By Barbara Harroun
The train pulled into the station at 7 o’clock in the evening, but it was 7:15 before Hannah stood on the platform. She had to wait for the man who sat beside her, spilling out of his own chair, to rise slowly and with great effort. He had snored rudely and continuously, his pink head bobbing from side to side and threatening to find respite on her shoulder. To be honest, she had wished him dead eight times during the three-hour trip as she watched the shorn fields out the grubby window to her right. To her left was the bald, sweaty (even in sleep), morbidly obese man. He wore a name-tag, a paper square edged in blue with the name Larry scrawled in thin, furious script below a cheerful border and the greeting “Hi! My name is…”
Disembarking, Larry was in front of her, turning sideways to take the three steps down from the car to the platform. The conductor asked, “Need a hand, sir?” and Hannah watched the back of Larry’s head, grey stubble holding large flakes of dandruff, and three angry red rolls of neck, shake no. Hannah also saw that the strap of his leather bag was caught on a small metal latch, embedded in the doorframe at the top of the stairs. She could have called out, or reached with her long, pianist fingers and easily unhooked it, but she did neither for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. Instead she watched as Larry lurched, and at that moment, time did something funny for Hannah. It became elastic: she saw what happened with the sharpened perception she experienced only once before, when she took ecstasy with her first real lover and they stayed in bed for six hours simply touching, murmuring, examining each other’s very pores. Sometimes now, married with children, she closes her eyes and sees her lover's body, stretched out on the canvas of a brown sheet, his face open with wonder. When she opens her eyes, her husband is there, and their children are a cacophony of sound and movement, and she knows such intimacy and intensity can only be pharmaceutically manufactured.
Yes, Larry lurched, caught for one moment by the strap before it gave way, snapped and sent him forward. As he fell, his eyes caught Hannah’s and something in her face held them. Her face was not exceptional and she’d once been told by an algebra teacher that her face was plain until she smiled, and then it became an entirely different entity. In a millisecond’s time, Hannah did just that—held Larry’s copper eyes. She smiled as though at a lover, with great tenderness and longing, and then Larry was pulled by gravity to the concrete below, the leather strap behind him catching the wind like a ribbon. How was she to know her wish would be granted in a way she could not conceive? Various people would ask her this in the years to come as she retold this story, turning the events over as if they were marbles she rolled against her palm, examining the way the light hit them, searching for chips or flaws. These people hoped to relieve her of a guilt she did not quite feel, but they imagined she must.
Hannah heard the weight of his fall—and did she really hear a pop, as absurd and pronounced as a child popping his index finger out of his mouth? His neck snapping? Vertebrae separating? She looked to the conductor for an answer, but he was already on his knees beside the dead man. Hannah felt suddenly unmoored, and she reached out to grab hold of something, anything to steady herself. Her fingers found the latch, and she held on, held on as if her life depended upon it.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University where she loves teaching basic and creative writing. Her work is forthcoming in i70 Review, Sugared Water, Requited Journal, Per Contra, and The Riveter Review. Her favorite creative endeavors are Annaleigh and Jack. Her husband, Bill, rocks. Hard.