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train ride

by Emma Mankowski 7 months ago in Short Story
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A short story

Image Credit: Diobelle Cerna

train ride

It’s cold on the train. Four more stops, I tell myself. Train, bus, gondola, I say, repeating the order of my transportation. Train, bus, gondola. Trying to make the trip seem more manageable. Train, bus, gondola. Trying to make my destination come sooner.

I fish through my bag, looking for something to pass the time. My phone lights up; I accidentally touched it. I swipe to reveal an abundance of message notifications.

Message from Mr. Allington: Hey I need you to pick up extra shift if you are in town. Office swamped without you.

Message from Kris: Hi hon! let’s get together to chat and grab a mocha! lmk when ur back in the city!


I sigh and drop my phone back into my bag. It finds its way to the bottom and lands with a thud. Oops. I wince, but don’t check my phone to see if it’s ok. I honestly don’t care. It would probably be for the best if it broke; I can’t stand all these messages.

I shuffle through loose makeup, credit cards, gum and chapstick to find the book I’ve been reading- well, trying to read. I use to be part of a book club- “Murder & Merlot”- a murder mystery book club with a group of wine-sipping ladies. But my schedule was packed as always, and after several meetings in which I was criticized for not finishing the books I just stopped going.

But last week I stopped at the Barnes and Noble near my house to pick up a Christmas present for my friend Iris- I settled on Mindy Kaling’s newest autobiography- and I bought myself a book.

Sitting on the train with it in my hands, I open the book and bend the spine- fresh and stiff with newness.

Ten minutes later, I set down my copy of It’s a Girl’s World: How to Girlboss in Life, Love, and Work, jaded with its words already. My fast-paced mind is too accustomed to the hectic speed of my job. I can’t relax, no matter how hard I try, so I stare out the window and tap my foot anxiously. Maybe things will be different in Hamblin.

My grandmother lives in Hamblin. It’s not a large town, kind of a mountain getaway. The population is technically 302, as any local resident will tell you, but you wouldn’t guess that from the look of it. The little village is always buzzing with people, with tourists and visitors far outnumbering the residents. Cabins and lodges house curious foreigners, and hundreds more have getaways tucked into the side of Mt. Rustin.

I’m not one of the curious foreigners or getaway owners. I come to Hamblin to visit my grandmother, who is one of the lucky 302 to call herself an official resident. She’s lived in Hamblin for four decades, and many happy moments of my childhood were spent in Hamblin with her. When my parents died, she offered to let me come live with her. But I was already 22 when that happened, and was becoming serious about my job. I stayed in the city to build my career, and that endeavor has paid off. I’m the first female CEO of the prestigious advertising agency I work at, and I climbed up to that position in just ten years. But I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had left the city and moved to Hamblin.

I can see the mountains, far in the distance. The buildings and houses pass by in a blur as the train speeds out of the suburbs and into the vast wilderness that will take me to Hamblin. It’s snowing, and in the city the snow will stick to the ground and turn to slush, gray and brown with car exhaust. But in Hamblin the snow will be a pure and pristine blanket, disturbed only by a few deer until mid-morning, when the tourists and villagers arrive and damage it. In Hamblin, the snow is never gray-brown slush, only damaged by happy footprints and hoofprints.

I take a breath and try to cultivate the slow-paced peacefulness that my grandmother and most all Hamblinites have. I open my book again, reading it with my newfound concentration. After a few chapters, I go to the train’s bar and order a coffee. It’s typical commuter fare, nothing like what I make at home with my espresso machine and quality beans, cultivated in Colombia and sold in Bermuda Street. I don’t need to bring my beans to Hamblin though, because they have five coffee shops, each with its own unique fare. I’m picky about my coffee when I’m in the city, but in Hamblin I am curious, and I try things that I wouldn't usually do.

The coffeeshops will have special drinks for the holiday season, and I close my eyes and remember the gingerbread cappuccino I tried last winter. I pretend this styrofoam cup of slime is a fluffy paradise of foam, with the gentle touch of gingerbread. I want the trip to be over so I can actually have it. I check my watch. One more hour, and then I will disembark and walk to the bus stop. There’s only one bus in the town of Osha, and it mostly exists just to take people to the gondola station. Osha is much larger than Hamblin, but it still doesn’t have many amenities. From there, I’ll ride the gondola line up the side of Mt. Rustin, which ends at the little village of Hamblin. I can see it now; my tiny British grandmother meeting me at the station in her little two-seater Jeep.

My mind wanders for the next hour; sipping my slimy coffee, reading little sections of my book. Finally the train reaches Osha, stalling in the train depot. Mind the gap, a disembodied voice says as I prepare to disembark.

The bus is different from buses in the city. It isn’t dirty and grimy and filled with disgruntled commuters. I see a woman with a little dog, and smile at it. It wags its tail at me, and looks at my face expectantly. “I don’t have anything for you,” I try to explain to the dog. I show it my empty hands.

I always get scared on the gondola. I know it’s safe, but sitting in a glass box suspended by only a wire hundreds of feet in the air is still pretty unnerving. I spend most of my life high off the ground in skyscrapers. There’s no difference, really, I try to reassure myself. But I can’t help forming sweaty palms and forgetting to breathe.

Finally, I see it. My destination, Hamblin. There’s only one street, and its peppered with tourist-y shops. I see my favorite coffeeshop among them, the one where they serve gingerbread cappuccinos, and coffee with great puffs of steam. And just to my right is a familiar car, my grandmother’s blue jeep. She comes to meet me as the gondola lands and comes to a stop.

“Deb,” she says in her Yorkshire accent. “I’ve missed you so much.” Her smile is kind and welcoming, and it makes her forehead crinkle at the sides.

“Grandma,” I say, and she pulls me into a warm hug. It’s a different kind of warmness than the blast of artificially heated air in my office building, even if it’s the same temperature. Like many things about my grandmother, it’s something you can’t measure.

“We’re going to have a lovely Christmas together,” she says.

I’m so glad I came to Hamblin.

Short Story

About the author

Emma Mankowski

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