flicker across the walls of the train; visiting spirits peeking
in on the doings of the living. All is silent except for the steady
churning of the iron wheels, the grinding rhythm echoing in the
ears of the five travelers seated in the car.
passengers stare in a dazed stupor, lulled by the train, content
in their own space with their own thoughts.
one side of the car, bodies entwined, are the newlyweds, Janet
and Kevin McConnell. He stares at some fixed point on the wall
while cradling her in his arms. She is the only one comfortable
enough to actually doze, finding solace with her husband, her blond
head nestling against his shoulder.
the same bench as the newlyweds, Mr. Stewart Collins, an elderly,
distinguished gentleman dressed in black formal wear, pats the
knee of his wife Lucy. Even with an obvious layer of makeup hiding
the wrinkles around her eyes and a stylish emerald hat covering
most of her auburn hair, Lucy Collins still has the ability to
turn heads. They sit with their backs straightened in perfect upper-class
fifth passenger, Gary Finn, reclines alone on the bench across
from them; his young face turns toward the window even though it's
too dark to see outside. Gary clutches his heavy brown jacket,
having found it an inadequate pillow. In spite of his frequent
business trips, Gary had long ago found it impossible to sleep
on a train. After a month on the road, parted from April, his beloved
wife of seven years, his mind simply races. The longing, which
he has held in check for so many days, cries out within him. It
canÍt be ignored. Soon. He will be with her again soon.
he arrives home he will undress and crawl into bed beside his wifeÍs
slumbering form, with the warmth of her body next to him, he will
finally slip into a sound sleep. Knowing she is once more beside
him, he will dream, something he has not done in thirty days. The
rest will wait.
looks over at Kevin, acknowledging him with a slight nod. HeÍs
envious of KevinÍs apparent comfort. He observes that Janet
has no problem relaxing on a train, her chest moving slowly with
her even breathing, in, out, in...
catches himself staring, and, embarrassed, glances back over at
Kevin. He doesn't seem to notice.
Stewart stirs and reaches for his pocket watch. Solid gold. He
bragged about it when daylight shone through the windows, and they
were still talking.
the lid opens. Stewart groans, snaps the watch closed, rubs his
tired eyes, and shakes his head.
dares a whisper. "What time is it?"
We should be in London in another two hours."
Two hours, Gary thinks. Two more hours of shadows, of being lulled
by the chugging of the train, of small dozes, but never really
falling asleep, as the train beats out the steady rhythm of a
A grunt; Janet's head jerks, and her eyes snap open, fully awake.
smiles at her. "I hate it when that happens." His voice sounds
hollow and distant in his own ears. "I can never sleep on these
damn things, either."
arm tightens on her shoulder. She grips his other hand; her eyes
close, and her face relaxes into a look of ecstasy.
he has done countless times tonight, Gary reaches into the folds
of his jacket and pulls out the picture from a hidden pocket. He
canÍt clearly see the image anymore„the soft brunette
curls, pouting lips, the pink chiffon dress she wore especially
for the occasion. His fingers trail across the cheap frame of beaten
plastic, anyway. He has kept her memory in tight reign for so long.
It's a game of discipline he plays with himself. When he has to
travel, he simply puts the photo away along with all thoughts of
her. It lessens the longing during the days. But not the nights,
when her disembodied voice speaks to him over the phone, for he
calls her every evening without fail. He dreads the word "goodbye," when
he must hang up the receiver and face the specter of her memory
as he lies alone in his quiet hotel room. As usual, he never looks
at the picture the entire trip. As usual, in the last twelve hours,
he canÍt put it down.
older man, Mr. Stewart, speaks. "Nothing like returning to the
woman you love."
He smiles from across the compartment and places his hand on his
"I remember when I'd have to be gone, sometimes two months at a time,
there'd be my Lucy, standing in the doorway with a martini and a
smile, and that was all."
She tries to sound shocked, but sheÍs too tired. Stewart's
laughter lightens up the dreary mood of the train. Gary, embarrassed,
slides the photo back into the pocket of his bundled jacket. "It's
not the going home I mind, it's the wait. I almost wish„"
compartment door opens. A wild wind gusts through.
starts, grabs at her hat. Janet sits upright.
man enveloped in a black cloak flows into the room, turns, struggles
with the door behind him.
indignant about the interruption, clutches his coat tighter.
Black-gloved hands grasp the door handle. A protest of metal; the
door slams shut. The man stands in the middle of the room, looking
around the small compartment. The room echoes with his harsh
breathing; the features of his face covered by the shadow of
a wide-brimmed hat.
waits in expectation, not daring to breathe.
me," the stranger says. His voice rumbles, a sound that bounces
off the walls. The shadow spirits seem to flee for an instant,
returning only reluctantly to eye this newcomer. The stranger reaches
up and removes the black hat, exposing a shock of dark, wavy hair.
