Fiction: Marsha Meets The Train

Marsha Walters sat in the window seat of the morning commuter train. She stared mindlessly at the suburban outskirts of the city sweeping by. The saga was coming to a close today but she realised that this was only the beginning. Her life as she had known it had come unceremoniously to a dead halt and now, at the age of 41, she was going to have to start all over again. She had heard of turmoil. She had read about it in the newspapers. But nothing, absolutely nothing had ever prepared her for the life-altering upset of getting a divorce. It was like somebody had ripped out her heart and stomped on it. Could anything be worse than this?

"How are you doing?" The voice sounded far off. It sounded as if the person was talking to somebody else not her. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts; she was so distracted it was a miracle she managed to pay attention to anything at all. She had almost missed the train. She couldn't remember where she had put her ticket and had to look through not only her purse but every pocket in her coat and clothes. She had gotten on the wrong car and had to walk through several coaches to find her seat. It was all so surreal. It was a nightmare. She had no idea how she was going to survive this.

"Marsha? Are you okay?"

The voice sounded a little more earnest. Marsha turned from the window and looked at the man sitting beside her. Edward Jones was a name she found in the Yellow Pages. It was just a wild stab at finding a lawyer, any lawyer, who would take up her cause and defend her interests. She had no idea who this man was, what his credentials were, or whether he was a good lawyer or a bad one or even an honest man. Fortunately, choosing Edward had turned out to be the one thing she had done right since this nightmare started. He had been knowledgeable about divorce, pro-active in pursuing her best interests, and kind towards her. She very much remembered him being kind. Marsha had been stunned, flustered, angry, depressed, and a host of other emotions which many times completely overwhelmed her. Her judgement was clouded by this churning mix of confused feelings and many times she was frozen into inaction. Edward had helped her get unstuck, get focused on the matter at hand, and work to resolve the negotiations in her best interests. And when it came to negotiating for her, Edward was a Rottweiler. He was thorough; he was prepared; and he backed up everything he said with case law so her husband and his lawyer didn't stand a chance of refuting. Edward threatened over and over again of going to court and citing other cases which would prove his side of the argument beyond a shadow of a doubt. The fighting went on for months but finally, the other side caved. Obviously Edward had made a compelling case and the other lawyer must have convinced her husband to settle and pay the price instead of going to court and run the risk of paying more.

"I'm fine, Edward." Marsha looked at Edward. She was tired. She felt completely drained. The months of negotiation and the fighting had taken their toll and she didn't seem to have an ounce of energy left. "I'm a little distracted."

"You won, Marsha," Edward said. "You've managed to get yourself a good and fair settlement."

"I've come to realise that. But it doesn't completely wipe out the divorce; the end of the life I once knew and expected to have for the rest of my life."

Edward nodded sympathetically. "Divorce is one of the hardest of life's lessons. Your world is turned upside down. You try to make sense of it but fail. In the end, you can't make sense of it anymore than you can make sense of love itself. Why do we fall in love? Why do we fall out of love? Who knows? At least the process you've gone through with me attempts to objectively deal with the end of the marriage and the division of your collective life. It doesn't mend the heart but hopefully it will make your situation more comfortable."

Marsha sighed. "Thank you. You've said that before and I hope one day to better grasp the sense of your words. I understand them intellectually but I'm not sure I get it emotionally. Bill was a good man. Bill is still a good man. But it's like one day the man I loved turned into some sort of crazy person, a stranger to me. Where did all of this come from?"

Shifting slightly in his seat, Edward leaned a bit towards Marsha and spoke softly to her. "For every door that closes, another opens. Yes, it's hackneyed. Yes, it's a platitude. But I hope you will come in time to see it's true. The world is a big place, Marsha, and there are many opportunities out there waiting for you." Edward turned his head to look at her. "Are you still seeing the counsellor?"

"Yes," said Marsha. "Although I sometimes wonder if he might not be ready to slit his wrists having to listen to me drone on and on and on about the same issues over and over again."

"You need to give it time."

"I suppose. It's just that sometimes I feel in such a hurry for something good to happen. How long can anybody feel sad?"

Edward nodded. What else could he say? He had seen this countless times before. Invariably problems built up over time. One party felt they couldn't talk about it with their partner and like a sealed container which is heated, one day it finally explodes. The person who isn't in the known is thrown for a loop completely taken aback by something so unexpected. Where did this come from? Why did this happen? Who is this strange person, sometimes this crazy person?

The train had noticeably changed speed. It was slowing down. Edward saw a sign indicating they were entering the city limits and thought their station would be another 10 minutes away. Once they debarked, they'd go through the station to the street and hail a cab. The law offices of the opposing council were not far away so Edward figured they would have the final paperwork signed and be out of there within the hour.

