Summer of '76

morning on a train

Long shadows and harsh sunlight that promised a hot day ruled the suburbs the train sped through. Once again it was morning on a train. While the big city of Paris woke to a new day, Carensa sat in a train car that with every rail joint left the metropolis further and further behind.

Every now and then a poplar tree flew by outside the window. They disappeared without becoming anything other than blurry outlines, but still she could see that the deep green color no longer was so deep. Other trees that she could see more of, already showed yellow leaves here and there. August would end soon, and summer with it.

Carensa turned into the train to not have to face the signs of an approaching autumn. Empty seats stared back at her. August was ending and the trains were no longer full.

“If the trains aren’t so full anymore, then why are you still here?” Carensa asked herself the question.

“I don’t know.” Carensa turned to the window again. “Maybe I stayed too long.”

“Can you? I love traveling.”

“Yeah, sure, it’s great. But when the leaves turn brown, then you know.”

“Know what?”

“That it’s time — time to go home. Summer is over.”

“But I don’t want it to be over. This has been the best summer of my life. All my life. I just want to jump on a train, find a compartment and sit down and watch the countryside pass on by. I don’t want it to stop, not ever.”

“Every train has to stop. Somewhere.”

“Not for me they don’t. I’m going on.”

“Not forever. See, the trees are turning.”

“Then I’ll travel nights. So I don’t have to see those trees.”

“If you wish. But the nights are longer now. And darker. And colder. Listen to the cold rain.”
She closed her eyes in the strong morning sun.

“I love nights in train stations. To just sit there and watch the mail trains and the baggage trains come in and the loading and unloading. It’s great.”

“Not any more. That was last summer. Sure, the station workers still handle the packages and the mail and the trains still run. But they’ve changed. It’s a different world now.”

“That’s impossible.”

“But it is so.”

“The signals still show green.”

“They are changing now. They turn red. Watch out or you will miss your train.”

“All those places. They’re still there. The trains still run. I can go there.”

“But it wouldn’t be the same. Even the birds are leaving now. Another season is beginning.”

“But my life was this summer. It can’t be over. It was supposed to be so much. I was going to do so much.”

“You did it. Remember the places you went. The people you met. The many sunny days. All the trains.”

“I was going to have the biggest adventure in my life. A dream come true.”

“It came true. It is true. Summer is still there, in your mind. It is safe now. It is yours. You went to all the places, met people. You even almost learned to hate the sun and the heat.”
“Now it’s over, just because of a few silly leaves losing their color.”

“And because mornings are foggy and days cooler and nights longer. You have been on the road a long time. It’s always time to head home at some point. For you that is now.”

“But I’m so not ready.”

“You’ll be ready. You saw the signs. There are still a few days of summer left. Use them well.”

“Just a few short days. I need time…” She leaned her head against the rattling glass, closed her eyes and listened to the bumps of the wheels under the floor. But a poor reflection as in a mirror…

The journey wasn’t over yet. It couldn’t end this way.

The train stopped at yet another small station. Next to the track was a sign, shining glaringly white in the sunlight. Sermizelles. The name meant nothing to her, and she had started to lean back in the seat again when she noticed the writing underneath, in smaller letters. Vézelay.

She knew that the train didn’t actually go through Vézelay, where she was headed. But she thought that the connecting station was further down the line. Now she grabbed her backpack with record speed. By this time there was a certain force of habit there. With the shoulder bag in one hand, she pushed the door to the vestibule open and hurried off onto the platform. The train stood in a small station. A few whitewashed houses, a parking area and a bus. In the window of the red and white bus was a hand lettered sign: Vézelay.

The air that met her on the platform was warm and smelled of summer meadow. She pushed up the backpack to balance it better, as she had done so many times before. Then she started walking towards the bus. There would always be a connection. Another train, another bus. So this was autumn. So the journey was almost over. So the summer was over. But there would be other.

The driver, sitting at the wheel, put away his newspaper when she climbed aboard. She smiled at him.

“Une. A Vézelay. S’il vous plaît.”

story excerpt