Photo by Niki Becker

The Light at the End

An excerpt.

Scene: A beat up flat in Hackney, London; April, 2017.

At around 2am he heard her come home. Opening the door, closing the door, locking the door. He heard her use the toilet, brush her teeth and disappear into her bedroom. He expected to hear the door close behind her any moment, but the sound never came. Instead he saw her shape in the darkness move across the living room to the couch. She curled up next to him, wrapped in her own blanket, he moved over to make room for them both. She put her head on his chest, he put his hands behind his head. She smelled of outside and noise.

“Welcome home,” he whispered.

“Sorry I woke you.”

“It’s fine. How was your night?”

“Busy. Did you watch the cricket? We had it on at the restaurant.”

“I did, yeah.”

“Same old England.”

“I guess.”

“I swapped shifts tomorrow, so I have the day off. I thought maybe we could spend it hanging out.”

“I think that’s doable.”

He sensed her smile, and her exhaustion. He stayed quiet.

Soon they were both asleep.

Some time later, he couldn’t tell when exactly, but it was still dark outside, he was awoken by the sound of slamming car doors. His eyes shot open and he saw what appeared to be police lights flashing in the street into the apartment. He looked down at her, she was sound asleep, breathing steadily, exhausted, but he was wide awake now. Panic gripped him. His heart raced, his body was drenched in sweat. More door slams. He waited for the knock on the door. They had found him. He was sure of it. They had found him and now not only was he going to jail but she was too.

Seconds passed. Then minutes. He looked at the prayer book. Sitting exposed and open on the coffee table. God I am an idiot, he thought. I should wake her up. We should run. But he was frozen in place. She was so warm against him, her weight pressed against his chest. 10 minutes passed. Then 15. Then the lights were gone. Then the street was quiet. He felt relief pass through him. And he knew it was time for him to go.

In the morning when he woke she was already up and in the shower. It was early. Just after nine. He heard her turn the shower off, brush her teeth, open the bathroom door and walk into her bedroom. He heard her getting dressed. A few moments later she came out wearing jeans and a t-shirt, looking so happy. She was drying her hair with a towel and looked over at him and saw that he was awake.

“Morning,” she said.

“Morning.”

“So I am thinking today we go grab coffee and then head to central London. I can show you Hyde Park. And there’s a garden cafe there where we could have lunch. It’s supposed to be nice today. And then a pub crawl? And then back to Babani’s for dinner? And then … “ She stopped mid-sentence, quit drying her hair and looked up at him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I have to leave.”

“What? Why? Now?”

Her face was a mask of confusion. His eyes filled with tears.

“You can’t leave. You can barely walk. Yesterday after lunch I thought I was going to have to carry you back here.”

“The police are going to find me. It’s a matter of when not if. And if they find me here, you go to jail too.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“I can’t let you get wrapped up in this.”

“Can’t let me? I’m pretty fucking wrapped up in it, don’t ya think? And there are two of us here, you know. This is my place. I let you stay here. I knew the risks. I know the risks.” She turned around and looked out the window. “I know you have to go. But Christ … “

“‘Can’t let you’ was the wrong way to say it. This is my own thing. I have to be the only who pays the price. God, the thought of you in handcuffs because of me … fucking hell … that’s too much.”

“So it’s about you then.”

“No, shit, you know what I am trying to say. I stole the fucking thing, just me, no one else should take the fall for it. Especially not you. All you did was open your door.” He wanted to walk over to her. Put his arms around her. But he couldn’t.

“I just thought we’d have a couple more days,” she said, after a while.

“If I could I would stay here forever. I love it here.”

She turned around and looked at him. “I feel dumb. Like I’ve been living in some little fantasy.”

“Hey me too. But there were cops on your street last night. It kind of drove home reality for me.”

“Right. I just wish you would have said something before I planned out our whole day like a fucking idiot.”

They were quiet. The morning sun was low and streamed in through the kitchen windows. She looked out into the alley.

“It’s been sunny every day since you got here. It’s never sunny here,” she said.

“I was going to say, where’s the British rain everyone talks about?”

“Give me today,” she said.

“Oh, I am not giving up on today. You had me at pub crawl.”

The tension broke and disappeared. And they both silently agreed that they wouldn’t talk about it again. Not today.

“Get dressed, let’s get moving. I could murder a coffee.”

