By: Erin Davis
It was raining that Tuesday, as it had been for the past two weeks, mocking the fashion of some sort of Biblical torrent. With lightening like cascading beams of celestial ire, the little town of Edgar’s Wharf covered their heads with expired newspapers and sopped overcoats as they approached the daily train. These people ran heavily, splashing the muck-ridden puddles with their brown galoshes, disturbing the pacific micro-universes accumulating since the first rainfall.
And as these fine, upstanding, muddy townsmen rushed toward a bloated and hollering conductor, it was inevitable that Mrs. Schwartz commented to her laboring husband, “at least the birds have shelter. They haven’t been around for weeks.” And her fine, upstanding, muddy husband simply nodded, for he already knew that the birds were far smarter than she.
Handing over their tickets, limp with constant nervous folding and creasing, the townsmen boarded the train—the massive metallic sanctuary. Swishing skirt after filth-rimmed trouser leg boisterously entered the cramped car, which provided the same looming starkness as the hamlet beyond its tear-streaked windows.
A total of six sat upon the corduroy seats, spoiling the dry fabric, causing an overall feeling of slight inconvenience. And, Dr. Jean D. Lefebvre, MD, whose descendants once came from some Parisian aristocracy, had inherited not his ancestor’s lucre, but their incessant arthritis. His bones, with every change in precipitation, burned like a thousand balls of fire, as if under eternal flame. It was he, then, felt the greatest stab of surprise at the train’s quite sudden forward jerk.
So it was, these six members sat in bitter uneasiness. They, however, were a refined people, thus their speech was finely turned to trivial speech, where each had his or her own verbal specialty.
The aforementioned Lefebvre took it upon himself to once again, though quite to his wife’s displeasure, explain the symptoms of his chronic ailment. One can only imagine the thrill of poor Mrs. Lefebvre when she discovered that her husband now suffered acute insomnia. She was thus no longer excited for their overnight bed and breakfast excursion…romantic attempt was lost.
Adjacent from the marriage of medicine sat Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz, the latter of whom wringed the water from her ecru-flecked hair. And, by the sheer course of humankind, this woman had her area of conversational reversion. All had such—that is, except for Little Harry, who sat curled in his father’s lap, shifting in a half-dazed discomfort from time to time. Little Harry didn’t care much for his parents’ speech anyhow, for they merely discussed such subjects as “acreage” and, in worst circumstances, an “eviction”.
“Their land just isn’t selling,” Mr. Schwartz told his wife, who now had replaced her hat in its proper setting. “I have half a mind to leave the entire affair and let Monk sell it himself.”
It took his wife a moment to respond, for she now examined the contents of her purse—pocket mirror, spending change, reading glasses—all was there. “Yes dear,” she finally answered, half-heartedly, “but we always need to pay the bills. It was your idea to install the new icebox.”
Mr. Schwartz simply gave a roll of the eyes—his wife knew nothing of real estate. It was a man’s realm, after all. ‘Women merely rule the management once purchased, no?’
There the conversation temporarily ended, for the agent had fixed his gaze on the scene in front of him. ‘Yellow wallpaper—in such a setting!’ All knowledge of interior worth flooded back to him, making his scrutiny of the impertinent wallpaper all the more immediate. “…and those flowers!” he muttered, almost inaudibly.
“What, dear?” Mrs. Schwartz had become a victim of Dr. Lefebvre’s lamentations in a matter of five irretrievable seconds.
Mr. Schwartz shook his head as if to cleanse his mind of the ghastly attempt at finery.
It was true; the lemon-colored walls were a stark contrast against such drab, mechanical surroundings. And the flowers—daisies, petunias, forget-me-nots—what blasphemy! Surely the designer must have blind, possibly even inept!
After pushing his suffocating superiority in landscaping arts from his mind, Mr. Schwartz looked onward toward the man directly in his view, the sixth passenger.
This young gentleman, surely a product of higher education, sat stiffly in his assigned seat, gazing first at the ground, his shoes, out the window, and again at his shoes. Whether it was mere nerves or the examination of some careless polishing of the buckle, Mr. Schwartz was unsure. Yet it was obvious that the rider was out of his element, but, then again, weren’t they all?
“Any good cases, Simpson?” The attempt at civility startled the young man, whose name was only referred to as “Simpson” by those he must, by societal rite, respect.
“O-ooh! Not much of note,” Simpson shifted in his seat to the left…then to the right. He settled in the center.
“Nothing, you say?” Mr. Schwartz stroked his oncoming stubble, suddenly annoyed at the lackadaisical upkeep of his razor blade. “Nothing medical? Malpractice, perhaps…?” And, gazing to his side he cut a suggestive glance at Dr. Lefebvre, who still held both women in total occupation.
Simpson was suddenly uneasy and began to utter some sort of broken English bordering the lines of, “I’m a mere attorney, sir.” However, his attempted words were interrupted.
