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I’m hungry, but I can’t afford the food prices on this Union Pacific train. My stomach is growling when the conductor announces that the Portland Rose was approaching Pocatello, Idaho.
“How long will the train stop?” I asked.
“Is that all?”
“Not to worry, son. If you have things to do there is another train right behind this one. It will be here in exactly forty-eight hours.”
The train begins slowing. The depot glides into view. That’s when I spot Martha. She’s standing on the freight platform. She’s turned away, facing the mountains, but I recognize her long brown hair and the red coat. We were together at the Kansas City train depot two days ago when she dropped the bad news on me, telling me she’d found someone else and she never wanted to see me again. She knew I was going to Portland. Has she changed her mind? Is she offering me a second chance.
I experience a moment of doubt. It can’t be her. But it is. I certain. I’d know her anywhere.
The train takes forever to come to a halt, and the conductor won’t let me out until he’s followed Union Pacific’s train protocol – wait for a full stop, open the vestibule door and set his metal stepstool on the concrete. Only then does he step out, turn and offer a hand to the heavyset lady who somehow has managed to get ahead of me.
In these hectic moments of trying to get out the door I lose site of the freight platform.
The heavy lady steps out and then suffers a dizzy spell. Her cane is of no use and she’s certain to take a header onto the concrete. I’m not a medic. I’m not skilled in helping people, but I manage to slip an arm around her waist and from behind I manage to support her. With the conductor’s assistance we head for a bench made of extruded steel and ease her onto it.
“You okay, Ma’am?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you, young man,” she assures me in a breathless whisper.
Not more than two minutes have passed, but in the span of time Martha has vanished. She‘s gone and I‘m close to panic.
“Did you see a person in a red coat?” I asked a fellow wearing a brown Stetson and cowboy boots.
“Yes, I think I saw a red coat in the coffee shop a minute ago.”
I race to the doorway and scan the diners within. Checking my watch, I see that six of those ten minutes have already passed. The train will be pulling out momentarily and I have to be on it. My stuff is on there. I’m about to decide the whole experience is an illusion. Then a red coat appears at the ladies restroom door.
The train sounds a horn. Decision time has arrived. I must decide now. Glancing through the café window I see the train starting to ease away from the platform. I can still make it if I run. I have to make it. My bag is on the train. But then Martha’s face flashes before me – her pink lipstick, her soft brown eyes, her blue eye shadow, the dimple on in her right cheek, and the small flat place on the end of her nose. Nothing else matters. The hell with my bag.
Pushing my way through the knot of people I force my way within arm’s reach of Martha.
“How did you get here so quickly?” I ask.
The person in the red coat turns to face me. He’s wearing bright red lipstick, has three days of stubble and breath that would turn a rattle snake.
“What are you talking about?” he asks, flashing a mouthful of large, yellow teeth.
I shrink away. What the hell? How did this happen?
Turning on my heel I make it to the entryway. I’m too late. My train and my bag are already a half-mile down the track. I think of my bag with all my clothes and two air force uniforms, my furlough orders. I’ll never catch it. But I have to.
Darting out to the street I hail a Pocatello Taxi. “Follow that train,” I shout as I scoot into the back seat.