His sallow skin and thin, youthful face stand in sharp contrast
to piercing eyes, which gaze about the room at each passenger in
squirms as his stare falls upon her. "My apologies. I did not mean
to awaken anyone. I tried to sleep in the other car, but..." He
trails off. As the stranger shrugs, the cloak shifts. A quick lift
and toss, and the hat drops into the upper compartment. Slowly
the stranger turns. He claims the empty space next to Gary and
smiles at each passenger. They all remain silent.
travelers know that cliques formed at the beginning of long journeys
are sacred for the duration. For many hours, this group has formed
such a comradeship. The man had no part in that bonding, making
him unwelcome. For a long time, nothing is said; the shadows dominate
the room, flickering, gliding from corner to corner, across the
Gary, the pulse of the train is louder now, weighing him down,
pounding in his head. Or maybe itÍs the way the stranger
keeps looking at him, a queer half-smile on his face, the dark
gaze traveling from one to the other.
takes up the thread of the previous conversation. "Yes, Mr. Stewart„" To
him, his voice sounds shaky, an imitation of the drowsed stupor
he felt moments before. He senses a whiny hint of anxiety in it,
a desperation to clear the chill. "I-I'm sure April will be waiting
for me when I get home, though at„"
his voice fails entirely, then starts back up again, "„a-at
six in the morning, I doubt she'll have any ideas like that."
seems confused; he has forgotten the previous conversation. Then
it all comes back to him, and he smiles again. "I suspect you'll
have to wait 'til this evening for the real welcome home."
I rather think not." Gary cradles the jacket in his arms, the trembling
already gone, the intrusion forgotten with the silence of the intruder. "Right
now, the best welcome home I could get would be her arms around
me in bed, body next to mine, whispering ïI love youÍ 'til
we drift off to sleep together. But I'll settle for her quiet breathing
as I fall asleep next to her. That's what I want."
moments are always nice, too," Stewart says. "Gets the strength
back up for the next time we can„"
Lucy elbows her husband, which seems to be about the only thing sheÍs
done the entire trip. "Your lechery is becoming tiresome," she scolds. "These
young people have no interest in the bedroom habits of an old man."
grunts, but holds back a reply.
speaks in a timid voice from her corner of the car. "You like the
tender moments, too?" Her eyes are half-open, her cheek once again
tucked against the warmth of her husbandÍs shoulder. "Have
you ever noticed, people don't talk about tenderness these days?" She
grips Kevin's hand. "It doesnÍt even seem to be a part of
love anymore. Even in the so-called ïRomancesÍ„" She
stops, giggles, her mind seems to wander, then come back. "You
know those books, detail after detail of all the romping and heavy
breathing parts, and just when they commit themselves to a true,
loving relationship, the book always ends." Her hand strokes her
face comes to life. He looks down at her, attentive to her expression,
her words, everything about her. Janet beams. "Moments like this,
him, and me, just being with him, and I'm in heaven."
flushes at this public proclamation of love. Kevin seems just as
stunned, and leans down towards her. His lips graze her forehead.
Gary averts his eyes, letting them have their moment. His gaze
falls upon the stranger. What right did the man have to be here,
to witness this display with the others, those who had talked with
Kevin and Janet and developed a respect for their relationship?
The stranger continues to watch, unmoving, with no regard for his
don't you think?" Janet says, interrupting his thoughts. "The
books I've read, the movies and tellie shows, theyÍll go
to great lengths to show the sex, something just as private. Do
you wonder if some people just donÍt know what real love
gives a neutral answer, unsure of Janet's point. "Sex does seem
to be all some people have, or care about." He sits up in his seat,
uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, but not wanting
it to stop. Talking makes the shadows go away, both the ethereal
ones and the solid one still seated next to him. "Rather often,
I've wondered why there seems to be such an emphasis on it, the
sex manuals, the voyeuristic shows. Has sharing become so boring?"
