It was late morning and I hadn’t been able to concentrate on my work. Call it brain freeze, writer’s block or just plain laziness. But I knew I needed to change my environment. So I headed off to the state park that is only about a ten minute ride from here.
Oh, I guess there must be regulars who make this a daily stop. But I’m one of those “every-once-in-a-while” people who come storming in like a freight train and then come to a screeching halt. I can feel all of the residents and visitors collectively turn their heads toward me when they hear this grand sigh
of relief upon my arrival.
It’s like sticking your toes into the cool lake on a hot summer day. My soul said, “Ah!”
I settled down and decided to take a walk along the path. Up the hill and across through the great pines following along like the Native American Indians whose spirit can still be felt. Down the other side to the edge of the lake and there I sit upon the big rock…except for today.
Joe was there. He was waiting for a train.
“Hello, my friend! It’s a beautiful day,” I said with enthusiasm.
“Sure. Easy for you to say. Your train isn’t late!” he growled.
Joe appeared to be in his late 70’s. He had on an old blue sport coat and a pair of blue jeans. His shirt was white, and his shoes were old high top boots that appeared to be military issue.
“Sitting by the water I thought maybe you were waiting for your ship to come in,” I said jokingly.
“Son, there haven’t been ships on this water in decades,” he said smugly.
“But trains? Trains still run here?”
“Yes, sir! Right along these tracks,” he said pointing to the pathway I had just walked.
Now, there aren’t any tracks here and there never was. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was concerned for him. He seemed lost and a bit confused.
“Well, since the train is late would you like to walk with me over to the station?” I asked. I really wanted to get him back to the parking area. I hoped that someone was looking for him.
He agreed to go with me because another train wasn’t due for hours.
“I’ve been coming here every day,” he said. “She told me to catch the next train. But every time I get here the train is late. This schedule says it should be here by now.”
He was frantically waving this paper he held tightly in his hand as he expressed his frustration.
“Where is it coming from?” I asked.
“Where ever I am to go.”
“Great. I hope it’s some place special.”
I realize that I was having a conversation not based at all on reality. But this old man seemed to need this. In fact, I would guess it just might be his reason to live.
“What is her name? You know the woman who told you to catch the train.”
“Jane. Joe and Jane, waiting for a train. Something about that sounds perfect,” he said as he stared out toward the lake.
“When was the last time you saw a train go through here?” I asked.
The oddest thing happened. I asked that just as we came to a clearing. He stopped and looked at me. He never said a word. My question seemed to penetrate this fantasy world he created. He looked at me as if to say, “You and I know this whole thing isn’t real. Just play along with me. Don’t ruin it.” He then shook his head and continued walking.
“Daddy! Over here!” A young woman shouted as she headed in our direction.”Daddy, I always ask you to stay close by me when we come here. You were down by the lake again, weren’t you.”
“Yes, my love. Waiting,” he said.
“Oh, Daddy. Why don’t you head over to the picnic table near the van. I have lunch for us.”
“Joe. It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said as I shook his hand. He then headed through the parking area and sat on the bench.
“I hope he wasn’t a bother to you,” she said. Daddy really needs someone with him. He’s not really a problem. He just likes to be by himself once in a while.”
“I know the feeling,” I said smiling. “May I ask about Jane? He said he was waiting for a train here. Were they married?”
“Jane is my Mom. She died 15 years ago. He took it badly. He won’t talk about her being dead. He just remembers when she came here by train. Two weeks later they were married.”
“How wonderful he still waits. Almost like he wants to start all over again,” I said. Then saying our goodbyes, I waved one more time to Joe. He politely waved back and then stared once more off into his private world.
I headed back down the path and returned to my favorite spot. Until today I didn’t think anyone found it as comforting as I. I sat on the rock and listened to the water lap gently upon it. My feet were each resting on separate smaller rocks. There between the two of them I spotted a paper. It had slipped neatly
into a crevice away from the water.
I picked it up and to my amazement the front of this folder read, “Certificate of Death.” Inside was a crumbled piece of paper that appeared to be an official death certificate for Jane. August 31, 1985 was the date printed at the top.
Fifteen years ago today.
Realizing he must have dropped it I ran to the parking lot. His daughter was standing near the car while Joe was seated on a folding chair closer to the lake.
“Excuse me. I think maybe your Father dropped this back there near the rock he was sitting on when we met,” I said as I handed her the paper. I purposely opened it flat so she could see what it was.
“Oh, my Lord,” she said. “He does realize it. He carries that paper with him every where. I never bothered to look at it. He says it’s a train schedule and I just let him go.”
“Miss, maybe your Father isn’t waiting for a train to arrive. Maybe he wants to catch the same one your Mom did. This death certificate was her ticket,” I said.
“That’s why he says it. Every night before he goes to bed….” She paused as she tried to keep her composure.
“Every night he says, ‘Today I missed the train again. Maybe tomorrow I’ll catch the next one.’ Then he looks up and throws a kiss.”
Without saying goodbye she ran quickly to his side. I saw her hand the paper to him. He stood and grabbing her hand pulled her toward him. They embraced and cried… about reality, about getting away from it and waiting for the next train. Love is special.
Author - Bob Perks