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The Time Train by Thai Lynne - Twist in Time Literary Magazine
Dallas is waiting for a train. She is slumped on a smooth marble bench, knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around them, chest heavy with the occasional shuddering breath. She looks out over the water, clear blue reflecting the sparkling sun and perfect fluffy clouds. It is like a mirror reflecting the heavens, still; the sweet breeze caressing her hot, tear-stained cheeks does not cause a ripple. She will not allow herself to think of her baby. Just a few days earlier, his tiny downy head was resting against her chest for the allotted few minutes, his wailing cry pierced her heart as the nurse carefully gathered him in a clean, white swaddling blanket, and Dallas watched him until he was out of sight, wheeled out of the room in a clear plastic bassinet, her hungry eyes following his tiny, perfect toes until they were gone. She had withstood the pain of childbirth, the endless, roiling onslaught of agony that threatened to consume her. Her body braced, she pushed him into the world, the tiny person she had fallen in love with the first moment she had felt his movement inside her. Little feet pushing her, rhythmic hiccups that lulled her to sleep, the baby that stopped his acrobatics to listen whenever she played music. She weeps for him, and the emptiness in her womb, in her arms. They could have been so happy together, she thinks, and the grief bubbles up in her chest anew. The nurse had held her hand afterward, drying the girl’s tears with a piece of cotton. “There, there.” The voice had been soft. Dallas had wondered how many other young girls the woman had had to console that day. She had heard their labor screams in the night and wondered if they felt the same shocking grief and emptiness that she had. “It will be all right. He is going to live with someone who can take care of him and give him everything he needs.” Dallas had shuddered with anger but kept her lips pressed tightly together. Her arms were vacant. Wasn’t she the one who could give him everything he needed? In the next few days, she knew, her breasts would ache with milk that she would pump and send to him, with an apparatus she would acquire from the hospital, but she would be robbed of the joy of nursing her own baby. What else did he need but her milk, and her love? It is just the way things are done, she reminds herself now, as she did then, as the kindly nurse left and went to run a shower for her. The separation of mother and baby is done for a purpose, for the greater good. But there must be another way to live, somewhere, she thinks, though she cannot remember where she might have come across that idea. Abigail is there, behind her, looking out over the water, a canvas bag slung over her shoulder. An older woman, breathing the fresh air, feeling the heat of the sun warming her face, she notices the quivering shoulders of the young girl seated on the bench. The platform is otherwise empty, pristine and shining. “Tears on a beautiful day like this?” The older woman says kindly, seating herself on the bench. “It was raining when I left home,” Dallas replies, and now she is wondering at the clear blue sky. “If you need to talk about what’s bothering you, it seems we have some time before the train arrives.” The older woman smiles. “My name is Abigail.” Dallas notices the woman, dressed in bright, flowing colours around her shapely form. The girl has never seen such detail in clothing before; the woman’s floor-length dress is vibrant and embroidered with many small birds, hiding within the folds of the soft-looking cloth. Dallas yearns to touch it but restrains herself. How strange this woman would think her if she asked. Her own clothes – rough, cotton tunic, leggings and leather boots, all in neutral colours like brown and grey and white – seem suddenly drab and boring in comparison. Abigail clearly does not come from my world, Dallas thinks, surprised at her own supposition. Where else could she have come from? Dallas wonders if it might be beneficial to open up about her heartache to someone with no emotional ties to her or her life. To be sure, some of the thoughts that roiled and crashed like waves in an ocean storm within her would not be received well by anyone in her life, in her world. Perhaps this strange woman could ease the burden in her heart. “They took my infant son away from me within moments of his birth,” she whispers, and the pain of it floods her again. “And why would they do that?” The older woman frowns. Dallas looked at her. “Because my grandmother was waiting for him. Who else will raise him?” Abigail blinked. “Babies do not stay with their mothers where you come from?” “Of course not. The young and fertile are too foolhardy to be trusted with the nurturing of the young ones.” The young girl speaks as if she is reading the script for a play. Her words are beyond her years. “I am only seventeen,” she declares. “My role is to procreate as many times as I can before my prime child-bearing years are over.” “That must be very difficult.” Abigail’s head is spinning. There is a barbarism in ripping a child from his mother’s breast and separating them for life. “Will you get to see him in your grandmother’s keeping?” “I am not supposed to, really. Not many girls my age would want to, anyway. Young mothers are expected to heal from childbirth and then find another young man to get another child on them as soon as they