He poses the question as a statement into the air, not really expecting
jumps when the deep voice next to him speaks. "Perhaps you don't
really understand love."
answers. The statement lingers in awkward silence until Gary
shifts uneasily and turns to the stranger. "I-I
beg your pardon?"
disarming smile crosses the stranger's face, taking the sting from
"What I mean is, perhaps you don't understand how love works." He
raises a hand. "I mean no offense, merely a speculation."
blinks rapidly in the dark, floundering. "You have me at a disadvantage."
merely suggest that perhaps your ideas of love are just one aspect
of a much more complicated concept. What you see around you, your
parents, your friends, acquaintances, the media, even those you
see in this train car, all represent differing, unique aspects
of that one concept we call love," The stranger said, motioning
to indicate the other passengers. "Think of love as a multi-headed
serpent. YouÍve familiarized yourself with one aspect. But
others linger just beyond your scope."
anger flares, then dissipates just as fast as the smile remains
on the strangerÍs face. He leans forward on the bench, reining
in his audience as he places his elbows on his knees and folds
his gloved hands together. He looks relaxed, comfortable in the
spotlight. Gary challenges that smile. "I don't think that you„"
merely trying to come up with an answer to your confusion." the
stranger says. "You were wondering why youÍve never
seen love portrayed the way you experience it. IÍm suggesting
that it's possible you've never experienced love."
face turns a deep shade of red. She sits up, pulling out of the
cocoon of KevinÍs arm. "I think you'd better leave." The
words hang in the air, trapped in the confines of the car. The
man does not move, so she continues. "Your insinuation that love
can be nothing more than hot sex and paying the electric bill is
stranger leans back and folds his arms, intent on driving his point
"Is it so baffling, my dear, to learn there are people who are not
overly thrilled at the idea of spending the rest of their mortal
existence with only one other person, and are happy to embrace the
pleasures of temporary happiness? Far more likely than the fairytales
instilled into us. ïAnd they lived happily ever afterÍ indeed."
about the stranger's deep laugh sends a shiver of empathy down
Gary's spine. He senses a hidden pain behind the scoffing remarks.
The stranger addresses the couple. "I suspect you two are simply
too young and naive to know any better. What happens in a couple
of years, once your hot-blooded passion dies down? Will you even
put up a fight to save your marriage?"
jumps to his feet. "You bastard!"
leaps up, throwing his body in front of Kevin's.
shoves hard against him. "He has no right to say that. He's just
talked himself into a free trip right out the door." He glares. "Out
of my way, Gary."
"Hold it, hold it!" KevinÍs anger propels the two of them
across the car. Gary feels a lumpy bag fall against his head from
the overhead compartment. He can smell the worn leather. KevinÍs
heavy breathing is harsh in his ears.
heart beats wildly as he tries to talk Kevin down. "Let's not have
any trouble here. There's no need for that."
turns, looking down on the stranger. He feels supported by everybody
in the car; this makes the black-dressed man seem small, indeed. "You're
not wanted here. I suggest you leave."
on a second. Let me explain myself before you call the porter on
me." He settles back in his chair, not quite as confident. One
hand reaches into the folds of his cloak as he speaks. "I was only
speculating, and I wasn't trying to insult anybody. I tried to
make a point, and perhaps went about it the wrong way. But what
I have to say is very important. You should all find it rather
Gary turns to face the stranger. Odd, he thinks, how the stranger's
eyes appear so blue up close, yet so dark from a distance. "Please,
sit down and hear me out."
Gary and Kevin retreat to their corners.
hand still hidden in the folds of his cloak, the stranger meets
Janet's eyes before he speaks. "YouÍre right, Janet, that
was a stupid thing to say, and you're correct to be insulted." Gary
sees her eyes widen at the strangerÍs use of her familiar
name. He canÍt recall anyone saying it since the stranger
entered the car. But then, so much has happened since then, he
can't be sure.
stranger nods, still addressing Janet. "I happen to agree with
you. Only a very foolish man would say that there is nothing more
to love than sex. A very foolish and unloved man indeed. Without
those tender moments, love would be nothing more thanƒ" he
struggles to find a word, "stress-relieving."
is a chuckle from StewartÍs corner. Janet giggles.
is that too, my good man," Stewart calls out.
smile reappears on the strangerÍs face; heÍs pleased
to have defused the tension of the moment. "Quite right, so it
is. My reason, then, for debating you, good sir, was to make another
point entirely." The stranger turns toward Janet; his question
shoots across the compartment. "Janet, do you love Kevin?"
jumps in her seat. "Uh, what? Yes!"
absolutely!" KevinÍs arm tightens around her.
he love you?"
know he does."
you? You know this for a fact?"
A grimace of impatience crosses her face, briefly smudging her pale
beauty. But she cannot turn away. "This is ridiculous."
see. So youÍve felt true love before, and were loved just
as strongly back."
opens her mouth to speak, but stops herself. The stranger drops
to one knee in front of her seat, their eyes locked together.
but that canÍt be, can it? Somehow it didnÍt work
out, or you wouldnÍt be here with Kevin."
he loves me. He doesnÍt need to convince me of that." Both
of her hands grip her husbandÍs, knuckles turning white
from the strain.
