The Station Mistress by Alma Twerski

Rows of pierced roses on the pedestal, hapless owls on the staircase, and then she by the entrance. Many shrugged by while others photographed with their indecent eyes. Trains could not derail if the veil was lifted. And so, each day of the station went by. Older than themselves men sat in the crumpled station corners. Their whiskers drooped by.

"Stand and growl," she breathed to herself and raised her shroud higher. In this station, there were no clocks or schedules yet all went by. Trains swiveled in and crawled out, blindly. The conductors brushed their ears while passing through the tunnel. Today-tonight-tomorrow, a tourist roped in silver stopped and whispered to the sky, "what IS the time??" and the oldest youthful men grinned. "We don't need to know, she tells us," and they pointed to a woman shrouded in heavy canvas fabric. The tourist smiled and bowed, but the Station Mistress curtsied and prayed that he miss his train. But that could never be. No one ever escaped a train's arrival and departure. Even when a young conductor with a neat and demonic beard wished to be late, he could not make it happen. Today-tonight-tomorrow, a tourist approached the Station Mistress, and asked, "what is the time?" Behind him, barely born conductors laughed. And so, the tourist walked away, snatched a meal from a vendor, and devoured it. "I won't tell you," thought the Station Mistress in reply.

Passengers who regularly traveled to this station, bowed mindlessly to the Station Mistress, and tossed her coins. A grimy, cynical boy swept them up and deposited each coin in a different vessel. Unlike other tourists who would shuffle by, this tourist asked again, "what time is it?" His face was broad and brimmed with sleepy sweetness. Shrouding her face, the station mistress thought, "there is no time," but the warm-blooded and eloquent-limbed tourist remained. Aging new conductors concealed their faces in shame.

Sunlight had to be dissected to enter the station's great hall of fatty marble and dusky iron. Most who entered it stood still, paralyzed by taps of unseen electrical fingers. "Please miss your train," pleaded the Station Mistress in her matted mind, but yet, he remained, and smiled more. A worn yet freshly starched hand appeared before her face. The tourist asked, "give me the time!" Just then, or was it later, or did it happen once, security lifted him up, their meaty hands entwined. Ornate trash bags did not receive him but a chute did.

Free of the tourist, the Station Mistress breathed under her musky shroud. Fibers of wool plucked from deliberately lost sheep clogged her nose. If only a goose feather would pierce the shroud and become trapped in a train's wheel. Waiting was still and the same drop of elixir burned on the warden's lips. He had been waiting for the same train since the day he had not arrived.

Though in a chute, the tourist and his provisions lay comfortably beneath the station's foundation. Above were the footsteps of men and their untimed children, and from the sides came irregular pacing of guards.

But yet he climbed out in a precise span of time which threatened the foundation down to a bolt. He counted each second as it slithered away—and caught up as he crawled out.

Each brick worried as the tourist crawled out of the chute and guards choked on expired dead animals. Somewhere in the station, a train tarried and passengers hands gripped windows in doubt. Older than themselves conductors coughed and lost time of their age. And the young conductor praying for lateness, he tripped over a step to his locker—and the door shut without him. Soon but not yet the cynical boys lost count of their coins and a lamp collapsed in a corner.

The tourist had reached her in twenty eight seconds, and shook her dead hand for a moment. "It's eight, and it's late."

Alma Twerski—real name unknown. Humble professional church organist with macabre and gourmet aspirations as well as inspirations. Has been published before but never apprehended. Adores cats and Jorge Luis Borges.