He borrowed more socks and brushed his teeth and thought about showering but didn’t want to take the time. His ribs hurt like hell so he took three painkillers which he hoped would be enough to allow him to enjoy the day. They put on their scarves and jackets and he put the prayer book in his duffel bag and then thought twice.

“Has your place ever been broken into?”

“No. Not yet anyway.”

“So I guess the question is whether it’s safer with us or here.”

“Let’s leave it here. You’ve got a bit of history of being a target for assholes. It’ll be fine. We’ll hide it under my tampons. Give it here.”

She went to the bathroom and opened a cupboard and stuffed it inside.

“No self respecting opioid freak is going to look there. They’ll grab the telly and be on their merry way. Let’s go.”

They went outside and she locked the door behind them. Since they were heading to the train station he assumed they would be going right which meant he would have to walk by the spot where he’d had the shit kicked out of him. He girded himself for the wave of humiliation that was about to come. But she led the way and took a left at the bottom of her stairs.

“Coffee first, then train station.”

They walked together, not arm in arm, to the grungy coffee shop up the street and got two coffees and two scones to go. They ate and drank as they walked up a different block toward the train station. They both topped up their Oyster cards and went to the platform to catch their train. It was a quick ride to the Islington station and from there they took the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus and then they were in Central London. “It must be nice to be so close to everything, in Minneapolis if you don’t have a car you’re fucked.”

“Right. Yeah. I guess.”

She took his arm and they walked up the station steps and they came out onto the street and it was madness. But he was okay. All of a sudden he liked all the people. He was anonymous in a city like this. He remembered what the Stranger had told him, about how easy it was to hide in London. Now he understood.

They walked up the sidewalk toward the park, entered through the main gate and walked aimlessly up and down the paths. Enjoying the sun on their faces. It was so warm! And the sky was so blue!

“Hey look,” she said.

She pointed over to a field across the way. There were guys playing cricket.

“Want to go watch?” she asked. “Just for a minute?”

“Sure.”

They walked over near the field and sat on a bench. It was quiet despite the game going on in front of them. The only noise was the occasional sound of bat on ball, and the players yelling encouraging things to each other. Time stretched out until it was thin and almost transparent.

“Cricket will always remind me of you now,” she said.

“Everything will always remind me of you now,” he said, turning to her and smiling. The wind was blowing her hair into her face. She was squinting into the sun and smiling at him.

“Such a romantic.”

He looked away.

“Head towards lunch?” she asked, after a while.

“Sure.”

They got up and walked toward a large board with a map on it.

“We’ll have to cross the entire park. You up for that?” she looked at him.

“I think so.”

“Okay let me know if you want to stop and rest.”

She took his hand in hers and led the way toward lunch.

“I can’t believe this weather,” he said.

“Seriously. It’s perfect out.”

“When I left Minnesota it was like seven degrees and it had just snowed like eight inches. Fucking awful. Winters there are brutal.”

“Yeah, here too, usually. We don’t get the cold or the snow but it’s always miserable and wet and it rains and rains and rains until you think you are going to lose your mind. And you never see the sun.”

“That is the nice part about winter in Minnesota. The sun is out a lot, and the sky is this remarkable deep blue.”

“Sounds nice.”

“It is.”

They walked in silence for a while.

“Can we rest here for a bit?” He pointed toward a bench that overlooked a pond filled with ducks.

“Sure. I’m in no hurry.”

They sat on the bench in silence, both of them mesmerized by the ducks.

“You ever read W.G. Sebald? The Rings of Saturn?”

“No, sadly, I am probably the one Londoner who hasn’t read any Sebald.”

“There is a part in there, when he talks with a guy who has ducks on his property. This guy, not Sebald, is building a scale model of the Temple of the Mount. Anyway. He, this guy, says that he has always kept ducks, ever since he was a child. And that in the color of their plumage he finds the answer to all the questions he’s ever had. That passage has always stuck with me.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder. And they watched the ducks.

“Are you familiar with the word ‘speculum’?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, it’s the name for the tools doctors insert into orifices,” she laughed. “But it also means a collection of all human knowledge and it’s a term for the colors of a duck’s plumage.”

“Holy shit, really?”

“Really!”

“And how they hell do you know that anyway?”

“I looked up the word after seeing it in an ob-gyn pamphlet at my doctor’s office. It stuck with me all these years. One word with three such different meanings.”

“Well, aren’t we a team, me with my Sebald quotes and you with your internal Merriam-Webster.”