Have you developed telepathy? Some way to get inside his mind?"
feel„" She stops, groping for the words, "„different
with him than I have with anyone else. Unlike IÍve ever
because of this, you automatically know his feelings?"
Our connection, itÍs like our thoughts and emotions are
merged. I can feel my own love for him reflecting back at me."
The stranger nods his head. "I see. But thatÍs the real dilemma,
isnÍt it? Your proof is based on feeling. You donÍt
mean youÍre truly linked to him in some psychic manner, do
brows furrow. "Well, no, not literally."
stranger pauses, leaning forward. "Your proof of his love is based
on your own feelings, not his. You know nothing for certain."
trembles. "Well, I suppose youÍre right, but thatÍs
all anyone can possiblyƒ"
She stops in mid-sentence, unable to continue. Her eyes tear up.
Kevin glares at the stranger. Gary tenses, afraid that KevinÍs
going to jump again, but he doesnÍt. For the second time in
as many minutes, Gary wishes the stranger would leave the compartment
and just go away.
pulls her close. "I think youÍve said more than enough." The
stranger refuses to back down.
Are you afraid of what IÍm proposing? Think about it for
just a second. What if Janet only thinks she loves you?"
rather think her reaction here proves her love. Not that she ever
had to. And if it werenÍt for her interest, IÍdÍve
thrown you out of here."
she is awfully upset. Maybe because she realizes I could be right."
train pounds out its rhythm in the dead silence; the shadows seem
to sneak back, as if wondering what happened to the drowsy existence
that overtook the room minutes earlier. The stranger speaks again,
turning toward Gary.
you, young man, what about the woman waiting for you?"
start on April. I know she loves me." gary answers.
stranger smiles again. "So sure of yourself?"
I am. Damned sure. And I donÍt need you or your word games
to try and confuse the issue." Gary can feel his own gorge rising
as he continues. "Okay, so love is no guarantee. Love is based
on faith and trust alone. You know when you have it; you simply
know. What more do you want?"
yet, werenÍt you the one who seemed confused earlier? You
were confused by the way youÍve seen love portrayed. Maybe
you canÍt see whatÍs so obvious to everyone else.
Maybe youÍre missing the whole picture?"
thoughts spin in confusion. "All right, damn you, I get your point.
No, IÍm not April. I canÍt get into her head. I donÍt
know with absolute, one hundred percent certainty that sheÍs
as in love with me as I am with her. But she shows all the signs
to me, she tells me she loves me, she acts as if she loves me;
I have faith in that."
if you could be certain?" The stranger withdraws his hand from
his cloak, clutching a small object.
and Gary watch, their eyes locking onto the blue-colored rose in
his hand. Sculpted of transparent crystal, the petals surround
a glowing blue sphere. The rose itself would be enough to capture
anyoneÍs attention, but the sphere's inner glow makes the
entire car bright; the shadows dissolve in the overpowering light.
that?" Janet whispers as the stranger extends the crystal in front
of her pale face. Lucy Collins also leans forward.
it glitters," says the stranger. "You see how we suddenly have
attention?" The stranger settles back, allowing the fist-sized object
to remain exposed in his hand, gripping it by its curved silver stem
so that all in the car can see it. Gary
thought the center was transparent. Looking closer, he can see now
that it is clouded with a swirling blue smoke.
stranger sighs. "This little beauty„diamond, pendant, crystal,
charm, I donÍt really know what„is rather special.
It took away all my doubts about love."
His eyes harden. "ItÍs also why IÍm currently without
all wait. The stranger delights in the lingering moment before
"You see, this rose is magical. I donÍt know how it works,
I only know that it does. I found it on a train rather similar to
this one, under a seat, and I was ready to give it to the stationmaster
when I accidentally discovered its powers."
"A charlatan." Stewart speaks, shaking his head. "YouÍre a
con artist. I shouldÍve known better."
no. No gimmick here. Although IÍm sure youÍll think
so at first. Somehow, the crystal center can tap into the mindÍs
eye of another person. I donÍt pretend to understand magic.
Imagine, though, an object that can read your mind, find out who
you love, and present you with an image of yourselfƒfrom that
personÍs mind." He extends the glowing blue rose, tantalizingly,
in front of JanetÍs widened eyes. As it inches nearer, she
bites her lip.
chuckles loudly. "Of course. And how much do you ask for this miracle?"
"Fifty pounds for one gaze."
ridiculous." Gary says. "For a silly parlor trick?" But
his voice cracks, exposing his lack of conviction.
sure it makes you feel better to keep insisting that, and I can
even see why you would be afraid. Which is why„" The stranger
spaces his words carefully, aiming them directly at the transfixed
woman. "„Janet can have a free look. Once youÍve taken
her word for it, IÍll take your fifty pounds, each in turn."
