Image of BART Lines - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
He hoped the morning would go smoothly, but he kept his hope secret, feeling it was unwise to ask the universe outright for a favor like that. June needed to be dropped off at school before work, something he wasn't used to negotiating. He tried his best to control the things he could. The pancakes had turned out okay, despite burning a few. Her outfit was reasonably coordinated. He knew when the train arrived and what time they needed to leave to catch it. But some things you can't control no matter how hard you try.
"June," he said.
She looked up at him just as a little tear pulled up from under the watery edge of her bottom eyelid, like a wave forming in the ocean, and rolled down her cheek.
"Don't worry, sweetie, it's gonna be fine."
He put down his coffee cup, looked at the clock, and sat down beside her, draping his arm over her shoulder. He tried to ignore how much she looked like Mae when she cried.
"I saw the list of kids in your class. Tavi is in it. So are Iris and Elijah. Isn't that great?"
Her crinkled brow softened a little, and her chin stopped wiggling so much. She considered it while making her way to the toy box in the corner of the living room. Looking through it, she pulled out brightly colored creatures and well-worn books. He took his coffee cup to the kitchen and washed it out in the sink.
"We have to go, June."
She continued sifting through the box until satisfied, then walked over to the front door, put on her backpack, and waited. A small tuft of rainbow-colored hair poked out of her jacket pocket.
"I don't think you're supposed to take that to school," he said. "Maybe you should leave it here, so nothing happens to it."
This one was special, from her mom. She tried pushing the wild hair down into her pocket farther, but it showed in the spots her hand couldn't cover. Her chin was getting shaky again.
"Never mind. Just make sure you keep it safe."
He looked her in the eyes and smiled, squeezing her shoulder, a little unsure of how he had handled the situation. Mae used to take care of these kinds of things, but she was gone, and he didn't know if she would come back.
They walked out the front door and along an old, gray, root-busted sidewalk. The green leaves of the tree above them looked like misshaped starfish, gently swaying with the wind as they walked underneath. June balanced on a retaining wall and he held out his hand in case she needed it to balance. When she jumped off at the end, they walked a little bit faster.
"Why are we taking the train to school?"
"It's the fastest way for me to drop you off and then get to work after."
She squeezed the rainbow-haired stuffy in her pocket and did a double-footed jump off the curb, stomping as she landed. She looked up at him, her eyes squinting while trying to make sense of something.
"Mom used to drop me off in the car."
Her words came out like a jellyfish, stinging them both as it floated past.
"I know, June."
He put his hand on her back and guided her across the street while scanning for cars.
On the other side, the sidewalk opened up into a large concrete plaza covered by train tracks with bus shelters lining the edges. June picked up a small branch covered with leaves. It shimmered with life when she used it as a sword. He became a growling beast, and an epic battle played in which he was mortally wounded. The rumbling sound of a train arriving overhead brought him back to life, and he grabbed her hand and hurried through the station entrance.
Up the stairs on the platform, a train waited with its doors open. Once inside he found an empty seat for June and stood next to her, scanning over the tired people sitting and standing inside. The open area next to them was reserved for wheelchairs and bicycles. It reminded him of when June was a baby, and he and Mae would park her stroller there. The train pulled away, and the roofs of the houses below slid by like small moments, too fast to fixate on for long. They exited at the next station, going down the stairs and then out through the fare gates.
It was three more blocks east to the school, and when they arrived, a long line of Teslas and sport SUVs snaked in and out of its crescent driveway. Making their way to the front, he tried to avoid the tidal movements of the parents and children, moving like he was on a beach trying not to get his feet wet. She followed behind, holding his hand. They stopped at the front gate, where a steady stream of children funneled through. He pulled her to the side, away from the flow, and knelt down to eye level with her.
"June," he said. "I'm sorry I can't wait with you"
"I know, Dad."
"You'll be okay, just stand with the other kids in front of your room until the teacher lets you in. Remember, it's room seven."
She nodded and tried on a face like an old sea captain, defying the wild ocean around her. The other parents and kids hugged, laughed, and took pictures. It was a lot to take in, and her resolve weakened a little.
"Dad, when do I get to see Mom again?"
Combing her hair to the side, he tried his best to stay tempered. He wanted to come up with the right thing to say, but the reservoir in his head had been plagued by drought.
"I don't know, June."
He gave her the biggest hug he could, trying to patch up their hearts for as long as time would allow. He didn't want to let go, but there wasn't much he could do when the hug came to an end.
"I'm sorry, honey. I have to go."
A loud squealing laughter interrupted the moment as Tavi ran by on a patch of grass in front of them and then through the entrance gates. Some of the weight eased from June's eyes as she watched her friend, and he encouraged her to follow with a nod. The pink unicorn on her backpack jumped up and down as she ran inside, chasing after Tavi.
He waved as he walked away, but she was too occupied to notice. The line of cars in front of the school was getting smaller, and the last minute drivers became frantic as the school bell rang. He hung around the gates trying to catch a glimpse of her and make sure she was okay, but couldn't find her, and worried for a moment he had lost her, too.
He took a deep breath, the smell of the brackish air and the warmth from the sun bringing him back into the present. He needed to move quickly to catch the train. He started off toward the station in a slow jog, his blood moving quicker and his lungs filling with air. The fog covering the bay was pulling back and revealing a brilliant blue sky. Inside that moment, he felt like it might be possible to make it. He thought about Mae, and hoped that wherever she was, there might be something, even for just a little bit, that could make her feel okay, too.

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