or the situation. My heart, still enmeshed with his, didn’t need criticism of him.
Appearing to read my thoughts, she said, “Joe has met some quality friends, Beth.” Just as I was about to say something, I saw a familiar profile from the train. Ginger. She was to my left heading to the Pharmacy area of the Super Shop. I started to point her out to Nicole, and then remembered her concern, and told her how I was looking forward to the party, meaning it.
But preparing for the party didn’t stop me from inching over near the Pharmacy and Ginger. But Nicole came back over to me to ask if I could go along that I didn’t recognize Joe right away at the party, as he “ has gone round the bend” about his costume.
Speaking softly, so as not to alert Ginger, I whispered, “ I’ll play along, but if there’s anybody in the world I could pick out with a blindfold, it’d be Joe.” I could say that to her without her becoming uncomfortable or possessive of Joe. From their first meeting, Nicole accepted the brother/sister bond between Joe and me.
And there were more than a few greeting cards I received from Joe, that I knew Nicole shopped for, and held the pen in his hand for him to sign.
The night of the party, I felt an excitement I hadn’t felt in a while. I was getting fit, had reduced my drinking immensely, and was settling into my new apartment, which suited me so well. Look out fellas, I thought as I applied the last bit of glitter around my eyes.
Joe and Nicole’s place looked great with ghosts, witches and scarecrows lining the walkway, and orange and black streamers swaying with the ringing chimes Nicole placed on their back patio. I noticed a guy dressed like Sherlock Holmes, and he noticed me. I could feel it.
I waved my wand around, and he smiled and walked over to me.
“You’re Beth, Joe’s sister,” he said disarming me completely.
“Yes. I am. I consider it an honor,” I said, hoping my glitter didn’t accentuate my nose or make me look silly. “I’ve heard so much about you,” he said, while guiding me over to the bar area set up for the occasion.
Although I preferred beer, I felt self-conscious ordering one, and settled for a vodka tonic. While stirring the little straw through my drink, looking down on the lime in it, I said, “You didn’t tell me your name.”
“Gerry…Gerry Mc Laughlin,” he said, with a glint in his eye that warmed me to him, and stirred feelings I hadn’t felt in a while.
So this was Gerry. Joe had told me about him…all good things.
I slipped my drink slowly, remembering the excesses of my recent past, and asked him about himself. He only said a few things about himself before he glided me over to an empty couch, and asked me about our childhood, Joe’s and mine. Unusual for a guy, I thought, to defer talk away from himself. A combination of my nerves, the vodka, and his warmth led to describing my new residence and the memories of past summers, with the thwack of baseballs, and parental curfews lifted. I felt relaxed enough to begin telling him about the Gravers Lane Local. And some of its inhabitants.
When Nicole drifted by us with her cell phone heading to the patio, I became silent and heard her say, “Dad, did you ask Dr. Baldwin?”
I nearly grabbed Gerry’s pipe prop right out of his hand and said, “Did she say Dr. Baldwin?”
He looked at me warily and said, “Beth, what’s the big deal if she did?” In the split second it takes to process stuff, I was pleased that Gerry appeared jealous, and fearful that I had truly gone nuts to react so strongly to the mention of Dr. Baldwin.
Leaving Gerry on the couch, I smiled and said I’d be right back. I followed behind Nicole and heard digitalis….one glass of red wine, and knew it had to do with her dad’s heart issues.
Gerry managed to distract me, which bode well for a possible friendship, and maybe more between us. I fumbled with my i-phone when he asked for my contact information. I began to hope this could be a casual thing, that I could go on a few dates and wear those sling-back heels that sat in my closet. I wasn’t crazy about the name Gerry, but liked everything else about him.
Joe, whose costume did actually fool me, took off his mask and came to talk to us on the couch.I was pleased he showed no protective brotherly concern about Gerry’s attention to me. I excused myself and went into the kitchen to hang out with Nicole. After a little give and take about the party and Gerry, I asked about her father, without revealing my looking for clues about Dr. Baldwin. It didn’t take long for Doc Baldwin’s name to come up. As always, Nicole was open and without guile, and she knew I liked her dad and would be interested in details about him.
“Dr. Baldwin has a satellite office on Stanton Street, but his home base is City Hospital, where he does a lot of pro bono work.”
The conversation I overheard was a routine update, father to daughter. I was relieved that her father was not in a health crisis, and tickled that my train pal was connected to our family.
And when Gerry and I met for a dinner the Wednesday after the party, I felt a joy and quickening I hadn’t felt in a while.
Thursday morning, after our dinner date, I awakened with an odd sense of dread.
Trying to be my father’s daughter, I tried to find a practical reason for my feelings. It didn’t take long to admit it would be a long wait until next Friday’s pay check, as I had squandered the last one, preparing for my date.
Although the Stanton Street stop didn’t produce the regulars, I did notice Eddie and Dr. Baldwin on the 5:20 Local on the way home. I thought of Ginger’s waiting for her love with the expectant look in her wide-set eyes. I didn’t chastise myself, as my daydreams were becoming a way to distract me from my growing feelings for Gerry.
While relaxing and reading my book, close to my home stop, I heard a ruckus in the front of the train car. A woman in a purple coat blocked my view of the incident. I inched my way up and saw Dr. Baldwin ministering to Eddie in what appeared to be CPR. He was barking orders to those gathering near him. I completely froze to see the star of my fantasy life, struggling for air, under the compressions of Dr. Baldwin.
With an arm waving motion, he pushed against the assembled crowd, and put his face into his hands. He mumbled the words Justin and arrhythmia, and a quietly attractive woman put a hand on his back and said, “Daniel, there’s nothing more to do right now…He’s gone.”
Her words were echoed through the slow screeching of the braking train as it made its way to the Stanton Street stop. I would know about Eddie before Ginger knew. Before her world exploded. I knew that Ginger, whom I later learned was Amanda, would crawl through a cave of grief and maybe never return to beauty and hope. I re-lived the metallic taste of loss, and hated it.
At the Stanton Street stop, I saw Amanda with her cork-screw curls newly done, rush to the train, still oblivious to the impact of her loss, to the vicious twist her life would take.
It pained me to think of the time it would take her to notice a sunset, or laugh at a joke. To move forward through a mountain of resistance to happiness, to slivers of joy, shaky, at first, but then enduring.
I imagined for her a re-birth, perhaps in a number of years, maybe opening to a new love, different from this one, or maybe not bonded with another, but strengthened from this blow, joyful in knowing how fragile, yet precious, this life is.
About the Author:
Edith Gallagher Boyd is a former French language teacher. Her short fiction has been published in multiple online literary magazines, and can be found by googling her full name. Her short story, ” The Flower Shop,” published in The Furious Gazelle, appears with her nickname, Dee Gallagher Boyd. She lives in Jupiter, Florida.