can.” Dallas pauses, remembering the coldness in James’s eyes the night he left her. She had been in the midst of her third trimester, heavy and slow. She hadn’t seen her feet in what felt like months, and she could do little to curb her cravings for sweet cakes and sugared strawberries with cream. She felt like a whale and the sweets made her feel a little better, like a comforting hug from a friend who understood her struggles. Like all young fathers-to-be, like she had been expecting, the father of her child had told her that another fertile girl had caught his eye and they were going to try to make a baby together. “You understand, right?” he’d said, with no remorse in his eyes. “Your feelings aren’t hurt or anything?” It had been sweet of him to ask, as if her answer would have made a difference either way. Her smile had been forced. “Of course not,” she gritted her teeth. “See you around.” And with that she had closed the door in his face and dropped to the ground, sobbing, curling herself around her swollen belly and hugging her son, the one who could feel the pain in her heart from the inside. “You wish you could be a part of your son’s life,” Abigail observes. The look on the young girl’s face is clearly longing for her son. A boy needs his mother. Abigail thinks of her own son, born twenty years ago when she was a young woman. They spent twelve years together, reading and laughing and dancing. For that, Abigail grieves for Dallas. She wonders, which is worse: a mother being separated from her son at birth, never knowing his sweet voice or delicious little toes or tiny hands grabbing her face and slobbering baby kisses. Pitted against the pain of raising her son, being with him for twelve years and then seeing him sedated and shipped off to the caves, never to see his mother again. Was it better or worse to raise him, to know him, to catch a glimpse of his wonderful spirit? Dallas is curious about the faraway look on the other’s face. “Did you lose a son?” Abigail’s eyes are misty, sparkling in the sunlight, her grief turned to diamonds coursing down her cheeks. She tells Dallas about them, the caves and their cruelty, the rows and rows of men, arms raised and eyes covered, constantly sedated into unconsciousness, attached at the groin to machines that pulled the semen out of them again and again, day after day, year after year, until they are utterly spent and disposed of. Her son is to live the rest of his life in enslavement for the advancement of the human race. The young girl also wonders which would have been worse to live through. At least she knows her grandmother’s care of her baby son will be kind and loving and safe, and he should live a long and happy life. Abigail’s son will be used until he is no longer productive. “If there are no men in your society, who do you love?” Dallas asks. “Our mothers, our children, our friends. Sisters and aunts and teachers. Those who are there for us and support us.” “Is there no romance? With whom do you sleep at night?” The girl is incredulous. “I do not know romance. I sleep alone, since my children are gone. I had a daughter, but she is grown now, attending University.” Abigail is glad to speak of her daughter. “She is a bright young woman with much life and learning ahead of her. She is strong and independent, as are most women in my world. In the Matriarchy, no woman is made subservient to anyone but her own ambition, her own dreams, her own self, at her own pace. I find joy in her success and delight for life.” Dallas imagines the freedom of such a place, but shudders, thinking of the dark price all the men and mothers have to pay to keep it so. “Are you lonely?” she asks. “I wish I’d had more children to fill my home,” the older woman replies, “but I do not think I could bear having any more sons.” Dallas nods. She, too, does not know how she could bear carrying another child, feeling the stirrings and movements and little kicks of the life within her, go through the pain and agony of childbirth only to have her infant taken from her again. Her heart could not withstand it, she knew. There must be a better way to live, somewhere. Abigail observes the girl’s thoughtful expression. “Is that why you left?” The girl nods again. “If I am to have another child, I will stay with him until he is grown and I will be a part of his happiness. Wherever we happen to find ourselves. Those desires have no place where I come from.” “It is the same for me,” Abigail agrees. “I can not bear the pain of watching my grandsons become enslaved.” Both women pause, suddenly wondering about the moment when they had decided to leave their societies and how they had ultimately come to be here, of all places, at the train station. Dallas finally speaks, brow furrowed, looking back the way she had come, away from the sparkling sunlight on water. “I entered the woods on a path and kept walking until I found myself here. I am not really sure…” Abigail is not, either. From a distance, they can hear the sound of the train whistle and they know it is approaching. The train seems to float above the water, causing not a ripple while the fish swim lazily below. Water plants bend and shift in a drifting dance. The women stand. The train slows and comes to a full stop. Neither woman has a ticket but they do not need one where they are going. There is only one destination. They clasp hands and board the train, leaving behind lives of dissatisfaction and heartache. There is a new life for them, beyond, where love and safety...