Westford was a sleepy town, so it didn’t make much sense for its station to be more than a single raised platform and a few benches. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem, but as Ann waited, a cool fall breeze teased her skin.
She rummaged through her carpet bag—hoping she might have packed one without realizing it—but all she found were a few dresses and a box of family jewels.
It doesn’t make sense to travel without a jacket. Why did you make such a dumb mistake? You should just give up. Go home and save yourself the embarrassment.
Ann took a deep breath and focused on the soreness of her feet. It would tire her out to have to walk all the way back home again. There was no way in her condition she would be able to make it back in time to catch her train, and there wouldn’t be another one out to Halifax until tomorrow. If she didn’t leave today, she might just never leave at all.
So Ann straightened her back, fixed her eyes on the horizon, and tried to ignore her shivering. Looking back would be of no use.
A few feet from her, the station master swept some fallen leaves off the platform. He was an elderly man that lived on the other side of town. When the news came out he likely wouldn’t be able to identify the woman everyone was talking about as the one without her jacket. With just a few more steps, she could disappear. Surely her aching feet could take her that far.
In the silence of the station, it was easier to breathe. For the first time that day, she wasn’t imagining her husband returning early from work with a fresh bouquet of flowers, or Mrs. Wells dropping by the house “on a whim” to try and recruit her for the church food drive. Those events could occur if they wanted to. They wouldn’t affect her anymore. It was freeing—being able to exist without any responsibility. Ann hadn’t had the privilege since losing her parents and getting married.
“Mrs. Lowe!” Ann’s eyes shot open to find May Cox, the biggest gossip in town, standing over her. For a stout woman in her sixties, the gleam in her eyes looked almost predatory. “Fancy finding you with old Ben here!”
You’ve been caught. The game’s over. There’s not a soul who won’t know what you just tried to do. Best to stop trying to fool anyone and go on and grovel for forgiveness. After all it was careless of you to burn the meatloaf like that.
Ann forced a smile, “Are you traveling?”
“Oh no, was just dropping off the raspberry jam I promised Ben last week. You know how it is since his wife died. Men just can’t take care of themselves on their own,” She pushed Ann’s carpet bag aside to sit next to her. “But what of you?”
“Visiting family,” A wave of nausea flowed through her. She’d have to get used to the taste of deceit on her tongue. “On Prince Edward Island.”
“Can’t say I ever cared to visit it. It can get so cold up there in the winter.”
“I don’t mind the cold.” Ann tilted her head so the goose-flesh on her neck was hidden.
“Why isn’t Paul going with you though?” May shifted in her seat as if waiting to tear into a nice plump roast.
“He doesn’t care for my cousin.”
“Still it’s shameful he won’t at least escort you. A lot can happen to a woman on her own.”
You could end up defenseless and with no work, robbed and beaten before you even make it there, attacked and brutalized by some scoundrel, or left for dead in a gutter with no one to ever know what happened to you.
Ann pressed two fingers against her stomach in an attempt to anchor herself. She didn’t just focus on her sore feet, but also the bruises on her ribs from last night’s fight.
“I have to go,” She spoke as much to May as she did to the life growing inside of her. “No matter the cost.” There was more to this now than just her own safety on the line now.
Just then, there was the sound of a whistle, and smoke billowed through the station as a train pulled in. May hesitated, as if she was still wanting more dirt but afraid to step too much out of socially acceptable behavior, before recovering her irritatingly energetic attitude. “Well when you come back, you’ll have to tell me everything!”
That’s right, she might never return to Westford. It hadn’t occurred to her yet. All she had ever known was in this one place. It was where she grew up, where her parents were buried, and where she fell in love. Yet it was where her pastor had tried to suggest that while Paul worked on his temper she needed to learn to be a better cook.
Ann studied May for a few seconds. In the grand scheme of things she was just one silly woman. Why had she allowed a single bored widow to worry her so? Maybe it’s why for so long she hadn’t been able to accept the man she married had turned into someone else. Everything was so fragile once you took a step back and examined it.
The whistle sounded again. It wasn’t worth their time to waste it waiting around in some backwater town, and so she couldn’t either. With a heft, she lifted her bag.
You’re making the worst mistake of your life. You’re making the worst mistake of your life. You’re making the worst mistake of your life—
Ann boarded the train, collapsing into the nearest seat before her legs gave out.
Can you continue to do this every day from now on?
The question lingered in the back of her mind, but as Westford slowly disappeared outside her window, she decided that she could answer it later. In her mind, she tried to return to the tranquility of that station.
She deserved to savor this peace for as long as she could.