As the condensation on the cold glass gathered forming streams to the lowest point on the window a puddle began to form around my olive cheek. My face must have Been pressed against the cold glass for hours because the soreness in my pointed left cheek felt as though it was one with the rattling glass it laid upon.
I felt The stream of cold water pull toward the tip of my chin. I could hear a single drop of water every time one would land on my pant leg. I could feel them soaked into my Leviâ€™s creating a spot that grew by the minute.Â
I reached my hands to my sides to identify what was around me. I could feel the smooth cool leather that sat underneath me grounding me in place from slipping straight into the unknown. Fear struck me when I realized I wasnâ€™t where I last remembered being.Â
My small brown eyes refused to open, pulling heavily toward the floor; had I already been sleeping for hours?Â As I battle for simultaneous perfection and control of my eyelids; I force them open, shifting between the left and the right, wondering who will win first.Â
My spine undergoes an electric quiver that shoots from my neck to my tailbone.Â Â Had I been abducted?Â My mind begins to race through all the possible scenarios that could have landed me on this cold rattling seat. Itâ€™s a vast change from being out in the pastor feeding Edrick and Charlie my two horses.Â Did I faint?Â Am I at the hospital?Â That doesnâ€™t explain the rattling that is now being followed by a distant horn.Â
A soft glow met harshly as my eyes adjusted and I was soon able to make out the pendant above me swinging back and forth. I realize the rattling was because I was in motion. As all the noises around me began to add up and the corners of the room started to come together the things around me began to take shape.Â
I started to sit forward but my long black hair was captured by the green velvet backing of the bench I was sitting on. Detangling myself from the mess and gathering my composure to sit forward and look around for any familiar faces. Every seat was empty with no compression or sign of anyone sitting in the cart at any given point. And the question of how I got here remains; at least I could identify that I was on a train and that train was heavily in motion. ButÂ where was I?Â I looked around for a map or a receipt slip next to me. I found nothing on the walls except some gold and wooden trim. I called out to see if anybody would respond. I was nervous from the silence that followed but also felt nervous about the possibility of someone dangerous responding to my call.Â Somebody put me on this cart but who?
Out of the silence, the squeaking of a metal door coming from a nearby train cart caught my ear. I was familiar with the sound of glass rattling the squeaking of the metal doors opening and also the vibrating of the loose screws on the trolley as it rolled up the isles.Â Maybe the attendant was headed my way and could answer some questions for me.Â
I rose to my feet filling a weakness in my legs as my head began to spin with vertigo. Being 5â€™11â€ I was always thought of as a tall woman. And the height was always a long distance to the floor. I grab the back of my bench to balance myself to an upright position I turned toward the rear of the cart where I heard the noise approaching and waited.Â
A gentleman opened the door. He wore a blue button-up jacket and trousers. A blue cap and on his lapel a Mapleleaf reflected in gold. He smiled a gentle smile and two dimples formed deeply in his cheeks.Â
â€œLovely to see you awake maâ€™amâ€.Â
Pushing the old rusted trolley closer to me he lifted a silver lid. A warm steaming liquid filled a beautiful China cup to the top. This man had to be quite balanced and confident in his abilities to move throughout the train. With all of the bouncing around not a single drop spilled or splashed from the cup. Underneath the silver lid was an abundance of pastry. However, I couldnâ€™t put my eye on what they were exactly they are breaded and flaky so perhaps a croissant? But I will get to that later.
â€œ Excuse me sir how did I get hereâ€?
With the steaming cup in one hand, he put his other upon my back and let me back to my chair. Handing me the cup of hot liquid that I was already feeling skeptical about. Was it tea, coffee, or some type of poison? He walked back to his cart and loaded two pastries. Sending me a crooked smile, he walked back to his trolley and left onto the next cart.Â
Laughing to myself I think.Â Is this man mad? Does he think I was cracking a joke? Maybe he couldnâ€™t hear me.
