Snapshot Stories: The Platform

Snapshot Stories is a series of short vignettes based on old photographs. This installment features Poughkeepsie, photographed by André Kertész in 1937.

The sun had staked out its ground on the platform, leaving little room for the few would-be passengers to stagger themselves comfortably. If the train would ever arrive, that is. Ten minutes past the scheduled arrival suggested to Martha that she may remain on the platform forever. And yet no one seemed inclined to do something about it. She looked at her uncle, his white trousers staggering the line that she was not allowed to cross. As usual, he had started to pace up and down the small sliver of shadow as soon as they arrived and was now muttering to himself.

“I swear if this train doesn’t come in the next three minutes I’m complaining to the station manager. The tickets are too expensive to make me wait in this heat.” He rolled up his sleeves in the vain hope that a more stern attitude would will the first sign of steam.

Bertie was settling into the relaxed haze nicely. He had removed his hat, tucked the day’s newspaper under his arm, and was content to catch snippets of strangers’ conversation. The first five minutes of idleness had been enough to convince him that he could spend his entire life free to observe the slow movements of shadows and figures across the station. Now Bertie felt the first sparks of resolve. The solitude of a train’s journey would allow him to anchor these wandering, amorphous thoughts into a story. Yes, his pen would fill napkins and margins the moment he took his seat. By the time he arrived in the city the masterpiece would be ready to send in to the Atlantic. The rush of excitement had overwhelmed Bertie and he decided to conserve his precious energy for the productive journey ahead.

“Look, George, the flowers are withering before our eyes. They’ll never make it to New York. How embarrassing for your sister who so graciously let us stay with her while you get your award. Have I given you the list of places we absolutely must visit? Well, anyway, let me remind you while we still have a moment.”

Her voice drifted into an endless list of lunches and bookstores that George could recite in their precise sequence and duration. He felt a sudden jolt of doubt about his right to be standing on this platform. Why would anyone care to award him for his examination of Ovid’s Apologia? It was a joke, a way for the other professors to laugh at him while he spent the weekend wrapped up in awkward dinner parties. George turned his back to the tracks. Perhaps there was still time to dash up the stairs and return to his study. He would find an excuse. The faint sound of a train horn determined otherwise.