In a time and place we've all been before
The lightning without thunder illuminated the night near summer's end. Soon the winds would pick up, then the thunder would follow and finally the rain would break the heat, acting as a pathfinder for the upcoming coolness of autumn.
A young couple sat in one of the booths of The End of the Liner diner. They had different things on their minds than the weather and the arrival and departure of the trains from the nearby station on the North Shore Railway line where their streamliner diner had once travelled...
'Why is it over?'
'It just is, like the changing of the weather or the seasons. It is...then it was...'
Her answer had set his head to spinning even more than her surprise announcement that their romance was finished.
'What have I done? Please tell me.'
'You haven't done anything...you just are...but you're someone I'm not going to spend the rest of my life with.'
He was trying to remain as calm as she was; but she was more than calm. She was not quite icy, but she was very machine like, as if she had said these same lines a dozen or more times before in a dozen or more other places to a dozen or more other men...
'I can change...'
'No, you'll never change. Some people think that's a good thing. As you always say, "what you see is what you get". I'm always different. I'm a different person to my parents or to those at my office than I am with you, or with anyone else. I'm different now to what I was before.'
He stopped himself from wise cracking, Adventures in Schizophrenia.
'You're the most important thing in my life, and I'm about to lose you! I can't understand why, please explain it to me in words of one syllable so that I can understand...'
What had started off as their usual late coffee and dessert following their spaghetti night dinner date at Louie's Italian Restaurant, viewing a second run double feature at the neighbourhood North Star cinema across North Avenue from the restaurant, travelling by the penultimate streetcar trolley to the trolley terminus near the diner, then seeing her off at the railway station to her short trip back home until their next date had turned into the equivalent of a Doomsday atomic attack on his world.
Like the tales of the doomed drowning man going down for the third time viewing his entire life passing before him, he searched his memories for any telltale hints of him upsetting her, or of her signalling her intention to terminate their relationship, but he could detect nothing. He hadn't brought an umbrella along either.
Bang! Their sunny Sunday afternoon penultimate date in her town entered his mind. Between leaving the drugstore soda fountain cooled by the ceiling fans where they enjoyed ice cream sodas on the marble topped counter and before they bicycled down to the great lake to slowly saunter by the salubrious shore, they paused in front of the dimestore. The window display featured a Nuremburg Rally of rows of yellow No. 2 pencils, green and yellow boxes of Crayola crayons and other school stationery with a sign reading Back to School for the Kids!...He nostalgically lamented,
'It's the end of their world...'
'Only for the ones who'll never get anywhere.'
'You're nice, a real gentleman. You're kind, loyal, you make me laugh, and I feel secure when I'm with you, but you're not a man who can raise a family. You don't earn enough income that a family would need, and I can't see you getting a job that would pay you that much in an eight hour a day five days a week job where you'd be around for your wife and children.'
'Have you found someone who meets those qualifications?'
'Not yet, but I do know that to find that person I can't be...'
'Wasting your time with me?'
'You said it, not I. It's truly been pleasant...and fun! You're a fine companion, and you listen. You're just not husband and father material, you're not a great provider...', for the first time she seemed to acknowledge that he was hurt, 'We'll both have fond memories.'
The winds outside had picked up...
'It's going to be a bad one, Donald!', laughed an old man sitting at the counter who was the only other customer.
Mr. Barthelme, the former railway man now the diner's proprietor agreed,
'It is going to be a bad one.'
It is a bad one, and it isn't the storm.
He couldn't ever recall her using the word 'fond' before. Fond memories sounded like a phrase that she picked up from one of the films they seemed to have enjoyed. She now used it in her departure announcement to terminate their relationship, or was it an affair?
He remembered the time the pair were inside the cavernous cathedral like interior of the large metropolitan railway station they once travelled to and from on a date. He imagined the public address announcement through the Terminal of Terminal,
'Final call for the relationship going west on Track Seven! Stopping at Hurt...Pain...Regret and...Bitterness where your relationship terminates! Change at Regret for the express to Suicide! Alllll...aboard!'
'Walk me to the Depot?'
He reflected that a depot is a storage facility, in particular, a warehouse building at a station, a station is along the line, a terminal is the end of the line; depot to her was terminal to him.
His lifelong eccentricity that became an idiosyncrasy, then became his ideology, 'your idiosyncrazy', his barrack room comedian had called it, was to discover the exact difference between similar words, then use only the proper one in its proper place. His barrack room psychiatrist had diagnosed his 'idiosyncrazy that you believe gives you security and peace of mind' as his subconscious need to make sense of a mad world no one could understand by putting everything in its proper place as his platoon sergeant barrack room dictator demanded he and the rest of his platoon did with their clothing and equipment. His barrack room philosopher reflected that men sought relief in physical activity, women in emotional activity; therefore an affair was physical, a relationship was emotional. He learned a lot in the army...
He had held off, biding his time until he felt she was ready for lovemaking as the first step to truly being together, ergo he had acted like a woman...Next time go for an affair first, then the relationship?
An idiot is someone who lacks intelligence. A fool is someone who acts unwisely.
He paid Mr. Barthelme who had a sympathetic look in his eye; he no doubt had seen their dinner theatre skit on countless occasions performed by other tragedy duos. Near the diner's door was a large framed print of Nighthawks. Those in that timeless painting had seen and heard it too, for the print and the proprietor were always there...
The whistle stop station was a very short walk from The End of the Liner across Western Avenue. Ominous thunder had joined the lightning and the winds, the moon and stars were rapidly vanishing behind the advancing clouds. The good news was that following the departure of her train there wouldn't be a long wait for his trolley home.
He realised that both her train and his trolley were the final ones of the night...had her exaggerated taste for the dramatic or the bizarre pun manifested itself in her deliberately timing her actions with their time and location? Her idiosyncrasy was always doing the right thing at and for the right occasion.
Her voice was clinical, like a surgeon performing an autopsy for students.
'Would you have preferred that I had a suitable relationship already organised before we split up? I'm not the type who could engage in two relationships simultaneously.'
'I guess there's merit in what you say...'
He walked as if he were a sleepwalker, then they sat on the bench to await her train. First the headlight appeared in the distance, then the sound of the engine, then its whistle as it neared the station.
A time for everything and everything in its proper time. A place for everything and everything in its proper place.
On his last day in the army his barrack room soothsayer predicted that he would spend the rest of his days reasoning, rationalising and relating his life rather than living it. His barrack room brains trust agreed. Maybe he should have reenlisted?
What would he do in their final moment in time together? Should he give her a passionate kiss, a sharp slap on her bottom or throw her in front of her train and shout 'Anna Karenina!' That would be a classic...
There was time for one more question.
'How often do you do this? Terminating relationships...'
'Not as much as I should. A woman has a biological clock; as she gets older the clock ticks faster. She doesn't have as much time as she once did, so she has to be ruthless, like throwing things away when you live in a small apartment.'
'So now you're throwing me away. Was I a mistake?'
'Maybe, maybe not. I've truly had a wonderful time with you, I know I'll look back in happiness at our times together when I'm raising my family.'
The train stopped at the platform, the doors opened. No one exited the train; the eagle-eyed Mr. Barthelme turned off his diner's lights.
Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen and See You Later were out, did he really want her to Farewell and have Good Luck?
She spoke first,
'Drop dead', he replied.
'Pleasure of love lasts but a moment, Pain of love lasts a lifetime.'- Bette Davis
Author Notes: My 50th story!!!! Thanks a million everyone around the world for being so kind and supportive for a madman's memories, self indulgences, stream of consciousness memories of things that happened and things what if...all of them came alive because of you! Cheerio!