They sat there for a long time. Time slowed down even further. Neither of them spoke, they just watched the ducks swim and dive in the brown water.

“Come on, let’s go eat,” she said after what felt like a very long time. “I am ravenous.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him up off the bench and they continued on.

At the cafe she sat him at a table and went to get food. She came back with two Cokes, two sandwiches and two bags of chips. They ate in silence. They never seemed to talk while they ate. He watched her chew and prayed he didn’t have chicken salad in his beard. It was warm and humid in the cafe, like the air in an indoor pool.

Once they were done eating she pulled out her map book and marked the pubs where she wanted to bring him and they set off. They hit one pub and then another and then another. Getting one pint at each place and a snack at every other place. They laughed their way through the afternoon. Drinking their beers outside on the sidewalk when possible. At The Harp pub off Trafalgar square he started talking about the paper that he wrote about the prayer book. And she in turn talked about her art school fiasco. She had been accepted before she was even 17 and had had a successful exhibit her first semester. But the classes bored her and she wanted to do more than just take anatomy and art history. When she dropped out she didn’t tell her parents for at least a year. She thought they are still mad at her for it. And she didn’t know what the hell she was going to do with her life. The thought of going back to school after a decade horrified her, but sooner or later she was going to have to do something.

“You should start painting again.”

“Right. I don’t know. I don’t know if I have it in me.”

“Then you should be a doctor,” he said.

“Oh really? Why’s that?” she laughed.

“Because you took such good care of me. I mean, shit, I feel fucking great!” He took a big swig of his beer and his beard filled with foam. She handed him a napkin.

“Either that or a cricket player, heh,” he said.

“Yeah, I gave that guy a pretty good hiding. He probably has a couple cricket bat shaped bruises he has to hide from his mummy.”

“Fucking bastard.”

“Fucking bastard is right … but…” She looked away.

“But what?”

“If he doesn’t bust your ribs and face all up, you’re in jail right now. That’s a weird thing to say, I’m sorry.”

“Nah, I’ve thought about that myself. I mean of course I have. I mean. I fucking hate that guy and whenever I think about him trying to take my stuff I get so fucking angry I want to scream. But then the next second I’m okay. And that’s because these few days have been so fucking great.”

They clinked their glasses together. They were drinking in the alley behind the pub leaning on a high table against a wall. The alley was brick and stone and dark and the buildings on either side seemed to lean in over them. There was no wind and it was quiet other than a few other patrons. The shadows in the street on the other side of the alley were long. He could tell what she was thinking, that this was all ending, it was late afternoon now and soon they would be heading back to Hackney and tomorrow he would be leaving.

“I know we kinda agreed not to talk about it but …”

She interrupted him: “But nothing. We don’t talk about it. Full stop. I’m going to go get us more pints. You can dwell on the sad shit while I’m gone if ya want.”

He looked up the sky after she left. A thin narrow of dark blue. He reached down into himself to find a way to push away the darkness that was creeping into their day. Right now you are here and she is here and you are in London and it’s not even 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

But the day had been speeding away from them. Ever since the duck pond it was like they had been placed back into reality. All of a sudden he was all panic and anxiety and fear. And then she was standing in front of him, a huge smile on her face, carrying two glasses of beer and a bag of chips. “Jesus christ cheer the fuck up,” she said with a laugh. “You look like your dog just died. You’re in London and a pretty lady just brought you a giant glass of beer. 90% of the blokes on earth would trade spots with you.” She laughed again, a hint of chagrin in it.

And just like that, the bile in his stomach was gone. Replaced by the warmth he had come to recognize as his body’s physical response to her presence. Her smile. Her voice. Nothing crude. Just a warmth.

Their pints were gone and they stopped at two more places. They were perfectly buzzed. At a place called Chando’s upstairs looking down into Trafalgar Square they were at a table talking wildly about something or other when in the middle of a sentence she stopped and got this crazed look on her face.

“Shit, what? What’s wrong?” He looked around expecting to see a herd of police officers descending on them at their little table in the pub.

“I know where we need to go!!” she yelled. “Finish your pint, come on!”

“Where? Where do we need to go?”

“A pub in Southwark. The rest is a surprise. I’m can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it until now. Finish your fucking pint and lessgo.”

He finished his beer and they both used the toilet and he hit his head on the way out. “This country was built for midgets,” he said.