Edward had worked hard to get Marsha both property and cash. It had taken nearly seven months of discoveries to reveal all aspects of their finances and objectively assess the monetary value of each of their estates. In the end, he managed to get Marsha the matrimonial home free and clear. Considering there was no mortgage, this was a big plus for Marsha. The two sides had haggled for a number of months over the money but Edward persuasively argued for a lump sum payment. He had estimated Marsha's expenses for the next ten years and included what was necessary to raise the three children and send them to college. He then calculated the net present value and presented the opposing council with a one-time payment. He felt a one-time payment would be the best for both parties. With on-going alimony, Marsha would always run the risk of not having sufficient resources to live if her ex-husband balked at paying at some future date or even died. A one-time payment gave Marsha some peace of mind that everything was over and settled and her soon to be ex-husband could get the pain over with all at once. It seemed like a win-win for both parties.

Of course, this also meant Marsha would now have to carefully assess how she wanted to live for the rest of her life. While the lump sum payment would generate some interest, there was no doubt Marsha would have to go back to work to supplement her investment income. Yes, she could get by without it but things would be tight. Edward had already pointed to her to some career counseling to find out just where she could fit into the market. Marsha was university educated and she had worked before so Edward felt this transition wouldn't be that difficult.

The intercom buzzed and a slightly distorted voice announced the station. Immediately there was movement as people got out of their seats and began searching in overhead compartments for bags and coats. A few started to walk down the aisle to line up at the exit.

Edward and Marsha remained seated. There didn't seem any reason to rush. After all, the train was still moving. Edward turned to Marsha and said, "It will all be over soon."

Marsha nodded but said nothing. She still seemed somewhat shocked that her nineteen year marriage was over. She felt alone. She felt scared. She had no idea of what tomorrow was going to be like and how she was going to sort everything out. What was her new single life going to be like? She was going to have to manage a household by herself; fix things; arrange to get things fixed; pay the bills; and of course work. Would she date someday? Would any man be interested in a 41 year old woman? She felt old. She felt used and worn out. God, what a horrible nightmare.

The train slowly came to a full stop. More people headed towards the exit. Edward looked out the window at the station platform then looked down the length of the car. It would take a moment for the door to be open and the line of people to clear. Edward remained seated for a moment before standing up. He reached up to the clasp and opened the overhead compartment to get his briefcase. Looking down the railcar, he could see people were now getting off. "Shall we?" said Edward.

Marsha sighed, "Okay." She half stood up then stepped out from underneath the overhead compartment and Edward politely moved back. Once in the aisle, Marsha stood upright and started walking towards the exit. The line had disappeared.

Marsha walked out the door that was propped open, stepped across the connecting platform and took a step into the next car.

"Marsha?" said Edward.

Marsha stopped and turned around. She realised she had walked right by the steps down from the car. "Oops." She walked back then went down the steps onto the station platform.

Edward followed. "Let's go through the station and see if we can catch a taxi." Edward moved ahead and held the door for Marsha. The two of them crossed waiting area then walked out onto the street. Edward looked around. "Hmmm, I don't see any cabs. Let's walk over to the other side and see if we can catch a cab there. I now realise the over side is closer to where we're going anyway."

Gently taking Marsha's elbow, Edward guided her up the street. They walked the length of the station then turned to the railway crossing. The flashing red lights were on and the bell was sounding. Edward looked and didn't see anything other than their train. "I thought they would have deactivated the crossing. Let's cross through and head over there." Edward pointed to the station on the other side of the tracks.

Edward walked around the pedestrian gate and started walking over the crossing. Marsha followed. Just then the horn of a train was heard somewhere down the tracks. "Let's hurry." Edward started to half walk half run and Marsha followed suit. The horn was sounding continuously as it got closer. The two of them had just crossed the first set of tracks where their train still remained stopped when Edward glanced to his left and saw another passenger train barreling into the station at full speed. Obviously this was the downtown express which didn't stop at this outlying station. Edward immediately stopped. Marsha didn't.
 

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Carl had been a railroad buff since he was a little boy. He had been through numerous train sets, put together plastic models, and collected a large number of pictures. Add to that all sorts of secondary souvenirs like train schedules, menus from restaurant cards, cutlery, soaps, towels, and even a blanket with the embroidered logo of the Santa Fe Railroad neatly catalogued and stored in various cardboard boxes, and you had someone who was just a step beyond a railfan and bordering on the obsessive.

Fortunately Carl's wife was an understanding woman and accepted the basement of the house as the de facto railroad museum. As a dad, he was passing the torch on to his children and while his son was involved, his daughter showed an interest too. The train set was the wonder of all the neighbourhood kids and his children took great delight in showing it off to their friends.

Today's visit to the local station was a bit of nostalgia as Carl and his kids were going to be witnessing the end of an era. It was the final run of the EMD E9 locomotive. The railroad had decided to retire this engine due to a shrinking passenger service and Carl wanted to video tape this last express run from the suburbs to the center of the city.

He and the kids had set themselves up at a perfect vantage point just down from the station. The camera was mounted on a tripod pointing at an angle down the tracks towards the main station. The microphone was sensitive enough to capture all the sounds from the horn to the rumbling of the cars as they roared down the rails. This was going to be a great day and a great clip.

