TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 42 (EXCERPT)
Hawking up phlegm and spitting it out with revulsion, Olesya crept over the tanks. She intended to open the door and crawl through the next compartment to make her way out the back. If it was jammed, she thought she could try reaching up and climbing out of the window, although she wasn’t sure how she’d do it with the pain in her shoulder. And her hands were bound to get cut on the shards of glass that rimmed empty weatherstrip in coruscating diamonds.
“You’re leaving me,” said a voice behind her. “Just like that. Leaving your old broken papa to die.”
A hair-raising shiver swept Olesya from heels to nape. Blood rushed out of her limbs and funneled to her gut where it froze in a block of ice. Slowly, breathlessly, she turned around.
Her father stood at the opposite end of the carriage, dressed as he was dressed that day he left and never returned, in his best navy suit, warm leather boots, a sheepskin coat, and his favorite fur hat, the hat that would cost him his life. His image shimmered in the rising heat, but it was so strong, so real, like time itself had warped at the edges and pedaled back some eleven years.
“You always wanted me to come back.” He took a step, stretching our both arms the way he did when he wanted to sweep her into a hug. “Well, I came back. For you.”
Olesya’s face contorted with piercing pain. She sucked in a strangled sob. Disparate strands of grief bound her like ropes.
“I missed you,” she said. “I missed you so much.” She stretched out a hand and burst into tears.
He took another step. “You wanted me to see you dance Serenade. I have arranged it so I could see it, and I saw it, Olesya. I saw it, my dear girl.” He smiled his kindly smile, the one that lit up his eyes. “It was magnificent. I think you are a very talented dancer.” There was pride in his voice, so much pride.
Olesya’s chin trembled, and she wept, openly, freely. “Thank you,” she choked out between sharp intake for breath, “I’m...so happy...you liked it. So happy...” She wiped her face, glancing around for a weapon, anything. A broken pipe, a shard of glass, and this made her cry harder. She shook like a leaf blown by the wind, knowing what she had to do, and putting it off, putting it off for as long as she could.
Her father advanced. He was within reach now, and Olesya could see through him. He was the train’s last effort to conjure up a way for her to stay, to go up in flames and perish with it.
“You’re good, Olesya.” He said. “Very good. Don’t you quit, don’t you ever quit.”
She shook her head, her face scrunched up, a hand over her mouth, water dripping from her chin. Dripping.
“I’ll never quit, papa. I promise.”
Oh, how she wanted to fall into his arms, to press her face to his shirt, his checkered shirt that smelled like freshly ironed cotton and, faintly, like his after-shave cologne. He would wrap his arms around her and rock her, and whisper silly nothings that would sound so comforting. And he’d tell her a joke or two, and she’d nuzzle into his chest and snort with laughter. And he’d pat her on the head, and kiss the crown of it, and tell her he loved her.
Her yearning became a wish, then a desire, then an overwhelming urge that made her lean over. Heat scalded her face, and she recoiled, momentarily sober.
The thing in front of her was not her father, it was a mirage. A very believable mirage, but a mirage nonetheless. And she understood, understood what she had to let go.
(Illustration by Lukas Brezak.)