“Outbound” – A Scene from “Marie Clem”

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April 26, 2017 by dleecox

The station was somehow silent in spite of the hushed murmur of a hundred conversations, the echo of hard heels on its travertine walls.

She sat with her white gloved hands folded in her lap. A long beam of morning sunlight stretched from the windows high above the station to her lap, then to the floor. Dust particles and the tiny flakes of living things floated within it giving it volume.

She was waiting.

Waiting for a man.

Waiting for the train.

Waiting for the life of which she’d dreamed.

The huge clock at the other end of the waiting room said 7:56. He would have to hurry.

At 8:10 she stood, smoothed out her skirt, and determined she’d have a cup of coffee. Something to break the dread in her spirit. She took hold of her purse and made her way to the canteen.

A thin man in a khaki suit, white shirt, straw fedora tripped through the doors. Holding his fedora to his waxed red hair he rushed up to her, saddle shoes barely holding on to the floor.

“Henry?” she asked, “Whats the what? Where is he?”

He looked down, shuffled the saddle shoes.

“He’s not coming, love.”

From within his cotton blazer he withdrew an off-white envelope. Bent corner, slight smudge. She took it from Henry and turned it over slowly.

“Elizabeth” was penned on the front. A masculine script, too heavy with the ink here and there.

“Why Henry?”

“I dont know, love. I found this under my door this morning. I knew you would be here, so I rushed down.”

“Oh, Henry. Whats the what, Henry?” Quietly, more under her breath, “What’s the what?”

“I suppose the letter will explain, ‘liz’beth.”

Taking her by the arm with a thin pink hand, her gray purse with the other, he walked her to the nearest pew.

From within her white glove she produced a dainty lace kerchief. Dabbing her eyes, she held the envelope in front of her.

“Henry, you open it.”

She turned her head from him then shoved one leg on top of the other.

Gingerly, he took the envelope from her shaking hand.

“Are you sure, love?”

“Yes, read it out loud to me, Henry.”

“Oh, LizBeth, I cant.”

“You must, Henry. I need to hear it a mans voice.”

The clock chimed 8:30. Henry cleared his throat.

Sliding the tab out from inside the envelope revealed a white piece of paper. There wasn’t much more than a scrap, and on it the same heavy masculine script.

“Are you sure, LizBeth?”

“Get on with it Henry.”

Henry wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve.

Unfolded the scrap, turned it over.

Henry read – out loud – the following:

Dear Beth,

I think I’d rather look forward into the future with a clear understanding than squint my eyes and try to make something look like its not.

I’ve read your letters and I’m not sure how to take your words. If they are real I’m stunned and frankly somewhat unsettled.

I know you think we should proceed with a quickness. I’m afraid that’s just no longer possible.

Let me tell you what I’m seeing from my perspective of letters, telegrams, and memories from 18 years ago.

You’ve been in a terrible, loveless marriage. After your divorce you’ve been made to believe, and may have very legitimate reasons to believe, you’re being watched and even intimidated into doing your ex-husbands will.

Then you find a letter from a boy – a boy, Beth – that seemed to have no care in the world for anything but you. You’ve lived most of your adult life alone, in fear, and here’s this boy that wants nothing more than to spend a few days with you.

You look him up 18 years later and it seems, for a moment, it seems things haven’t changed!

Things have changed.

I’m frightened you are making decisions based on a fantastic poem and a future I’m just not on board with.

I miss that boy you think you’ve found. He’s not here, Beth. He left about 15 years ago for a war halfway around the world. Most of my spirit is still there, among the black forests and Alps, the olive tree groves. I want to see them with you, Beth, but its plain that just cannot be.

In truth, our spirits are no longer suited for each other. You need to know where your home is – mine will forever be where I find my hat. You need to be certain there will be dinner, you need social clubs and Christmas trees.

You say things like, “I’ll do anything you want.”

I’m not interested in a slave, Beth. And frankly that sort of talk scares me.

There’s a whole world in front of you; a whole future and new chapters to your life are in front of you. Reach out and embrace what’s in front of you, not what’s behind.

To be clear and unfortunately blunt, I cannot, in good conscience, continue to believe I’ll see you in Lurleen. Nor do I want you to come to Montana for my sake.

I genuinely hope you find the kind of man that will make you happy.

Sincerely, I remain,


The station continued to move about them. Public address calls, murmurs, clops of hard soles.

She looked to the arched window, pale blue eyes welling.

Henry’s hand fell slowly to his lap, head down.

“I’m sorry, LizBeth.”

Her jaw rocked forward and back. Head cocked.

“Now boarding Southern West Lines, track 4, : Birmingham, Johnsonville, Merchant City, Jackson, Willoughby, Switchnut, Alice, Springfield…

Platteville, McDurbin, Saint Stevens, Hawkins, Mooresville, Alansville, Sharpeton, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Salt Lake City.”

Quietly, Henry spoke: “Thats your train, love.”

“Indeed,” she growled, her cheeks burning red.

With a quick inhale, long exhale, she stood, tugged her white gloves on tight.


“Yes, Lizbeth?”

“Help me with my things, will you?”

“Yes, love.

Where… where are we going?”

“I’ll decide when we get there, dear. Come along.”

Henry adjusted his fedora and lifted one bag under his arm, two under the other, grasping the larger bags with his hands.



“Has the Williams boy finished his internship yet?”

“I believe so – Cornell wasnt it?”

“I dont recall. Is he seeing anyone?”

“Julie Allen of the east side Allens’.”

She smiled.

“Not for long…”

-click here for alternate ending suggested by my wife-

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