Ally fixed her scarf tight and waited in the cold for the 9:15 to the city. She pulled the collar up on her pea coat, tucked a lock of hair that had fallen behind her ear and adjusted her hat, an oversized dockhands cap she bought in Italy and thought of as, stylish. She checked her watch. It was late again, always late, and she felt the heavy shade of guilt. Twice a week she would go and twice a week it was late.
Dr. Throckmorton said she needed a hobby. But he never spoke of the frustrations in that. ‘Waiting for late trains. He knew what that would do to me. What could I expect from somebody with a name like that? A stupid name for a stupid man.’
Ally didn’t believe it was his real name either. But he knew things, secrets, lots of them. He knew everything.
She bought a Nikon with good intentions, a worn paperback, which she only pretended to read to keep conversation away, tools of her new hobby. All she needed was for that damn train to be there on time, for once, just once, and she’d know it wasn’t her fault at all, and maybe she’d be alright.
Some months past, she couldn’t remember exactly when, but she had added an element to her assignments. She would wear only her bra, panties, garter belt and stockings under her coat. But now even the bra and panties were left behind. She liked the feel of the belt though, the nylons and straps on her thighs. She left that part out when she told the good doctor she’d taken up photography. She wanted to tell him. It was her favorite part and had become the reason for doing it at all. But she didn’t.
Now she worried about the summer. She felt her breast rub against the silk lining inside the heavy coat as she swung her shoulders. She looked up the tracks and checked her watch again, 9:20.
There was another person waiting as well but too far away to see, just a black figure, the shape of a man, small from her perspective. She wanted to apologize for the late train but she couldn’t. She imagined them together like lovers in a scene of an old movie but it was too sad and she waved the thought away.
She turned and watched her breath roll out into the cold night air. She had always loved street photography, but only the black and whites. They spoke to her. The ones she saw at the galleries captivated her: shots of street performers, the young and the old, forgotten and homeless, sleeping safe in their gutters. The hookers outside the Ritz downtown hung like vapors. The souls of the city can only be seen at night.
She’d watch and wait for hours and photograph them from shadowed distant alley ways and her heart would pound for the hunt, the shot. And then she’d hurry back for the west bound home, find an empty car where she could be alone with her images, touching herself to the slow rolling vibrations of the metra. But what would she do when summer came. She didn’t know.
She took a few steps toward the man and felt her thighs rub together. The quiet whisk of her nylons made her flush and warm. She turned back and walked the other way, feeling the same as her heels clicked on the concrete. She moved her hand in her pocket behind the paperback, through a hole she had cut there and touched herself as she walked.
‘Oh, this damn train. What’s wrong, where is it?’
‘They must know about me,’ she worried. ‘They must have saw me and radioed ahead or something. Maybe the police were on their way. They would lock me away again, for good this time. They would be more doctors, question and judgments, shit.’
She stopped walking, let out a sigh and noticed her toe had crossed the yellow safety line, that sickening yellow line. ‘Stay behind,’ it said in letters large enough to see from another world. ‘Stay behind?’ She looked around in the darkness for an enforcer but there was no one there. She stepped to the edge of the platform, standing full in the caution way and touched herself again, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
A small pat of snow rested and melted on her warm cheek. She put her tongue out to catch the another, but it never came.
She looked back at the far away man and wondered if he knew. When the spring came and the nights grew warmer, he would. He would see. The whole world would see. She couldn’t wear her coat in the summer and she couldn’t go back to those dreary clothes, god awful dress’s and slacks. She couldn’t bear the thought of it. What would be the point? The photos meant nothing. She looked past him and down the tracks into the darkness. Nothing.
Her mother had notice the talent in her images. First she was shocked and angry but showed them to a gallery owner and they offered her a show, her own exhibit. Ally didn’t take it as compliment and wanted nothing to do with it. She would have to explain herself, and she couldn’t do that. She knew then that the photography was not the real hobby at all. But she knew that before, even when she was a little girl. Her earliest memories were of that self awareness and it was at its strongest in public theatre.
She checked her watch again, 9:22.
She turned, stepped back away from the edge and under the light of an iron lamp. She watched the man checking his own watch and looking down the tracks. She watched for a long time as he shuffled his feet. The urge to apologize almost brought her to tears. She slid a hand into her coat and squeezed her breast out of defiance, kneading herself, daring for him to guess her secret.
She reached into her camera bag with the other hand and pressed the shutter. The motor drive fired, capturing only the black silk inside and she closed her eyes and tried to expose her thoughts on the film. The sound and feel of the camera made her breath quicken and her inside hand moved from her breast and down passed her garters as she thought of the dark stranger.
“Look at me,” she whispered.
She stopped just before. ‘Later,’ she thought, placing her hands on her cold cheeks. She slid them back in her pockets, rocking back on her heels; she looked down at her open toed Prada’s. A gift from mother, like the doctor, like the camera, like the coat, like the hat…like the late train.
She checked the time, 9:25.
She didn’t know how much more she could stand, this waiting. ‘It’s so rude,’ she thought. ‘Why would they lie to her? People always lied, everybody. And what if it was early and she’d already missed it. What if… what if, it never came? Somebody should do something about it. They can’t just leave people standing in the cold like that. So wrong.’
“I bought a ticket goddamn it,” she said out loud but didn’t mean to.
She put her hand to her lips turned her back on the dark man. She caught her own musky scent from her fingers and kept her hand there for a while, breathing in deep. She placed the tip of her tongue on her middle finger, and then closed her lips around it pulling it out slowly. ‘What is wrong with me?’
Pulling her sleeve back she checked her watched again, 9:27.
She walked back to the edge of the tracks and looked and watched and waited. ‘How would she get her pictures if it never came?’ Her eyes moved from the lonely empty tracks to the man. He was preparing to light a cigarette and she pulled her camera and shot from the hip as he brought the flame to his face. ‘That’ll be good.’
When summer came she would have to adjust or abandon her little hobby altogether. She didn’t know and couldn’t think of any other way. It brought her to a panic whenever she thought of it. It was all she had, all her life. Twenty five years old. She couldn’t stop now. Her entire life was made up around it. It was the best thing ever and she loved it so.
A voice like from an electronic god echoed from the black sky. The 9:15 was now boarding.
‘Boarding where, Milwaukee?’ Another lie.
She watched the great light come around the bend and flood the darkness. Her heart began to pound. The warning whistle made her jump breaking the perfect silence and sending chills across her body and through her soul like it always did. She looked at her watch, it was 9:30. ‘What’s the point? What’s the use?’ The approaching engine made her body shake and her nerve ending pulsed with excitement.
She felt her mind dizzying as the long phallic engine threatened to pass her by. She stepped into the caution yellow and watched. Her breath quickened. ‘Coming too fast,’ she thought. ‘Stop, oh please stop for me.’ The whistle blew again and took her breath away.
Summer was coming like a rushing late train and there was nothing she could do about it. She set her camera on the platform, rushed to unbutton her coat and threw it off in a slump of wool to the side. She put her hands up in the light of the train. The man with the cigarette had finally noticed her.
The stop whistle filled the cold night air and rushes of hopeless melancholy filled her over.
It had started to snow and she wanted it to stop so badly. She put her arms out, closed her eyes and stepped off the platform into its drenching light.