Carl double checked the camera bending over to look through the view finder. All was in order. He had plenty of memory so he could record quite a bit without worrying about running out of storage. Glancing at his watch, Carl figured the train would be coming through in the next minute or two but just then a horn sounded in the distance and crossing was activated. Carl looked over to see the gates come down as the red flashed and the bells started to sound. The Express was right one time. He switched the camera on and started recording.

The local passenger service had just pulled into the station five minutes ago and people were debarking and swarming over the platform as they made their way to the south side terminal or walked around the front of the train to cross the tracks to the north side. At the sound of the crossing bells, those people still on the crossing looked up and down the tracks trying to see what was coming as they scurried out of the way. A diesel horn blasted again but was much closer.

Carl looked in the view finder again. He was admittedly a little excited. This was going to be a great shot, a once in a lifetime shot. The diesel horn started to blast and the sound continued uninterrupted. Carl knew the train was roaring into the station. He stood up from the camera to get a good eyeful of the train.

A movement to one side caught his eye. A man and a woman were starting to hurry from the crossing gate onto the main part of the crossing. They were going to attempt to cross from the south side to the north. The diesel horn was now screaming. The man and woman were almost to the track where the express was coming through. Three hundred thousand pounds of locomotive roared into the station at 60 miles per hour. The man turned and saw how close the train was and stopped. The woman walked right to the edge of the tracks and the hurtling mass of metal slammed right into her like she was a rag doll.

What happened next was so fast; Carl had no time to react other than to instinctively move his head to one side. There was the horrible sound of a soft thump as the body of the woman was hit by this unstoppable force and launched at an angle down the tracks directly at Carl. Carl had little time to comprehend that several pieces were coming at him. The body flew in the air the almost two hundred feet to Carl and his camera. As Carl moved slightly, the torso partially hit his leg and broke it. Carl was knocked to the ground. An arm fell to the ground just missing his son. The tripod jerked as Carl pushed against it but remained on and kept videotaping. It managed to catch the shocked look on the man's face as he had turned to watch the woman get hit then be thrown down the tracks.

Carl was vaguely aware of some screaming even though the Express continued to roar down the tracks. He turned his head and saw that his son and daughter were looking behind him with an odd look. Thank goodness they were okay.

Carl turned and looked the other way. He looked but he didn't comprehend what he was looking at. It was a body. Judging by the dress, he guessed it was a woman. It was the woman who had crossed in front of the train. But the left arm was gone. He blinked. He stared. He realised that the left half of the head was missing as if something had torn a big chunk out of the skull.

Carl gasped. He gulped. He turned away then put his head over and threw up. He could hear people running up to where he was. Somewhere somebody yelled, "Phone the police!"

Carl coughed. He spit. His mouth burned from the stomach acids. He tried to sit up and a wave of pain went through his right leg. He looked down and thought it was at an odd angle. He then remembered something hitting his leg and knocking him over. He tried to move his leg again and felt pain. It occurred to him that his leg was probably broken.

Edward was standing a few feet from Carl. He was looking at Marsha. He was looking at what was left of Marsha. He wondered if the locomotive had not broken every bone in her body. As he looked at the body he thought it more resembled a mass of flesh. It had been hit so hard, it had been pulverized. Marsha would have died instantly.

Edward's eyes were glazed over. He was staring at Marsha but he really wasn't seeing anything. He was stunned by this. It was incredible. It defied imagination. How could such a freak event have occurred? He manages to get Marsha a good deal; good enough to allow her to start a new life then in a blink of an eye it's all taken away.

More people were gathering. Station agents had arrived and were trying to control the crowd. A policeman had run up and was radioing for an ambulance. He stopped by Carl and looked down at him. "Are you okay?"

Carl looked up. "I think my leg is broken."

The policeman crouched over and looked at the leg. "Don't move. I've requested an ambulance." He looked at the tripod and the camera. "Were you filming?"

"Yeah," said Carl. "I believe I caught the whole thing."

The policeman looked at the camera. "Good lord." He shook his head. "We're going to want to take a look at that. I've been given to understand this isn't the first time such a thing has happened. Apparently others have tried to beat the train and lost. You would think the crossing gates would be enough dissuade people but there is always somebody who can't wait and decides to run the risk. A fast moving train is none too forgiving."

The policeman stood up. "Just hang in there. Don't move. Help is on the way." He turned and looked at the lawyer and realised Edward was staring at the body. He walked up and said, "Do you know this woman?"

Edward continued to look at Marsha. He quietly said, "Yes."

"Are you related?"

"I am her divorce lawyer."

The policeman looked at Edward trying to grasp what he was saying.

"We were just on our way to sign the final papers. Marsha was going to be a free woman."

The policeman looked at Edward with a quizzical expression. "You mean they weren't yet divorced?" He turned and looked at the body. "Well there's one lucky guy who got out of paying alimony." He paused for a moment then turned back to Edward. "We'll need to get a statement. We'll need you to identify the body. Please don't go anywhere." The policeman stepped away and started talking on his radio again. Somewhere a siren could be heard in the distance. It was getting louder.

 
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