"Really?" Gary says, feebly, "and what makes you think itÍs
really worth fifty pounds?"
pounds to know the unknowable? To make faith fact? IsnÍt
that worth fifty pounds to you?"
hands are already clasped around the folded petals, which direct
the light to make her face shine an eerie blue. She looks at the
"What do I do?"
stranger releases the rose into her hands. As she leans away from
him, the stranger blends into the darkness. "Close one eye, and
focus directly into the center. DonÍt worry about light,
it works even in total darkness. The image will be perfect."
holds the rose close. The stem burns against her trembling fingers;
she needs both hands to steady herself. She can see the center,
not simply clouded, but filled with smoky, animated, swirling,
mist. An actual light of unknown nature within the rose causes
the blue glow. She hardly has time to reflect on this when the
mist clears, and she finds herself staring at an imageƒof
herself. She is seated in the train, as she was moments earlier,
leaning against her husbandÍs shoulder. Only Kevin is not
in the picture, at least not his face. Her breath leaves her body
as she realizes that she is seeing through KevinÍs eyes,
looking down on his new bride. She can see her own face from his
viewpoint. She remembers the daily routine of seeing her own face
in a mirror, angry at the puffiness of her cheeks, at the way her
hair would never settle just right. In the rose, the flaws remain,
but filtered to the point of insignificance. She sees herself,
all the features are the same, but there is an image, a golden
glow over her face and body that is almost angelic. A finger caresses
her cheek, and the skin„her skin„feels the softest,
smoothest, most beautiful silk she has ever touched. Images superimpose
themselves rapidly over her body. She can see herself in her nightgown
on their wedding night, a sense of pleasure mixed perfectly with
tenderness. Purity and passion somehow become one and the same,
and she is the source. She tries to force the flaws she sees in
herself, the hair, the weight, the temper tantrums. They donÍt
exist in this image. She sees herself, but now she is his perfect
woman, sexy, funny, beautiful, giving, Everything.
rose drops from her hands into the strangerÍs. She buries
herself in KevinÍs arms, the joy in her sobs tearing from
Her arms squeeze her husbandÍs shoulders as she cries. ThereÍs
no shame left, nothing to hold back, not now and not ever again.
Her sobs soon reduce themselves to gentle sniffs. The rest wait in
an uneasy silence.
chokes up, both over her delirious happiness, and at the vulnerability
paired with it. JanetÍs voice is barely a whisper in KevinÍs
shoulder. "IÍm sorry. I should never, ever have doubted
you. I just got so confused. I knew you loved me, I did, and I
love you so much, but I didnÍt know you saw me like that.
I donÍt deserve it."
hushes her softly. "ItÍs okay. I know, love, itÍs
okay." He murmurs to her until she quiets down.
says the stranger, his fingers stroking the petals like a pet rabbit, "I
trust thereÍs no doubt as to the authenticity of the view."
looks over at Stewart, whose face is still pale from JanetÍs
display. "Do you still deny the powers of this crystal, Mr. Stewart?"
a-a trick. It has to be." His gaze remains on Janet, her shaking
frame cradled in KevinÍs arms.
you would suggest that the young lady and myself planned this ahead
of time to sucker you. Do you believe her capable of that?" says
sits up. "No, I didnÍt!" she explodes. "IÍve never
seen this man before in my life, I swear."
okay," Stewart says. But Gary hears the uncertainty in StewartÍs
voice and sees the slight trembling in StewartÍs hands.
Stewart reaches toward the rose.
"ItÍs a trick. Maybe with mirrors."
stranger pulls the object away. "Cost you fifty pounds to find
time, Gary has no doubt he sees the strangerÍs eyes flash
from black to an eerie blue, the same blue as the rose. The strangerÍs
voice takes on a chastising tone. "This is not a charity, Mr. Stewart.
I give out one free demonstration. I certainly wonÍt make
an exception to somebody I know damn well can afford it."
Grudgingly, Stewart reaches into his pocket and begins shuffling
through some bills. Lucy watches his actions, wide-eyed.
on Earth do you think youÍre doing?" Her voice is little
more than a whisper, but more powerful than the loudest scream.
get this conditionally," Stewart says; his mouth curls down in
a scowl. "Only if I am unable to find a sign of deception."
stranger nods. "You are an educated man. Your word should have
more than a little power on the others." His blue eyes peer at
Gary, then back. "Perhaps Mr. Finn can hold the money. He can be
trusted." Gary starts, suspicious of how the stranger could have
come to such a conclusion.