The voice of the conductor, whose stomach preceded his entrance by a solid two seconds, rang out above the chatter. “I do apologize, miss. There must have been some sort of mix-up in the system. We shall seat you in this car, miss.”
And the Miss of whom he referred stood at his side. And the conversation did not cease, but abruptly altered topic.
Mrs. Lefebvre, whose hand clung to the forearm of Mrs. Schwartz, was the first to decry the seventh passenger. “Pink in January? You’d think such a young girl would be more careful!”
“Most would think she is a product of ill repute!”
“Shh! Darling!” Mr. Schwartz shook his wife’s shoulder, laughing rather boyishly in his shedding of listlessness.
Yet, as the unwanted being glided down the center aisle, the passengers feared not offense—the girl looks helplessly foreign.
The young woman, whose blue orbs gazed from ticket to conductor, found her place in the only vacant seat, next to Simpson. Of no help to her, the young woman failed to lift her eyes to her fellow passengers—all of whom, even Little Harry, stared upon in wonder.
“I’ve never seen such golden hair.”
“And those eyes, did you notice them?”
“Undoubtedly Scandinavian. Maybe Russian.”
“I don’t care about ethnicity—they looked maniacal!”
“Don’t take it so far, Gertie. But they are queer, yes.”
“I am still quite perturbed by her dress.”
“If it was only yellow—it would match the walls!”
At the tinkling, biting laughter hidden behind his back, Simpson experienced a discomfort relatively disquieting. He was a man of law—at his leisure in the courtroom, flustered and squeamish in places of fellow scrutiny. Yet it was the trouble of another soul, this oddity at his side that marred every iota of ease. However, thank God the attention had been lifted from his shoulders…’What could have possibly happened to her original assignment…?’
The poor girl sat uncaring, fully oblivious to the sniggering at her expense.
Simpson agreed with his counterparts that she must be from a distant land, where denizens learn a separate language to save themselves from the judgment of those different. And, somehow, he felt an ache in his heart. Smiling was this strange wonder’s greeting, tongue and ultimate bearing. She communicated a ‘thank-you’ to the conductor in such fashion…‘What wonderful conversation’. And, though obviously never daring to voice such blasphemy, Simpson quite enjoyed her appearance. He had always found a weakness in the fairer skinned, his heart racing at those with flaxen hair and hushed freckles. Thus, to his happiness, for the first time in his dragging life, Simpson was relieved to know nothing of fashion. Surely such knowledge would destroy his admiration of the cascading pink ruffles.
“Simpson—don’t become too enraptured!” It was an infamous mocking outburst on the part of Dr. Lefebvre. The car burst into clanging laughter, each separate pitch bumping and bouncing off one another, fighting for the loudest tone.
Simpson merely smiled in retort, an awkward and broken grin that grimaced beneath eyes of annoyance.
It was too bad that he could not inquire as to her name, both language barrier and ridicule impeding his want. To his newly-begotten luck, though, the answer came to him in stitching upon the young woman’s pale carpet bag. Or was it green? The hue was quite like his jacket—washed too frequently and exposing a sickly color that screamed reminiscence of a once-vibrant life.
DELILAH it read. ‘How very pretty’. That name, though…he had heard it before. Its familiarity was almost nauseating. His thudding heart silenced and he began a ritualistic meditation on the rhythmic pounding of the outside torrent. He was then reminded, at last, of a single, long-lost memory, dating back to his childhood years.
Delilah had been a dog? No, certainly not.
A cat? Possibly, but felines are much too tame.
Tortoise…no, he never owned such a callous-ridden bore.
Bird…why…yes! His memories flooded back to him, as if his mind had been thrown from the train car and swept asunder by the exterior rage.
Once, when his mother still baked those cinnamon Yule logs and his father still dreamily roamed his lavish front yard budding with daises, petunias and forget-me-nots…it pained him to think of such times. They were happiness. And what is happiness but ephemeral escapes from dreariness?
Yet Simpson nevertheless remembered. Among the branches of his mother’s olive tree, which was “quite displaced” according to his paternal grandmother, nested a single, wonderful dove. So beautiful—creamy and soft like a bushel of fresh cotton. And the young boy had named that lonely creature Delilah. She was his companion, his pet, his happiness. Thus neither was lonesome…neither had any reason to be.
Simpson drew in a sharp gasp of breath at these sudden remembrances. The outburst was caught solely by the foreign Delilah, who then looked up at him from her previous entertainment—a book, in Hebrew?—and smiled her singular smile. And he was calmed.
Due to his unruly enamor of such a fine specimen, so close he could feel her steady breath…in…out…, the outside world slipped from his heed. During such fleeting moments, the rain had ceased. All was clear.
Delilah, still smiling, looked up from her novel. Her gaze fixed on some distant object in the clear azure sky.
“I’ve always loved birds. Do you, Simpson?”
For the first time since its departure, the car fell silent.
Turning a page, the slight crackle of Delilah’s yellowed parchment cut through the impregnated air like a sharpened saber.
“Yes, how I adore the winged creatures…”