“Before the wind changes,” he used to tell her, “smile, before your frown is captured forever.” He used to squeeze her cheek between his thumb and fingers. Knot her hair in his palms. Grab her nose and convince her he’d stolen it. 

At the train station she sits with a coaster her grandpa had given her to use as a bookmark. Taking an aniseed imperial and placing it on her tongue, she closes her eyes. The coaster is stained with past conversations over the kitchen table. She feels for the crescent moons his cups have left on the paperboard. It still retains the smell of his old ale, and the feeling of softness around the withered perimeter.

A signalman is sat in his high office whilst a butterfly is droning out on the tracks – listening to the steady metal whisper of the rails. No matter her efforts the words in her book have become indistinguishable shapes. A puddle at the edge of the platform reflects a wondering cloud floating up above.

At last her train appears. The butterfly rises into the air just seconds before the train stops at the platform. 
“Do you want this one?” the train driver shouts from the window, “there won’t be another one going in this direction till tomorrow.”
“No, thank you” she smiles. The wheels on the train begin to chug away. The signalman watches the line of carriages fade behind the distant forest. She walks into the building behind her and slots some coins into a payphone. 

“Hi, I’ve missed my train. I won’t be home tonight. In fact, I won’t be home again. Time changes me over and over. The wind latches onto my wings knocking me off balance. I ask myself, if I could choose my path and who I will become, would that be a life worth living?” 

She hangs up and walks into the toilets. Platinum beams of light hum above the cubicles. Outside, the wind begins to change. The ghosts of conductors whistle and scream in the gust. It howls into the toilets and all around the small lobby, mercilessly pushing the butterfly against the wall. It beats its delicate wings frantically.

As she looks in the mirror, her face begins to change. The reflection ripples like a pond surface. As she closes her eyes her body begins to grow smaller, her chest deflates and her vest becomes a summer dress swinging about her ankles. She has become a child - too small to see herself in the mirror. By consequence, the wind calms to a soothing breeze. The butterfly lands on her shoulder as she walks over to the puddle. She sees two chestnut eyes staring back, olive skin, and a cloud making a halo above her brown hair.

The signalman ends his shift and shakes hands with the next worker. The night signalman is 79 years old but refuses to retire. She knows this, and clutches the coaster as he ascends into the white signal box. She walks over to the opposite platform and knocks on the door. 

“Hello dear,” he says crouching on the bottom step. “Are you lost?” 
“No” she says in her new, youthful voice. She pulls the coaster from her pocket and gives it him. She sees his eyes widen and hears his huge inhalation of the twilight air. 
“Where did you get this?” he asks in bewilderment. “I gave this to my granddaughter.”

She cannot help but sob. Each sentence that she conjures in the back of her mind cannot climb over the mountain that grows in her throat. He sits her in the signal box and dials a few numbers. 

After the phone calls, he sits on the floor beside her. “My granddaughter went missing at this train station 15 years ago. I never found it in me to retire, for every night I hoped to see her return. Any trace of her would surface just as long as I’m patient, I thought. And here it is,” he waves the coaster. He gives her a toy train from his desk that soon becomes wet with tears.
“Before the wind changes,” he says, “smile. Before your frown is captured forever.” He gives her a tissue.

She wishes she could stay here and watch the cargo trains pass through the veil of night. See her grandpa flick his switches. Watch the sunrise. But a few knocks come banging on the door, and as his back turns, she jumps out of the window. 

Looking up at the tower – a tear drips onto her cheek as she walks away into the thistles, and the little butterfly arches up, into the abyss of night.

Published by L Worthy