Adam Wilson leaned his head against a window of the National Limited and studied ghosts, dancing images of the train's passengers reflected by the glass. Adam liked traveling by night when the car's interior became a cocoon against peering, prodding, accusing eyes. Not that any of his old buddies were likely to see him. No, they were still traveling first class on slick jumbo jets when time was money and money was no object.
Adam straightened in his seat, then leaned back and thought about sleep. He was tired, but sleep was not his companion. Not tonight, nor any other since his life had down-spiraled out of control.
"Who wants an apple?" A woman in the seat ahead of him opened a grocery bag. Three scrawny kids crawled over her and grabbed the fruit. "I want peanut butter and jelly." One of the children complained. "Not yet, we need to save some for later." The woman smiled.
Adam felt his empty stomach rumble, his mouth water as the fruit's sweet aroma spilled over the seat. So it had come to this? Salivating over an apple? How long was it since Adam had dined on caramel-roasted duck, succulent veal, marbled strip steak?
He got up from his seat and made his way to the platform between the coach car and the club car. Adam gazed out the open doorway into the night, his feet spread wide to balance the jerky movements of the connector. Cool night breezes drifted into the car from the doorway, lights twinkled in the darkness from distant towns. A full moon followed the car like a balloon on an invisible string.
Adam didn't notice. His gaze was pointed downward at the tracks disappearing beneath the platform. It would be so easy to jump. So easy to escape the hell his life had become. Adam smiled. It would be his final power play against those vultures circling over the last breadcrumb.
"Mr. Wilson?" A woman's soft voice whispered.
Adam thought it must have been an illusion. Nobody knew him on the train. He pulled his gaze from the ground and turned around. A thin woman with hair that shimmered in the moonlight tried to balance with the train's motion by holding one of the metal poles.
"It is you, isn't it?" The woman smiled.
"Do I know you?" Adam pulled his jacket around his shoulders and tried to appear dignified. Tried to appear as if this was exactly the place that he wanted to be, tried to appear as if nothing awful had happened and stolen his life.
"Not really, not in person, but I've written to
you several times. I'm Nadine Lovelace."
"I wouldn't expect you to remember." Nadine stammered. "I'm nobody. But I just wanted you to know, I've carried your picture in my bag for two and a half years. See?" The woman pulled a tattered newspaper clipping from inside a black clutch bag and handed it to Adam.
Adam looked at the paper. It was from the society page. It showed Adam in a tuxedo, a glass of champagne held casually in his left hand, a tall redhead in a fur coat next to him. The caption read, "Adam Wilson, Kansas City Literary Agent, signs Fallon O'Mara to a multi-million dollar book deal".
Adam frowned. Who was the man in the photograph? Adam didn't know him. Not any more. He handed the clipping back to the woman. "Then you also know that I was fired last year after my employer accused me of embezzlement."
"Can we get a cup of coffee?" Nadine Lovelace replaced the clipping to her wallet. "My treat, of course."
Adam was tempted. A cup of fresh, amber liquid pulled
from the magnet of normality.
A robed figure advanced from a cloud of gossamer mist. Adam blinked his eyes.
"Adam Wilson?" He consulted a chart.
"Where am I?" Adam asked.
"This is sort of a way station, before you are consigned to your level. A place where options are reviewed."
"Then you know I didn't have any." Adam stared at the figure and marveled that it was as transparent as glass.
"You think not?" The figure snapped his fingers and the chart vanished. A scene appeared as if being played by a projector.
Adam was surprised to see the woman from the train. Why hadn't he noticed her beauty? How had he not noticed the curve of her neck and a pair of aquamarine eyes that looked as deep as the ocean? How lost and fragile she looked! Adam felt an overwhelming urge to cling to her until he was lost in the enigmatic depths of her sweetness.
Adam watched the image of the woman fade into oblivion. "Yes."
"She marries, has children and is modestly happy. She will never know why she aches for something that isn't there."
Adam didn't want to ask the next question, forced it out of his choked throat, "And me?"
"You get an eternity to forget her."