“Clever,” she said snidely and grabbed his hand and led him out into the London twilight.

The sun was setting as they crossed the Jubilee bridge toward the south bank. She had someone take their picture with her phone with the Thames and Big Ben in the background. He felt like he was in a movie. This girl on his arm, this river beneath his feet. She had such an old soul, he felt like she was as old as the river, that she had always been here waiting for him. This woman, this amazing woman, all alive and smiles and the rightful heir to the most beautiful thing ever created that he had stolen which had brought him here, to this river, to this city, to this happiness, to her.

They stumbled down the steps onto the boardwalk crowded with tourists. He heard a million different languages and saw a million different smiles. They walked up with the Thames on their left before she turned them away from the river. “This is Lewisham, this is where my father is from. He’s the one who’s line traces back to France and the prayer book.” She looked a million miles away for a split second and a wash of sadness blinked behind her eyes and he thought about how for his whole he had felt like he was the only person out there who was truly sad, that he was the only person who had any right to feel sad. And he knew it wasn’t true but it’s how he had lived his life. But now here was this woman who could laugh away any old trouble, who’s boyfriend who she had thought about marrying had left her, who had dropped out of school, whose dad was an asshole, who lived alone in a shitty apartment and who worked a job she to hated enough to get drunk before her shifts. All his tears felt silly all of a sudden, but also shared, communal. If she had the same darkness behind her eyes that he had then that meant that everyone maybe did. He immediately felt less alone. And he knew he would feel that way for the rest of his life.

She led him to a pub tucked away behind an office building. The patio was full so they went inside and she went to get beers. The interior was like no bar he had seen in London yet. The walls were covered with crap and the tables were mismatched and cheap. And there was so much … color. Every other bar he had been had been so neutral. All browns and greys. When she came back she was smiling from ear to ear, her face full of mischief like he had never seen it before.

“What the fuck is with that shit eating grin? What exactly are you up to?”

“Nothing. Give it a minute. It’ll come to you. Drink your beer.”

“Okay. Whatever you say, crazy person.”

He sipped his beer. He was pretty drunk and they had all started to taste the same. But this was different. It tasted … familiar. Like block parties and the state fair and summer nights.

“Is this … Summit?”

“Yep! Straight from St. Paul, Minnesota!”

“Holy shit, they serve Summit here? What the fuck?”

Her grin was back.

“Look around!” she said.

Above the bathroom door he saw a painting of the stone arch bridge with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. Behind the bar was a poster he recognized as an Adam Turman. He saw a picture of First Avenue and a Minnesota Twins pennant and a framed picture of the Beatles at Met Stadium.

“Is this … is this a Minnesota themed bar?”

“I don’t know about that, but it’s owned by a Minnesotan. Everyone came here the day Prince died and we all drank and listened to Prince all night in the street. There was this Minneapolis radio station that was playing his entire catalog and the owner got the stream. It was something fucking else. I had completely forgotten about it until you brought up Prince back at Chando’s. So, anyway, a little slice of home for ya, heh.” She smiled at him and clinked the bottom of her pint glass against the lip of his. Sloshing Summit on the table.

“Ha, this is great. What a treat. Thank you.”

He looked down at the menus she had brought over.

“Holy shit they have Jucy Lucys!”

“What the fuck is a Jucy Lucy?”

“It’s a cheeseburger only the cheese is inside the burger.”

“Fucking americans.”

“Fucking right.”

“Well go get us a couple of these magical burgers. With chips. I am famished.”

He went up to the bar and ordered food and asked the bartender if he was the owner or if the owner was around, as he was a Minnesotan too. He said no to both but did he want to have his picture taken? The owner posts pictures on that wall over there of all the Minnesotans that have pulled up a chair here.

He thought for a second. And decided it was better if he didn’t.

“No thanks, I’m not feeling very photogenic.”

“Fair enough. Burgers will be up soon.”

He went back to the table with two more Summits.

“Careful, this is hangover beer,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s gonna make much of a difference at this point.”

They drank their beer in silence. The music from the bar’s speakers was The Pines. “I don’t know where I’m going, I just hope that you’re there,” crooned the singer. His eyes swamped with tears.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“You cry a lot for a dude.”

“It’s been a trying few weeks.”

“Fair enough.”

He gestured toward the music: “Someone should tell the owner that The Pines are from Iowa, not Minnesota.”