I felt my stomach begin to rumble. It was as if I have been sitting in this cart for days and had nothing to eat. I smell my cup and pick up one of the pastries for a smell test. Although nothing caught me off guard I couldnâ€™t describe the smell. Maybe it was something I had never tried before. It would be silly of me not to take a bite and drink something if it is just a kind gesture and a warm meal. If itâ€™s poison well I guess that kind of answers my question. Realizing I wouldnâ€™t know how to identify poison by smell even if it was present because I had never been exposed to it before, I continued to inspect my food. A second rumble came from my stomach and it was enough to get me to put half a pastry in my mouth.
Past my teeth, I recognize the flavor of butterscotch. Growing up in central Canada it was a common flavor to have in my household. I finish the pastry and took a sip of the warm drink. Although it looks like tea the flavor of warm chocolate ran down my throat.Â
Still hungry I moved on to the next pastry this time it took on a different flavor. It tasted of baklava! Without hesitation, I finished it. When I was a young adult and moved to the United States I wanted to explore the world but couldnâ€™t because I never had money to do so. So one way for me to get some cultural aspects was to learn how to cook different dishes. Making baklava became a specialty. But how did they get its flavor packed into the simple pastry? Baklava took layers and lots of time to create. Feeling satisfied and warmed, I felt rejuvenated and not at all poisoned.
Standing up this time with ease brushing my hair back behind my shoulders and giving my bangs a little bit of fluff after being pressed against my olive four head. I feel it is time to move on to the next cart and see if I can find someone to tell me where Iâ€™m going.Â Maybe I have family and friends on the train That just stepped out for a moment.Â Or maybeâ€¦ no I canâ€™t think that way. The idea of abduction felt too real.Â
Opening the middle door and moving across the rickety bridge that lead from one cart to the other, I opened the next door I approach and put myself inside. I didnâ€™t know if I was moving forward or backward on the train I couldnâ€™t tell which direction it was going. I tried to look out the windows but all I could see was the blackness from what I assumed was nightfall. I swung the door shut and turned around to find an unsuspecting scene.Â
Lined up along the cart were four benches. Not like the benches in my previous cart. These are made of wood and represented those that you would find in an old church house. And a woman in a beautiful dress from what seemed to be in her 50s stood at the front of the cart near a chalkboard. Two small heads peaking over each bench. They were children and each row seemed to be a little younger than the other. There were two children with brown hair one with blue eyes and one with brown. A boy and a girl smiled politely and said hello. Twins giggled in the front row and had golden hair and blue eyes that caught my attention. Three rows back two more girls; one with blonde hair that shone like a star and blue eyes. The other with brown hair, brown eyes, and a cute little gap in her teeth. They both look at me. I saw the blonde girl gather the other girl's hand into her own and a sigh of relief came out of them both. The fourth row has the youngest children. A boy and a girl. They looked very similar perhaps they too were siblings. However, the youngest boy couldnâ€™t have been older than two. He had dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. As I lay my hand on the back of the bench a little girl in the fourth row turned around and looked at me. Her dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes a lot like the boy next to her looked was looking up directly into my gaze. She smiled and ask for my name.Â
" I donâ€™t remember my name, I'm sorry".Â
Â The teacher at the front of the class just looked at me and told everybody to pay attention. The children immediately turned around in their chairs following directions from the chalkboard in unison manner. A quote by Jules Verne.Â I knew Jules Verne. I loved Jules Verne.
After following the direction of the teacher the children turned around again to look at me. And to my surprise, they were not the same children. Their eyes were larger, their cheeks slimmer, and their hair was long and unmanageable.
Maybe they were the same children But they were older... no my eyes must have seen them wrong the first time.Â I looked down at the youngest boy closest to me and it was as if he had grown around 6 inches minimum. His baby fat had melted away and his cheekbones began to take shape. The little girl in the back row looked at me again touching my hand she said "what is your name"? She too has aged along with the other seven. I wasnâ€™t sure if I had seen an anomaly or if there was something truly wrong here.Â
Again I said out loud,Â
"I donâ€™t know my name".