Stewart extends the bills in GaryÍs direction. Gary takes
the money without taking his eyes from the stranger. Then he sees
it„when the rose changes hands, the strangerÍs eyes
darken. In fact, the strangerÍs entire form seems to fade.
places her hand on StewartÍs arm. "Stewart, wait. This is
rose glows brightly in StewartÍs hands. When he turns to
look at her, his face is a blue sheen of light. "WhatÍs
silly about it, my dear?"
just saying, itÍs a stunt. I didnÍt want you spending
Stewart shrugs. "ItÍs already done, dearest one. A gentlemanÍs
word, and all that."
donÍt!" He focuses his eyes on the blue-glowing center. "Stewart,
mist parts. Stewart faces an old man with sad brown eyes, slightly
resembling himself, but stooped. He hobbles across a large living
room, money hanging out of his pocket. As he watches, a ravishing
young woman dances across the floor, her long auburn hair flying
as she turns. As she waltzes by, her hand snatches a fifty-pound
old man keeps walking; he doesnÍt seem to notice. The image
dissolves to another room. Stewart recognizes their bedroom. The
old man is adjusting his tie in the mirror. Lucy„actually
a woman of startling beauty who bears little resemblance to the
real Lucy„lies in the bed, talking about the next cocktail
party. A ghostly image is superimposed over his face as the scene
the tie becomes a blindfold, covering the old manÍs eyes.
Stewart can see the young woman in bed. Somebody else is with her.
He has red hair, dark eyes. They are under the covers, kissing,
laughing. She pulls him on top of her; the laughter stops. There
are other sounds„of a more primitive nature. The figures
are locked in an embrace; she rolls on top of him, but he now has
a different face, blond hair, blue eyes. She points at the blind
old fool and laughs, a hoarse, cackling sound of mockery. Her lover
fingers a string of beads around the womanÍs neck, a birthday
gift from the old man, she says, and worth a lot of money, too.
They fall against the mattress, ready to finish, but now the lover
sports a beard and displays a tattoo on his left shoulder„
Stewart?" He jumps.
stranger leans in front of him; his dark eyes, which earlier appeared
greedy, now register concern, compassion. Stewart realizes that
everyone is staring at him; the sound of the train beats through
the walls as the seconds tick by. The strangerÍs hand grips
StewartÍs arm on the other side, nails cutting.
"YouÍve been staring into space for nearly thirty seconds," the
stranger whispers, taking back the rose.
did you see, darling?" Stewart hears the voice of the woman who
talked of her expensive necklace. "Stewart? D-darling, whatÍs
wrong? What did you„"
jerks his arm. He pulls away, but then stabs a finger in front
of her face.
shrinks back. She tries to speak, but he stops her with a look.
He swallows, stands. The stranger rises to his feet, anxious, waiting.
Stewart stands to his full height, straight and tall. He blinks
away tears. He has never stooped, he is not yet old, but heÍs
been blind. He takes a couple of steps toward the door. He will
not stoop now, either.
Stewart„" Gary also rises, placing a hand on StewartÍs
shoulder. Stewart can read the compassion on GaryÍs face. "I
thought, if you wanted, I could help you„"
StewartÍs voice sounds quiet in his own ears. He draws a deep
breath to put power behind his next words. "No, for awhile at least,
I am going to be alone."
His hand clasps GaryÍs arm. "But only for a little while."
Lucy speaks from the corner. "Whatever you saw, i-it was a trick,
remember? You were going to prove it was wrong." Tears well up in
her eyes. "It was wrong. It has to be."
releases GaryÍs arm, twists the handle of the door. His
eyes travel the room one last time, and linger for a few moments
on the stranger. "Gary, pay the man."
cries, slumped against the now-closed door as the shadows take
inventory, unnoticed. The missing presence is felt by all; no one
dares look at the sniffling figure. No one, save the stranger.
Lucy feels his gaze drilling into her. She turns to him in fury. "Damn
you! Damn you and your magic! You had no right to come here and
ruin my life like you have! How dare you!" She screams. Leaping
to her feet, she swings at him, her clawed fingers cut the air
toward his face. He catches her wrist in mid-swing, holding it
gaze never wavers as he speaks; the words fly at her like daggers. "No,
how dare you. You could have had any rich man whoÍs looking
for a sick woman just like you to bury in diamonds and furs for
the rest of his life, as long as you share your bed with him. Why
did you have to pick one who actually loved you?"
mouth opens in outrage. "HeƒIƒ"
only hope after this is over, that Stewart doesnÍt give
up on love„as those men have."
pulls her hand free, adjusts her hat, and gathers up her imagined
"I have to go talk to him."
you do." The stranger turns, crosses the room to his space next
to Gary. "Perhaps you can convince him to let you keep the Rolls
opens the door in a huff. The wind cuts in. Nobody moves. No sympathetic
faces turn in her direction as the door shuts with a staccato slam.