She laughed. They listened. “This is nice, I like it. It sounds like I think Minnesota would sound like. All prairie and flat with a big sky full of stars.”

“Minnesota is more than just prairie.”

“Tell me.”

And he did. He told her about the city lakes and the downtown skyways. About First Avenue and how he missed the Metrodome. He told her about the block parties every weekend during the summer, bands playing in parking lots and beer in tall boy cans. About how in June it was light out until 10 p.m. And in Minneapolis there was a great bar or a great coffee shop or a great museum or a great theater on every block. About how everyone made fun of St. Paul but everyone secretly liked it. He talked about the winters, brutal and cold but not a lot of snow. About how the greatest place to be was at a packed music venue when it was 10 degrees below zero outside. He talked about the first nice day of spring and how everyone would be outside like it was the law. He talked about the state’s lefty politics and how it was a bastion of liberalism in the conservative north. He talked about how blue the sky was in the winter, shit how blue it was all year round. About how everyone rode bikes everywhere. About Prince and The Replacements and The Turf Club. About how because the winters were so bad the summers were almost bacchanalian in their celebration of warmth and light. And all of a sudden he was so homesick and wanted nothing more than to be back home. Driving north on 35W with the skyline looming above him, the windows down, the radio stations familiar.

“You miss home.”

He was silent.

“It’s okay, I’m not offended or anything. You’re allowed to miss home. Despite, you know, everything, it’s going to be nice to get back there, I’m sure,” she said.

“Not much for me there anymore. My apartment and all my stuff probably belong to the FBI now. And I am sure my family hates me. Plus, you know, jail.”

“Still, more for you there than there is here.”

“I would have agreed with you five days ago. But I don’t know anymore.”

She reached across the table and took his hand. Looked him in the eye.

“You’re not going to ask me to wait for you, are you? Because I don’t know if I can promise that. I mean … I don’t want to be one of those loonies who’s dating a guy in prison.” They laughed, but it was hollow.

The bartender brought their food over and she released his hand.

“Couple more pints?” he asked them.

“Yes,” they said simultaneously. And the tension was gone.

They laughed their way through their ridiculous burgers and she burned her lip on the cheese that spilled out of the sandwich and he told her that made her an honorary Minnesotan. And with that thought he dragged up to the bar and had the bartender take her picture for the wall. “She’s a Minnesotan and way more photogenic than me, take her picture for the wall, will ya?” And the bartender did and he showed them how it turned out on his phone and she was so beautiful with her embarrassed smile and her hair in her face. “The owner will print it out tomorrow, and you’ll join the wall of your fellow Minnesotans. You’re the first one up there with an cockney accent though.“

After the picture he used the toilet and banged his head on the door again and she kissed her index and middle fingers and pressed them to his head.

“See? A doctor. Better already,” he said.

After more Summits they left and walked in the dark to the Southwark station and caught the Jubilee line to Charing Cross to Oxford Circus to the Islington station to Hackney central. They walked up from the platform hand in hand and laughing. They didn’t want the night to end and it really felt like it wasn’t going to.

“Babani’s? He pours until 11pm if you’re a local.”

“Sure. Yes. Definitely.”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine. Are you?”

“Yes.”

At Babani’s they drank and watched soccer with the owner. Tottenham were playing and he thought the owner was going to have a heart attack right there. They laughed and talked as the game roared across the little television behind the bar all speed and green and thump. It was like ballet. He found it thrilling.

“Your sports are way better than ours.”

‘So’s our music.”

“No argument there.”

The game ended and the owner cursed and turned the tv off and the bar was silent. She pulled out her phone and found the Pines record on the internet and set her phone on the bar and let the music play.

“He won’t mind,” she gestured towards the owner. “Tottenham dropped points at home to fucking Bournemouth. We could set the place on fire and he wouldn’t notice.”

The music played. They drank beer. It was after 11 but the owner seemed in no mood to close down.

“So. Update. There are now two things that will always remind me of you: cricket, and this fucking country band.”

He looked at her. She continued talking:

“And this bar. And the bar in Southwark. And my couch. And all the socks you borrowed. And all the ones you didn’t. And Knausgaard which I’ll have to read now. And Sebald which I’ll have to read now. And the fucking Jubilee bridge. And fucking all of it.” She reached out and touched his face, lightly, with just the tips of her fingers.

He smiled.