The children all turned back to the front of the class and continued their lesson with their teacher. This time it was about music and the correlation of ABBA as a structure of music. Of course, when I see the letters ABBA an old song by the band Abba came to mind. The youngest girl starts humming next to me, I recognize the tune. It was the song "slipping through my fingers" by Abba. The melody was beautiful and I could feel the heat from my cheeks rush to my eyes as a tear rolled down my cheek. My confusion about the presence of this tune coming from this young child had me bewildered by the ominous way her voice carried through the cart and bounced off the windows.Â
The children one by one all turned around to look at me as soon as their lesson came to a sudden pause. From the older boys in the front row to the youngest children in the back, their faces had aged again. Some seemed to be teens while the younger kids grew to elementary school age. I lost my breath as the youngest girl looked up at me again and said.Â
Â "What is your name ma'am"?Â
My chest began to cave as I struggled for the words. Fear of the children aging right before my eyes felt dooming. I struggled to hold myself up for I felt the blood rush from my head. I stumbled through the cart to the door in front of me just past their teacher. The children's eyes followed as I slammed the door behind me and stood on the bridge.Â Was I sleeping?Â If I was I wasn't waking up. I was worried to find what was in the cart ahead of me. My hands grasped the latch as I pushed myself through into the next cart.
Ready for something overwhelming the train cart felt calm. Many passengers were sitting restlessly with their glances spread sporadically throughout the room. A woman with a small dog on her lap sat twirling her hair with boredom in her eyes. A man and a woman were speaking quietly having a conversation under their breath as the man slowly stirred a cup of tea and the woman constantly blew on her cup to cool it down. I could see a man staring out the window toward the other end of the cart. He was handsome. I recognized the hat that he was wearing. It was an aviator hat in navy blue and white. As I walked closer I could see a gold button showcasing the wingspread of an airplane with the year 57 engraved in it. He was a handsome man with blonde hair and blue eyes His briefcase had a tag on it with the name Christopher Haines. His smile reminded me of the smile I saw on the older boys in the first cart.Â I wonder if that is their father?
Across the aisle from the pilot sat a man with his tan leathery hands crossed over his lap. He wore a flannel shirt and a dirty brown cowboy hat. As I turned to him to speak he looked up at me with his grey eyes and magnificent grey mustache. He was handsome and caught my attention as such. He stood up. He was tall maybe 6'4" being a tall woman I felt small.Â
He then spoke,
"What's a beautiful woman like you doing in a place like this"?Â
Searching to find my voice and feeling relieved to be noticed regularly the words finally found me.
"I woke up a few carts back. I don't know how I got here. Could you tell me where we are headed"?
My words seemed to confuse him as he pulled his eyebrows together and pursed his lips.Â
I should know better than to follow a strange man somewhere but I needed answers. What could happen to me if I'm on a train for all I know I've already been abducted.Â
He stood in the doorway of the metal door in front of me, with the wave of his hand he held the door open as I passed through it, heading to the cart in front of us he followed closely behind.Â
The cart was dark and cold. A fire burned dimly in the corner of the metal room. The flickering light gave witness to the stacks of wooden crates lined up against the walls. It was too dark to see the writing on the crates. The man in the cowboy hat walked to the front of the cart and I could see his silhouette lean over and whisper into the ear of someone sitting down in front of a large window. I couldn't tell what was on the other side of the window due to the light giving back reflection of the room. But given its location, as the farthest point of the room, I assumed this was the front of the train and he was speaking to the conductor.Â
The man with the cowboy hat walked back to me,
"the conductor would like to see you"
As I walked closer to the dark figure a light from outside the window created a bright glow into the room as if the sun had just risen. With my attention on the window ahead of me I thoughtÂ maybe we were coming out of a tunnel. I turned my attention to the conductor as the light began to fade again as if we were entering another tunnel. With the dimness of greys and blush colors peaking into the room and giving life to the crates and walls around me I could see the words on the crates. Vague words like Canada, children, vacations, laughter, sadness and dozens of others stood out like they are inviting me over to open them.
