Writing & Photo Contest 2017 Runner-Up — Fiction

Time and Space

The grand clock in the middle of the train station chimed noon. Rays of sunlight pierced through the grey clouds and shone in through the large windows and skylights. The station hummed with rumbles and murmurs and the quick steps of people passing through.

Scarlett sat on a bench. The cold metal felt like ice cubes on her bare thighs. She smoothed her skirt, adjusted her sweater, and clutched the handle of her suitcase. Her hands trembled.

The woman at the other end of the bench yapped into her cell phone, her words shooting out like darts. Her grey pinstripe blazer and skirt were plastered to her thin body as if she was sewn into them. She tapped her red stilettos impatiently on the concrete floor and yelled business words and obscenities into her phone. She glanced at Scarlett and scowled. The woman hiked her Coach bag onto her shoulder and stomped away, her heels echoing on the floor.

People of all shapes, colours, and sizes flowed through the station like a rippling stream; in pairs, groups, or alone, everyone had somewhere to go. A frazzled mother chased after her young son as he gleefully ran away from her. A boy with a mop of brown hair and a skateboard under his arm pushed a small elderly lady in a wheelchair. A young couple swung their intertwined hands and gazed at each other as they walked. Men in business suits rushed past everyone, staring at their cell phones or chomping on large sandwiches.

The station continued to buzz with activity. The trains continued to arrive and depart. The people continued to rush their way to one destination or the next, passing through life like any other day.

Under the grand clock, a girl about Scarlett’s age ran towards a man holding a bouquet of roses. She jumped into his arms, almost knocking him over. They laughed and held each other like they never wanted to let go. The man looked at the girl the same way John used to look at Scarlett.

Scarlett hadn’t seen John for over a year. Would he look different? Would he greet her with a hug? Would he even want to see her?

Scarlett pulled out her phone from her purse and unlocked it. No new messages. And why would there be? He doesn’t know she’s coming, and no one at home knows she left.

“It’s just not the right time,” John had said a year ago. Their empty Chinese take-out containers littered his coffee table in front of his corduroy couch. “Maybe in the future, things would be easier. But not right now.”

Scarlett felt his words press on her chest. He couldn’t really mean it. He was just tired, like he always was. Long distance hadn’t been easy for either of them, but they made it work. It had only been a few months; surely he couldn’t mean any of what he was saying.

“What if I move out here and live with you?” Scarlett asked, one hand on his chest. “Then everything would be so much easier.”

“I don’t want you to do that, Scar. You still have one more year before graduation. I can’t make you leave right now.”

“Then after graduation.”

He sighed, staring out the window across the room. The sun dipped low over skyscrapers and apartment buildings.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s not the right time.”

Scarlett’s pulse quickened. All of their promises swarmed in her mind. He promised he would go to medical school and become a doctor so he could provide a good life for them. She promised she’d support him, even when he accepted his offer to study in Toronto, miles and miles away from her. They promised they’d never give up on each other.

“So what do you want?” Scarlett’s voice trembled.

He leaned away from her touch. He covered his face with his hands. “Maybe we should take a break. Maybe that’s what we need. Some time and space.”

Scarlett bit her lip. Living four hours apart and seeing each other once a month wasn’t enough space? What happened to believing they could get through anything, as long as they had each other?

“Fine,” she said. “If that’s what you want.”

John nodded once. “Okay.”

At first, they talked on the phone at least once a week. But as the months went on, conversations became stiff and short, until they stopped completely. Scarlett knew it would happen, but she still broke down when it did.

Surely, after all these months, he’d at least be surprised and maybe even happy to see her. Time had passed and they’d had their space. Maybe, like Scarlett, John woke up in the middle of the night and stared at his phone, wishing she would call and wondering if he should.

Scarlett’s heartbeat quickened. Her train was scheduled to leave in five minutes. In four hours, she would arrive in Toronto. She would walk to John’s apartment with her hastily packed suitcase and her cautious hope.

She took a deep breath and joined the crowd. She strode toward her train, the grand clock ticking past the seconds behind her.

This was an entry in the 2017 Writing & Photo Contest.

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