The album ended and he went to the toilet and when he came back and sat down the room started to spin and he suggested they head back home. She agreed and they gave the owner their condolences and he said thanks and that they should come back next Saturday, Tottenham were playing Arsenal and his boys were gonna wipe the floor with those coonts. “Ha,” she said. “Sure thing.” She smiled at the owner and then looked over at him and there was sadness on her face and he felt his heart empty out into his shoes, spill onto the floor, sink through the clay and fall over the edge of the world.

They walked back slowly, each of them hanging onto the last scraps of what had been such a perfect day. Arm in arm, each step bringing them closer to when they would have to say goodbye.

“Are your ribs buggin’ you?” she asked.

“Nah.”

When they reached her street it was silent, as it always seemed to be, and bathed in the orange light of the city.

She unlocked her front door and let them in and locked it behind them. They each used the toilet and brushed their teeth. They didn’t talk. He went into her bedroom and she had taken off her jeans and sweater and was crawling into bed in her t-shirt and underwear. He turned off the light and stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt. Putting her socks in her laundry basket. He crawled into bed and she was facing the wall, her back to him. He put his arm over waist and his other arm under her head. Their bodies closed every gap of space between them. He felt her warmth. The room was spinning. They fell asleep.

When he woke up she was just turning off the shower. She came out in her towel.

“It’s almost 10, I have to be at work at noon. And flights to the states usually depart mid-afternoon, so we both need to get a move on.”

He showered and dressed and she lent him yet another pair of socks. She was quiet and far away. She watched TV while he packed, grabbing the prayer book from her bathroom and stuffing his clothes into his duffel bag.

“Do me a favor,” she asked, over the din of the television.

“Sure.”

“Leave me one of your sweaters.”

He paused a beat too long before answering. “Yeah, okay.” He gave it to her and she folded it and brought it into her room. She came back out with a book.

“It’s by Rachel Kushner. It’s one of my favorites. And you should read more novels by women.”

He took it and put it in his backpack. “I’ll read it on the plane. What’s it about?”

“A woman who races motorcycles in the desert.”

“Okay.”

He zipped up his bags and put on his scarf and shoes and jacket. She did the same. He felt the conveyor belt restarting, pulling him back home.

As they were leaving the apartment, he took one last look around, breathed in the atmosphere one last time. He was doing his best to stay somewhat composed. She closed the front door and locked it. On her face was a look of sad resignation.

“You got that damn prayer book, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

They walked up her street and past the spot where she had saved him and he looked back and remembered the first time he had walked down this street. That one morning he had come to Hackney to deliver the prayer book. It seemed like a century ago, but it was only a handful of days. So much had happened but also nothing had happened. He took her hand and squeezed it and she squeezed back and then she let it go and pulled out her phone to check the time.

When they reached the station he felt like he was splitting in two. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to get on the train. He looked over at her, she was buried in her phone. He wanted to talk but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He just stood there, silent.

After a few moments, she looked up at the board over the station.

“Next one’s you,” she said.

“What?”

“The next train, it’s the one you take back to Highbury, where you can pick up the Victoria line. You can probably figure out how to get to Heathrow from there. I’m going to Liverpool Street, so I’ll grab the next one.”

He had this weird sense that she was lying to him. But he played along.

“Yeah okay.”

He looked at the board, the train was due in three minutes. And they seemed to disappear in a flash. Soon he heard it rumbling in the distance, and the other people at the station moved toward the yellow line at the edge of the platform. She looked up at him and turned toward him and put her arms around his neck, drew him close and whispered into his ear: “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you, too. So much.” He pulled her closer and breathed her in. She took her head away from his shoulder and looked him in the eye. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. The train entered the station. Soon he was crying too in big, thick, embarrassing sobs. It was all ending. Everything. All of it. She touched his face. “I totally snotted all over your jacket,” she said and they both laughed and she wiped the tears away from the corners of his eyes with her thumbs and kissed him on the side of his mouth. “Go,” she said. They slid apart, grasped each other’s hands and separated. He stepped onto the train and looked back at her. She put her hand up as if to wave but it just fell back to her side. Her face was stained with tears. The doors closed. He put his left palm on the glass of the door and his right palm over his heart. The train started to move and it jolted him and he almost fell over, catching himself at the last second on the back of a seat. He saw her laugh. And he smiled.

And then he was gone.

The sun went behind a cloud and the sky started to spit rain. She pulled her hood up over her head and sank back into her life.

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