I wrapped my gaze around the shoulder of the character sitting in the chair in front of me. As the light changed in the room again I could see the train conductor's long silver and white hair pulled back into a french braid underneath their cap. It draped over the front of their petite shoulder and down to the chair they were sitting on. I soon put together the slender shoulders and high cheekbones as being female. The train went dark again and bounced back and forth as I lost my footing near the front of the cart and almost fell into the window. I caught the reflection of the room around me in the reflection.Â
My hands gripped the control board in front of me as I found my balance. My eyes are drawn to the window and my heart stops. The beat in my chest froze as I recognized the woman conductor's face. It was older than I remembered. Last I remembered her hair was black and her skin slightly riddled with the age of her early 50s. As I turned around our eyes met. My head dropped and looked down at my own hands. They too looked as if they were taken with age.Â
"How can this be"?
She smiled back at me in silence. She pointed toward the crates.Â
She then spoke. The sound of her voice was beautiful. Like a lost sound that traveled through space and was forgotten had just been found on a new planet.Â
"Open the crates, Laureen". She said.Â
"There are many things you have forgotten".Â
I walked slowly to the first crate labeled Children. Inside lay thick black photo albums and projector reels. I picked up the largest of the albums pulled out another crate to sit and opened it up.Â
Inside the first pages were photos of babies. as I flipped through I recognized the face of a small boy. It was the toddler that sat at the back of the school cart and there I was, holding him up against my chest. I felt a rush of emotion fill my body as images flooded into my brain. Images of me holding the 8 babies that I met earlier in the cart. But as the album progressed the children were older. Even older than I had seen them 15 minutes ago.Â
"How can that be"?Â
Tears rolled down my face as I stared into the face of the train conductor. Her brown eyes stared back at me. Her high cheekbones pointed chin, and thick brow(though covered with the wrinkles of time) were easily recognized.Â It is me.
The conductor shook her head in agreement as if to read my thoughts. It was me. I was the conductor and she was me. I recognized myself for what felt like the first time in years. I looked up at the man in the cowboy hat as he came and sat by me on the floor. His hand softly caressed my cheek wiping away the tear that escaped me. He handed me an envelope and motioned for me to open it. Inside was a letter.Â
It has been three years since we walked out of that doctor's office and they told me that you had started to enter the early stages of Alzheimer's and dementia. I know you don't understand the words I am writing you even as I read this letter to you.Â
Life has changed since you could no longer communicate with me and your family. Your children and Christopher visit you often and play music for you to keep your spirits up. You haven't spoken in years but sometimes you smile at us and we know you can understand what we are saying. There are days you move your lips and stare with your beautiful brown eyes like you have something you need to say, but the words never come.Â
I miss your sweet voice, love for music, the twinkle in your eye when you would bake dessert, and the way you never missed an opportunity to dance. I miss the excitement in your voice when you talked about your life as a kid growing up in Canada. The horses that brought you so much adventure and your dog Blue miss you as well.Â
I hope you remember when we first met. Durango Colorado 2005. You had just stepped onto the platform ready to board a train. Your beautiful hair long and black caught my attention. And from the moment my eyes met yours I was in love. I ran onto the train without a ticket just so I could ask you for your number. You smiled and hesitantly wrote down your number on a tiny piece of paper and took your seat with a smile spread across your face. I was then dragged off the train by security. That weekend you finally returned my call. I held that paper tight and the rest is history.
Â During our conversation to follow, I asked you where you were headed that day on the platform. You replied that for you the world is best traveled by train and when you die the light at the end of the tunnel will be a train.Â
This may be the last time I get to speak to you. Your sickness has gotten worse. You need to be brave. They say in death all you've forgotten, the sicknesses you've had, and the age you've gained will all reset to their finest hour and you'll find yourself again and living with perfection. And by your side the love and people you choose for eternity.Â Â I hope to meet you there.Â
I love you, Laureen.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Keith"
The words traveled through the train cart like an echo in my ears. I glanced at the older version of myself and the man in the cowboy hat.Â
"Keith"? I askedÂ
He nodded and reached for my hand. My memories came flooding back like the explosion of a supernova. Every birthday, every kiss, every child's cry and laughter. Every love I ever had and romance I had ever felt.Â
The conductor kneeled in front of me as I closed my eyes and felt relief drop from my shoulders, love filled my chest and my heart started to beat again. For the first time in years, I didn't feel lost. I was home, on this train for eternity; young and strong. This wasn't dementia this was perfect eternity. It was the never-ending tunnel and I was the light.Â