From the author: It's just a business trip. Isn't it?
As soon as the door to the train-compartment closes behind me, I realize I don’t want to go on this trip. It’s right after our annual winter holiday at the lake, my favourite week of the year. Seven days in the snow, wrapped in fleece and wool, cross-country skiing on the lake with Jake and the girls laughing and complaining in my wake, “mom, slow down!”. Evenings with hot cocoa, a glass of wine, board games, and free Wi-Fi just in case.
I know it’s back to school and work for all of us now, but I don’t want to leave them so soon. The feeling is so strong that I almost turn around and get off the train, but this trip is important, I can’t get out of it.
I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve my phone, to call the office and tell them I’m not going. Any excuse will do, even an invented case of the flu, but my phone isn’t in my pocket. Instead, I find a handful of velvety petals. Rose petals. Dark-edged fuchsia, my favourite colour, but bruised and dirty. I look around for my travel-bag, because the phone must be in there, but I can’t find it either.
It’s suddenly hard to breathe, and the queasy taste of panic and bile rises in my throat.
Where’s my laptop? My wallet?
I try to calm down, try to think through what I did this morning, where I might have misplaced the bag, but I can’t remember. All I remember is our last morning at the cabin, how I got up early and headed out before Jack and the girls were awake. I remember the silence between the trees after the night’s snowfall, my skis hissing through fresh powder, the sun just above the horizon, caught in woven streaks of pink and gold, so bright it made my eyes sting. And then, the lake stretched out below me – pristine and untouched – except for the quiet whisper of hare tracks across its frozen surface.
I shake off the memory and search the empty train compartment.
Where is my bag? Maybe I forgot it in the car, or did I put it down on the platform?
I go to the window. It’s fogged up, and no matter how I wipe and rub the cold glass, I only manage to clear a small circle to peer through.
My bag is not on the platform, but Jack and the girls are still standing there. Jack in his best suit and a dark tie tied so tight I can see it chafing his neck, the girls wearing the black velvet dresses I bought for them last year. Their brown hair is pulled back so severely from their faces that I barely recognize them.
Who did their hair this morning? I’d never pull it so tight.
Jack looks away, and even though I wave I can’t catch his eye. He hasn’t shaved and he looks so pale I imagine I can see the grey sky right through him. Hannah is holding Jack’s hand, and Samantha stands apart, arms akimbo. Her eyes are scratchy red, as if she’s been crying, but that can’t be right. Samantha is my tough girl, my stoic one: the one who never cries even when it hurts like hell.
I want to ask her what’s wrong, but the window won’t open. I bang on it, but my fists make no noise at all on the hard glass. I scream, but the sound is muffled into a whisper, my throat aching and constricted, and I start to shiver.
I’m wet. How come I didn’t notice that before? I’m soaked right through to my skin, cold water dripping from my jacket and my pants, my hair and hands, pooling around my shoes.
I close my eyes and I see the lake again like it was that morning, the snow, the ice peeking through in bluish streaks. I hear the rhythmic hiss of my skis across snow and ice as I push myself to go faster and smoother with every stride. There’s a crack, the sound so loud and close I feel it shudder through my bones, and an icy darkness rushes in to fill the void where the rest of my memories ought to be.
My eyes snap open. I lean my forehead on the window. The glass is covered in frost now, inside and out, and the surface seems so thin, too thin, sheer and gleaming. Like ice.
Outside, my family turns to go. They’re leaving. They’re leaving me here. Only Hannah looks back, briefly, eyes raised. For a moment, I almost think she can see me, and I want to call her name, but there is only water in my mouth, in my throat, in my lungs.
Hannah crouches down and leaves a rose on the platform. Velvety, dark-edged fuchsia.
The petals I found in my pocket are still in my hand, bruised and dirty. They smell faintly of rose, but mostly they smell of lake water and dirt. Worms and rot.
Grave and death.
As the train pulls away, I press my face against the window, against the thin ice, screaming their names, screaming my love for them, unheard.
This story originally appeared in R.B. Wood's Word Count Podcast.