Silence permeates the cabin. Even the stranger seems at a loss
pulls at a loose string on his jacket, waiting. The strangerÍs
hand comes down on the pile of bills in GaryÍs lap. Gary
notes the blue color in the strangerÍs eyes, but lets the
stranger take the money without comment. When Gary looks over,
he sees that Janet and Kevin are staring at him. He shifts uncomfortably
in his seat. There is movement, and he knows the stranger is near.
He does not turn to face him.
Gary shakes his head, trembling. He looks back toward the closed
door. He draws his knees up and continues to shake his head. "I„I
donÍt want to know. I donÍt. Just leave me alone."
The stranger nods and waits. The blue light from the rose pulses
across his face. Gary shivers, but it is not from the cold. Janet
sits up straight. KevinÍs hand weaves through her hair.
Gary can barely make out a tear trickling down JanetÍs
face. The light from the rose glows even brighter now. The stranger
says nothing. Why wonÍt he say something, Gary wonders.
Why wonÍt he agree? Or disagree? Or talk about something
else„ GaryÍs hand reaches into his pocket. He withdraws
the money with trembling fingers. The picture slides out with
it. He realizes with both anger and relief that he is short the
needed money. He puts the money in his lap, strokes the picture. "April." He
speaks out loud. "You love me. I know you do." He can see the
outline of her smiling face, pink chiffon„ His eyes lock
with the strangerÍs defiantly. "Well, she does!" Defensively. "She
does." Desperately. "DoesnÍt she?" He has to know now,
but„ "I-I only have thirty pounds," he says.
strangerÍs eyes harden at the news, his gaze falls back
upon the crystal rose in his hand. Gary wonders if the stranger
will slip the rose back into his cloak.
will suffice, Mr. Finn." says the stranger, taking the money
from Gary's lap. "Even for a prize such as this, I cannot
take what you cannot give."
He extends the rose, and one note. "The bargain is sealedƒat
twenty pounds, should you decide you would rather eat alone this
morning after youÍve seen the truth."
says nothing, realizing the cynical reason behind the salesmanÍs
gift„the stranger expects an unpleasant outcome for him.
The money is in the strangerÍs hand, and the rose is in
GaryÍs. His breath comes in sharp jerks. He licks his lips,
looks around the room. Janet averts her eyes, burying her face
in KevinÍs shoulder. Kevin shrugs helplessly. The stranger
nods. The shadows wait. The petals surround a center that now burns
brightly in his vision; the mist parts.
many seconds, there is nothing but solid blue. Then the light dims
to complete darkness, almostƒexceptƒ A single candle
lights the room. The orange flame flickers from a slight wind.
There is a woman. Sitting, no, lying across, cushions. Pillows.
It is a bed, their bedroom. In their flat. The image closes in.
He sees his wife, April, lying awake on the bed, staring at the flame.
The clock on the night-desk reads 4:07. This is right now, the
early morning. And sheÍs awake. His own thoughts interject,
reacting to the strangeness of the vision. April is always asleep
when I come home. Or is she?
here she is now, awake. Nervous. Even desperate. He can feel that
her stomach has knotted. He experiences the fluttering as if it
were his own, magnified by his own sudden distress. IÍve
made up my mind. IÍm telling him tonight. I canÍt
bear keeping this secret any longer, and it is far past time he
knew. IÍll tell him as soon as he gets home. ItÍs
time Gary knows that IÍve gone to see him. A flush of
fury pours over Gary. He almost pulls the crystal away, wanting
to bury the truth, but the furious, betrayed part of him wants
to know the rest. April continues her internal monologue, unaware
of the trespasser into her deepest thoughts. In a little over
an hour, my secret will be out. Amazing how quickly the time has
gone. GaryÍs called every night, and I just couldnÍt
bear to tell him. You donÍt break this kind of news to someone
over the phone. ItÍs not right. And as soon as he walks
through that door, IÍll tell him. I just donÍt know
how heÍll act. He may even be upset at first.
first? Gary thinks. Again a fluttering response in her gut. A nervous
response so painful that she reaches down and strokes a hand across
her stomach. No, not her stomach. Her abdomen. Calm down, little
one. Daddy will be home soon, and then weÍll tell him all
about our trip to the doctor. And wonÍt he be so very surprised?
with that, she curls herself up against the bed, overwhelmed by
simultaneous joy and sorrow. Alone, she cries out once again to
her missing husband, needing the other half of herself, who is
always so strong for her. As she tries to be strong for him as
well, knowing when they separate itÍs never by choice, but
simply what he must do. Truthfully, he has always provided for
them. And they have always taken full advantage, good time after
good time. Because of those great joys, she puts on her happy face
when he leaves, when she must endure living in a daze„a half
stupor. She knows without the slightest doubt that he will always
return. No matter where his travels take him, or how long they
must endure their parting, he always returns. She can rely on that.
