He noticed the shape of her head first. Age doesn’t change everything. She sat across the aisle next to the window, intently writing on a laptop. It reminded him of her pounding away at a portable typewriter, cursing as her thoughts ran faster than her fingers. Otherwise she was even thinner and maturity meant that the thinness made her gaunt. She must colour her hair now – pretty sure it hadn’t been red back then. He wondered if she remembered him, ever realised how she’d nearly destroyed him, ever regretted her decision to leave. She seemed to once, but his pride, and the dull recognition that she had been right, got in the way. Had it been her heart which broke then? It would give him no satisfaction if it had. Married late they said. Never wanted children which had been part of the problem all those years ago. Chief Exec of something he’d heard. Surprised she wasn’t in first class, but then everyone was cutting back on expenses these days. If she hadn’t grown out of those same immovable opinions, hysterical outbursts, she’d be a terrible person to work for. Her face looked more ready to laugh, so perhaps she had. She was looking up now to see if the tea trolley was coming. Should he say something? His phone vibrated and he looked down.
She gave up looking for the tea trolley and scanned the carriage. Could it be? He was older, lined, his hair quite grey and very thin on top. She remembered his grandfather looking like that. That worried expression seemed to have relaxed. Or maybe she had been the one that caused it in the first place. He was still so good looking, if plumper, more comfortable. Married with a horde of children she’d heard. They must be nearly grown up, around university age. She wondered if he’d ever really forgiven her. When she’d tried to make amends, he’d rejected her. Was that because he knew she’d been right or just stubbornness? All those tears. All that waiting and wondering if she’d made a mistake. He wouldn’t recognise her now would he? Middle aged and grey. She hoped he wouldn’t. It would be nice to think his mental image of her was young and rosy but then it would be nice if he realised she was kinder, that she was sorry for breaking his heart. She dropped her eyes to her laptop again.
What would be the point? He thought. I’m happy, some doors are best left shut.
What would be the point? She thought. I’m happy, some boxes best left unopened.
He got off at the next station and inadvertently they caught each other’s eyes. They did that slightly apologetic half smile that British people do. It said “just in case I knew you, I wish you well.”
And the door stayed shut and the box stayed closed, and the lives that had almost paused, decoupled, started up and moved on in the right directions.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission