30th Street Station
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.(Colossians 1:17-18)
WHEN ENTERING Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station from 29th or 30th Street, a traveler first notices the muted din. New age music filling the air, mixing with the echo of arrivals and departures, the sound waves bouncing back and forth, wrapping themselves around harried travelers, most dressed for success, rushing to Metroliners, shouting into bulky cell phones: "Buy!" "Sell!" "Merge!" "Diversify!" "Fire!" "Hire!" "Make that million!" "Greed, Greed, Greed..."
Celebrities and politicians–some of them regulars, such as C. Everett Koop and Senator Arlen Specter–from all over the eastern seaboard, sweeping through, their entourage of press loping behind them. Other travelers: blue-jeaned college students, their backpacks, arranged and anchored to aluminum frames; weary travelers and cranky children, clutching tattered Teddy Bears and dragging blankets, screaming in dissonance, their voices fading into the music and confusion of echoed announcements; old men and women scurrying to New Jersey transit, their jars and rolls of quarters locked up in bags, pockets, and fanny packs–Atlantic City and bust.
Overseeing the frenetic pace of travelers, a bronze sculpture on a high pedestal near the 29th Street exit, "The Angel of Resurrection," wings folded, feathers fanning slightly outward, wing tips pointing toward the ceiling, arms holding a fallen World War II soldier. An angel of travel into the otherworld, a reminder to those passing through a way station dedicated to the living.
Sunlight streaming through tall vertical windows– transporting spirits of war dead railroad workers–seven panes across the exits and 11 along the length; six marble columns at either exit; wooden benches with high backs; beige marble walls and floors tinged with veins of gold and burnt orange.
In the center of the station, a computerized flip board, clicking the ebb and flow of arrivals and departures–thousands of dramas passing through each day, and, save for the pigeons and the homeless, the actors playing their roles and moving on to other stages.
A mother slapping her child. Two inner city boys lugging a box of Butterfingers and hustling travelers into paying a buck a bar. A silver-haired man escorting a young woman–ala Courtney Love–heavily made up and scantily dressed, to the schedule board.
A stringy old man sneaking a furtive smoke in the "No Smoking" section. A teenage boy buying a Nine Inch Nails CD at Tape World.
A girl buying a pound of pistachios at Candy Express.
People rush in and out of the beiges, greens, and browns of the art deco McDonalds. Inside, accented by purple neon lights, marble, glass partitions, seashell lamps, splashy art deco posters featuring 20's and 30's cars, and dark woods, almost every table is full. Employees behind the counter bark out orders to the back, and others in front sweep up litter from the floor. A young homeless man shuffles from table to table, begging for money.
Most people ignore him. One middle-aged man, about 45, himself a bit rumpled in a faded black turtleneck and blue jeans, does not; he gives the beggar a five-dollar bill and a card.
"I can help you find a job, get you some help." The benefactor, all angle and bone, his flesh stretched and taut, thinning graying hair falling slightly below his shoulders, reaches for the young man’s arm.
The young man, shaking his head, shuffles away, then like a mechanical wind-up toy, moves toward the next table.
The middle-aged man and a slender woman drink coffee and pick at their Big Macs and fries. A bulging airline case sits upright next to the woman.
The woman, in her 30's, has short red curly hair framing an oval face. Her hair looks a bit oily and flat now, but a traveler might infer that, in less harried times, her hair would be fluffy and neatly combed. Her eyes, a startling blue, seem intense, feverish, consumptive, even. Her slightly wrinkled clothes, a white blouse and navy slacks, are at least one size too big. She wears a gold crucifix around her neck, gold wedding band on her left finger.
They both appear as if they have been awake all night. After the young man leaves, the woman leans toward her companion, and says, "He didn’t even thank you."
The man shrugs. "I can’t take it personally. Who knows? Someday, something might click, and he’ll show up at the center."
The woman stares past her companion at the beggar. "I doubt it, Jeremiah."
"It’s happened before. Remember Ed?"
"That old funny guy finger painting with the kid?"
"He was homeless?"
Jeremiah nods. "I found him here, drunk and smelly."
The woman looks surprised. "No way!"
"I gave him some money and my card. Six weeks later he shows up. Days away from death. So I help him get into rehab and AA. Clean for six months now."
Jeremiah sighs. "Unfortunately, miracles are all too rare."
The woman doesn’t answer. Instead, she picks up her sandwich, nibbles at it, and sets it down. She takes a sip of coffee.
Jeremiah studies her as she, avoiding his eyes, tears bits of bread from the edge of her Big Mac.
"So this is it, Christina," he says.
Christina sighs and stops picking at her sandwich. "I guess so."
"So, now what?"
She shrugs. "I’m thinking about quitting the show all together."
"You don’t seem happy there."
"My old job was wonderful, but now I feel like I’m working for the oppressor. I might even sue them."
Jeremiah slaps the table. Everyone in the restaurant stares at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. "Way to go! You still got Jimmy Bradford’s phone number?"
"You gave it to Kathy–"
"I’ll write it down again–"
"That’s okay. I’ll get it from her. Besides, I’m not going to do anything until I get back from my retreat."
"If you do decide to go ahead, call Jimmy. He’s the best discrimination lawyer in the state."
"We’ll see. Another thing."
"I’d like to can the segment. If you don’t mind."
Jeremiah wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.
"I can’t be unbiased," she continues. "And with Kathy leaving early, I don’t have enough footage."
"It’s okay," he says. "To be honest, I was never that wild about the idea. I agreed only because I liked your voice."
"It’s my business to make you like me."
Jeremiah touches her hair. "I wish you weren’t going."
Christina shrugs. "I have to."
He sighs. "I know."
Christina leans forward and whispers to Jeremiah. "Don’t forget to call the police."
He looks confused. "What?"
Jeremiah nods. "Oh, yeah. Her."
"They’ll be wanting to question you."
"The bitch," he hisses.
"Don’t be so harsh on her. She can’t help it."
"I just want her to get help and out of my life."
Christina glances at her watch. "About an hour now."
Jeremiah runs his hands through his hair. "Don’t remind me." He starts to open his mouth to say something to her, but then stops.
"What?" she asks.
"I know we agreed on this time apart, but..."
"But what?" She leans toward Jeremiah.
"Well, I was wondering if you’re still coming to the opening."
Christina looks away from him. "I don’t know."
"Well, it’s an idea, anyway. I think the Overtons would like you there."
"It depends. I might be in Europe."
"So I won’t arrange it until you’re back. Two months, you said, right?"
"Well, then. I’ll plan for it for some time after Christmas."
"We’ll have to see."
Christina starts to cry. "Don’t push me, please."
Jeremiah shakes his head and looks away. "I’m sorry. It’s just that...well...without you, the Overtons would’ve walked."
She wipes her eyes with a napkin. "They’re still mourning. They were about to come around...."
"No, I screwed up royally, and we both know it. The opening just won’t be complete without you."
Jeremiah brightens a bit. "Look. I’ve got an idea."
"You agree to come, and I promise to keep away from you. We’ll stand on opposite sides of the room. How’s that?"
Christina laughs. "Sounds odd."
He shrugs. "Maybe so, but it could work."
She rubs her chin and then puts her hand on his. "I’ll have to think about it." She pulls her hand away.
"You’ll consider it then?"
"I’ll write you a post card. Just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’"
He laughs. "Sounds very mysterious."
He takes both her hands in his. "You have a nice smile."
"No matter what happens, I’ll always remember this...."
"Are you going to tell the order about us and the–?"
Christina sighs, her body sagging again. She touches the crucifix. "I suppose I’ll have to tell them something, eventually," she says, putting her hands on her stomach.
"So then what happens?"
She shrugs. "Who knows?"
"No Agnes of God stuff, okay?"
"Of course not."
He looks at his watch. "Forty-five minutes now."
She wraps the remains of her meal and tosses it into the sack. She rises from her chair. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"
Jeremiah looks alarmed. "Where’re you going?"
She fumbles around in her purse. "I need to make some calls."
"Can’t they wait? I mean, our time, you know–"
She shakes her head. "I’m sorry, but I must call my mother and Brittany, before I chicken out."
"Do you? I’ve decided to tell Brittany everything. She has a right to know."
"What about your mother? What’s she going to say?"
Christina shrugs. "She’s going to be angry, but what happens after that, I don’t know."
"You might regret going back on your word."
"I promised under duress. I didn’t know any better. Besides, I was too young..." She pauses and then pulls the crucifix over her head. "Before I forget." She places it around Jeremiah’s neck.
"I can’t take this–"
"Please. Something to remember me by."
"What will your mother say?"
"She won’t even notice. I’ll buy one just like it."
He holds the cross and touches the tiny figure of Christ nailed to it. "Thanks. I’ll wear it all the time–except, of course, around Mother. She’d wonder why her Jewish boy’s wearing a cross."
They both smile.
Jeremiah rises. "I have something for you, too, but I left it in the car."
They pick up their trash and toss it into the receptacle.
"While you’re making your calls, I’ll dash to the car and get it."
He looks at his watch. "Please hurry. Our time’s short."
He kisses her hand and rubs it across his face. "I love you."
She pulls away from him. "Me, too." She puts her handbag on her shoulder, pulls out the handle on her suitcase, and tips it on its wheels. Together, they walk out of McDonalds, toward the schedule board. "I’ll see you in a bit."
"Where should we meet?"
Christina squints her eyes at the board. "My track number’s not posted yet. How about over there, at the board? Say 15 minutes?"
"That’s cutting it a bit close, isn’t it?"
She sighs. "Maybe, but I’ve got to do this. I’ll hurry."
"Well, I’ll be waiting."
As Christina walks toward a bank of telephones, her suitcase rolling behind her, Jeremiah watches her. After she slips out of view, he dashes toward the 30th Street exit.
WHEN JEREMIAH, carrying a black carry-on case, returns, Christina is still on the phone, engaged in what looks like an animated conversation.
As he waits near the departure and arrival board, he taps his foot and rolls his sleeves up and down. Semicircles of sweat darken his armpits; he wipes his hand across his forehead.
"Please hurry," he mutters. Hundreds of travelers pass by him as if he were just another bench or trash receptacle.
He sets the case down on the floor and unzips it. He removes an object wrapped in brown paper. After carefully removing the paper, he places the object on the floor.
It’s a crystal sculpture of a whale, about 16 inches from head to tail and eight or so inches high, with its tale slightly tipped. Light through the windows catches the curve of its body and its backfin, and, before long, a small group of people gather to gape before moving on. The crowd remains small, with new on-lookers coming and going every few seconds.
Christina returns, out of breath, her suitcase dragging behind her. She glances at her watch and then the board. Keystone Service to Harrisburg, leaving at 2:00 p.m., track 7.
"We’ve got about 15 minutes yet," she says, breathing hard. Then she notices the sculpture. "Oh!" She bends down to stroke it.
He touches her hair.
"Ummm," she says, slowly pulling herself up.
Jeremiah strokes her cheek and kisses the top of her head. He picks up the sculpture and rewraps it in the brown paper and carefully places it in the carry-on bag. He zips it shut and holds the bag out to her. "It’s yours."
Christina shakes her head. "I can’t, I mean, it’s just too much."
He pulls her close to him. "It’s not nearly enough. Please take it. Think of me when light passes through its body."
Tentatively, she takes the bag and sets it next to her suitcase. She wraps her arms around Jeremiah’s shoulders. "Okay," she whispers in the man’s ear. She clears her throat.
"Everything okay?" he asks, putting his arm around her shoulder.
She wipes a tear from her cheek. "It will be."
"Yes, I believe that." Jeremiah takes Christina in his arms, and they kiss, in the middle of 30th Street Station, near the schedule board, just as the final boarding call for Keystone Service is announced.
Travelers continue on their way, barely paying any heed to yet another couple about to part.
COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.