Just as he can rely on her being here, waiting for him. It is the
foundation of their bond these last seven years. Most burning passions
cool after a few years, but theirs has never burned out. Never.
And added to that heat over the years is something more precious
than any lost desire: complete and total trust.
caresses her abdomen. Her pregnancy, already two months along,
was discovered only a couple of days after he left. ItÍs
been too long. He will know tonight. She knows that the news will
shock him, reel him, for just a moment. Until he realizes that
they will face this as they have all things, together, supporting
each other in all ways. He can count on it. ItÍs just going
to be a rocky few minutes. She picks the clock up. HeÍll
be coming home soon, little one. Daddy will be coming home soonƒ
rose drops into his lap. He senses that the others, his companions,
are on the edge of their seats. He blinks away tears (realizing
for the first time that he is crying).
watches, biting her lip. Gary tries to say something, anything,
but no words come. He realizes that he has said nothing for many
moments; the others are waiting for him to speak. Janet, particularly,
going to be a Daddy," is all he can manage to say. It is enough.
Janet squeals with joy, Kevin laughs, and the strangerÍs
hand clasps against his shoulder. And as exhaustion settles over
him, Gary decides that he has paid enough for the privilege of
his own private vision. He will keep the rest to himself.
am happy for you," the stranger says, slipping the rose into the
folds of his cloak.
nods, saying nothing. The stranger prompts him. "Please speak.
I am curious to know what is going through your mind."
shakes his head, as if waking from a dream. He rubs his eyes and
blinks. He looks at the stranger. "I know what love is," he says. "I
stranger nods. "Yes, I suppose you did."
chuckles, thinking back to when it all started. It seems years
ago. "It's true, what I said earlier. Love is based on faith. I
didnÍt need that rose. Without it, IÍd still be in
love. IÍd still be happy."
stranger says nothing for a moment. Then he flings his head back
and laughs„loudly, madly, standing, shaking
his head. "Faith? You think what you have now is faith?"
had faith in April," Gary insists. "If I had never met you, it
would still be just as strong with or without the rose."
course you had faith." The strangerÍs head nods in agreement,
and then his finger raises with the word "But! You had faith because
that was all you could have. Until I could offer you proof."
stranger reaches up over the railing for his hat. "Now, you answer
me this. Was there any one couple here that refused a look at the
rose? Did anybody here say, ïNo thank you, sir, I have no
need for your magic. I know the truth without it.Í?"
starts to speak. "With
conviction, Mr. Finn," interrupts the stranger. Gary
stops, his determination broken.
stranger grasps the door handle. "IÍve seen this over and
over again. Janet was offered a free look. She took it without
hesitation. Mr. Stewart discovered firsthand the negative side
of trading faith for fact. And I even got twenty pounds from you,
bristles. "So what does that prove? For a moment, you gave us a
peek into our loversÍ innermost thoughts. You think your
crystal is a final answer? ItÍs no such thing."
The stranger leans toward Gary. "IsnÍt it?"
course not," Gary scoffs. "What have you proven? Love isn't frozen
forever in time. Ten years ago, April and I were like Kevin and
Janet. And ten years from now, in spite of everything, we could
end up like the Stewarts did tonight."
As if to dismiss the stranger, Gary turns from him. "What have you
truly provided me? A few months, a few weeks, maybe only this moment
in evidence? Beyond that, faith will have to get us through. Trust." Gary
risks a glance toward the the stranger. "There'll be no rose
tomorrow, will there? Not for me, at least."
Their eyes meet. No longer tapping into the power of the crystal,
the strangerÍs face is pale, his eyes sunken. What price
was he paying to possess such dark magic?
youÍre right, Mr. Finn." The stranger shrugs, his cloak
rising and falling with his shoulders. An odd flickering of shadow
and light passes over the strangerÍs face. He turns the
handle, the door unlatching with a loud click. The stranger flashes
his charming smile. "Then again, maybe youÍre not. What
can I offer but some...assurance?"
a good evening, all of you." And
he is gone, on to the next car, leaving the three remaining passengers
to the mercy of the flickering shadows and the privacy of their