Leaving Happens Twice

By Kaely Horton

“The train doesn’t leave for ten minutes,” Manny says. “You have time.”

I don’t trust this. I didn’t have time when I gathered spare clothing into a bag, hands shaking, waiting for the key in the lock. I didn’t have time when I called Manny, fumbling with the phone, rushing down the rickety apartment stairs. I didn’t have time when I said meet me at the station and he said now? His voice sounded dubious, but I knew he would be there.

I don’t expect him to believe me when I say I’m leaving. I have left before. The befores hang over us like a cloud of polluted air as we sit hunched on a bench in a secluded alcove of the train station. I clasp my hands around the cracked leather straps of my purse. Tendrils of hair curl against my cheek, victims of the hasty ponytail I strung together as part of a morning routine that feels like eons ago. Across the bustling space, I can see the squat shape of a coffeepot on a table.

“I’ll watch your stuff,” Manny says.

I rock forward, the purse straining against the crushing internal weight of spare phone chargers, balled-up T-shirts, tampons held into clumps with rubber bands. The side pocket holds a red canister of pepper spray. All this time, I have carried pepper spray, and it has never done me any good. “I’ll hurry,” I say, and dash abruptly toward the coffee.

The station hums with activity. I duck around a family of scattered blond children who chatter simultaneously. The clock looms on the opposite wall. Seven minutes. Manny’s eyes are pinned to my back, I know. My neck hurts when I turn my head. I’m wearing a ribbed purple turtleneck, even though the sun blazes violently and the station is muggy. Six minutes. I reach the coffeepot, grasp the black handle. My heart drums uncomfortably in my chest, and I wish yet again that this had been a normal day, that the enclosed space beneath my collar didn’t still remember the imprint of hands.

This could still be a normal day. I could take my time tearing sugar packets, measuring the exact amount into the black abyss in the cup. A woman in a green sundress ducks in front of me to pour the creamer. Maybe I let her cut in front of me. Who can say?

“Veronica!” Manny’s voice calls behind me.

I don’t turn around. Why would he bother? Surely he knows better than to expect me to make the train.

Five minutes.

The woman in the sundress drifts away. I pick up the creamer, but I don’t pour it, not yet. I am imagining my normal day. The afternoon retail shift. The evening key in the lock, the contrite glance, the stuttering apology, his soft baby face, his hands—now gentle, now harmless—resting against my back as we fade into sleep.


The other befores: six months into my marriage, a rush of confession over a second martini; two years in, divorce papers spread across Manny’s dull green countertop; almost three and he said, I’ll buy you a plane ticket to anywhere. Last year he threatened to call the police (three minutes). Was it last year or the year before that he called me a victim and I told him to fuck off? Time is blurring in my mind.

My mother drank coffee black. She always said anything else diluted it, made it less itself. I remember her gulping from chipped brown mugs as dawn broke behind our house, striding across the back porch and up the slope to catch the sunrise. Either I caught up or I didn’t. There was no in-between. From the first day I stored memory to the last day she exhaled, I understood that she would not wait for me. It was not in her nature to wait, to return for someone left behind. The best she could manage was to walk toward sunlight and hope I would follow.

I hear the faint huffing progress in the distance, see the silver streak approaching through the glass. I know my freedom will pause for just a few minutes before skating away. And suddenly I realize I don’t need sugar. I don’t need creamer. I abandon the coffee cup half-full, the liquid brimming against the Styrofoam.

Manny meets me halfway across the train station, his face lined with worry. I grab the thin straps of duffel bags, plastic bags about to burst, my possessions flapping like birds. A train whistles on the platform. “Help me run,” I say.

We rush the double doors, other passengers scattering around us. I burst out onto the platform just as the silver blurs away. I collapse, the contents of my bags spilling across the yellow “DO NOT CROSS” lines. The air on the platform closes around me. The turtleneck makes it impossible to breathe.

“I wanted—” I gasp for air.

Manny says, “I know.”

His face looks pinched, as if he thinks he can call the train back for me by sheer concentration. His eyes meet mine, and I think maybe he does know, maybe he believes.

“The next train’s in three hours.”

I nod. The next train, when it comes, will be heading west. The silver will blur into a splash of orange. My mother never waited for me, but sometimes, once in eons, I would scramble up the slope until I caught up with her. Her fingers would always be loose at her sides, floating in midair, reaching.
“Do you want to get your coffee?”

“No.” I curl up on the platform, my bags pressed around me like a fortress, and pin my eyes onto the track horizon. “I’ll stay here.”


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