Frozen, Briefly

The train halts. Beside the platform, a young mother holds her daughter’s hand. The girl is dressed in a red petticoat, the hood flapping carelessly across her back. One leg swings aimlessly – white cotton tights, gripped by a polka-dotted rain boot, greet onlookers with a clumsy hello. People scurry across the platform with brown paper bags, yellow plastic grocery bags, purses clutched against their sides, briefcases swinging purposefully, large duffel bags weighing down a lopsided shoulder.

The little girl hops on to the train. The mother follows absent-mindedly, responding only to the tug of a bright red mitten but not to her daughter’s voice. She grasps a yellow plastic grocery bag, filled to the brim and stretching thin with the weight of its contents. Her face and boots are worn, older than she is, with creases in all the familiar places. Her chapeau is young – slanted blue wool with a dash of feather on the side. Her hands seem to be the most comfortable part of her – calloused, ringless, tightly clutching the bag. A pale blue watch across her wrist – she glances at it but does not react, as if time will not make the difference.

The little girl – bright red bow in a bouncing cascade of blond pony tail. She hums to herself, tilts her head in different directions, almost upside down. A man in one of the nearby seats glances at her with half-interest, eyes almost but not quite lit, considers smiling – but refrains. The lines of his mouth barely curve upwards. The little girl continues on, twisting her head all the way around towards her back, her chin nudging against the edge of her hood.

The mother looks straight ahead, a steady, tired gaze, as pipes and darkness flash by the windows. What is this world made of, after all? She wonders. The measured hesitation of a stranger. One polka-dot rain boot hovering on a platform edge.

More than ever, the bags we heave as the muscles of our arms reach pure exhaustion. As the world flies by, we clutch them tighter.

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