Jochen Brennecke
K.M. St. Claire

Janus Train

Watch her run, legs splayed, arms out to the wind, an awkward vessel flying through twilight, that transient time that breaches darkness and light. She hurries on, her mind on trains. The next will get her where she needs to go, if she makes it. In the far distance, whistles blow from opposite directions, one heading north, one south. Hers is the southbound. 

It used to be if she came upon a train as it sat at the station, she could tell which way the train was heading by the placement of the engine. But now these new electrics go sliding north or south, unmindful if the engine is at one end or the other.

A train with the engine where the caboose ought to be—how confusing. Janus trains, she calls them, like the two-headed Roman god looking forward, gazing back. 

By some miracle—for this is the witching hour—she gets to the station before either train arrives. Panting for breath, she slips onto the iron bench, rifles through her purse for the fare, rolls the coins like dice in her palm. 

Then with a start, she sees the man—so familiar. In the dimming light, he stands on that narrow island of cement between the north and south tracks. Such a striking resemblance, but he isn’t—couldn’t be that lover she last saw on the banks of a northern river. The long-abandoned memory comes flooding back with sharp exhilaration like a rush of icy water. 

She tries not to stare at him. He glances toward her; folds his arms across his chest, as if he’s claiming that center space. Feeling self-conscious, she looks from side to side. She thinks of the chaos this encounter could engender, derailing neatly ordered plans, knocking her off track and into seven years ago. Back then she wavered on middle ground, waited for life to take her one way or the other—north to follow romance to the land of misty rain, or farther south from the city of her birth.

She wants to end her mounting agitation, prays the southbound is not the train this lover look-alike is waiting for. Yet, what if he were that man most familiar to her, and he recognized her, and she him, then neither acknowledged that recognition, like two trains carrying the baggage of a shared past cloaked in encroaching darkness? 

But if one of them jumped the tracks, bridged that gap between what had been and now? What would it be like, and which of them would make the move?

The whistle blows her from her reverie. An engine’s searchlight blinds her. The man—she cannot see him. She turns from left to right, feels the panic of her long-ago indecision grip her once again. The glaring light, the train, its open doors like open arms. She leaps to her feet. In three long strides, she bounds forward, vaults the steps of the train, and disappears into the northbound night.