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Like all mothers, she’s aware of her son’s deceit.
The rocking of the train has lulled her boy to sleep. The subtle rattle of the windows has a hypnotic rhythm, lulling his eyelids shut. For herself, on the other hand, rest doesn’t come so easy.
A waiter stops next to their seats. The man is wearing a crisp white shirt and creased black pants. A burgundy tie hangs crooked off his neck. He is pushing a small trolley topped with pastries and sandwiches.
“Something to eat, ma’am?”
Her hand reaches across her lap to clutch her purse shut.
“No, thank you,” she answers.
A familiar smile slides across his lips. “Very well, ma’am,” he says, and continues up the aisle.
Tears abruptly smear the corners of her eyes. With the sleeve of her knitted sweater she wipes her eyes. You can cry all you want, tomorrow.
There is a faint smell of charcoal in the air. She knows somewhere in the front car there is a man turning his lungs black to stoke the train’s fire. “Some men are cursed to sacrifice, and some are blessed to live,” her father would often say.
Next to her, the boy snores softly. He has wrapped his body against an old green duffle bag which contains his worldly possessions. He is tall for his age. The pubescent thinness of his arms and legs is starting to be replaced with solid muscle. His hair has taken on a reddish tint. She is amazed at how much he is beginning to resemble his father.
She closes her eyes. Perhaps this time will be different, she lies to herself.
In what has become her normal reverie over the past few weeks, she is taken back to her kitchen, where her older sister, Margaret, is giving her some undesired advice.
“If you let him go, you’ll end up regretting it for the rest of your life!” Margaret is angry, bordering on contempt. A smoke dangles from the woman’s lips.
“Just look at poor Emily Grant from Bloomfield,” the older sibling continues. “For the first five months she kept getting letters from her lad, one or two a month, then they just stopped. For three months she never heard head-nor-tail from her boy, then one day a man in a military uniform knocked on the door and handed her a letter. It was in a pale green envelope. She said the first four words brought her to her knees.
“Which were…?” the younger manages to ask.
“To the mother of...”
With a deep breath, she awakes.
She looks at her son, who is still sleeping.
She had objected when he first told her his plan, of course. But he was insistent, and he had that look in his eyes — the same look her husband often wore.
She tucks a wisp of his hair behind the boy’s ear. A drop of water from the window lands on his forehead. The boy flinches, but doesn’t awake. She quickly retrieves a handkerchief from her purse, and wipes it away.
She is wearing her finest clothes. It’s nothing more than a yellow house dress stenciled with a lily floral pattern, a white belt, a pair of hand-me-down winter boots, all topped off with a knitted cotton sweater.
A few seats behind them, a baby cries. She can remember when her son was a baby. He was born with a full head of black hair. His eyes were the color of deep blue water.