Last Day

James drew four boxes on a page of graph paper and connected the boxes with some lines. Then he drew some more lines in light blue ink, and some circles. He took a fine, gold-tipped fountain pen from the pocket of his brown dinner jacket and drew a small seahorse inside each box, the fourth one with a unicorn horn. The 87 Pacific clattered by outside the window, sounding a shrill whistle. There was also a woman’s voice calling something. James thought he heard his name. He set down his pen, heading to the window. He drew open the blinds and pushed up the sash. The world outside was humid and green. A woman stood below the window, face glowing in the twilight. Her grey dress was decorated with a pattern of purple and red orchids. She extended her bare arms up towards him. Quickly! she said, with a glance back in the direction the train had gone.

James reached out the window and took hold of her small, moist hands. He held tightly so she wouldn’t slip out of his grasp. Her hands in his, she stepped her high heels against the stucco below the window until she reached the top. When he’d gotten her inside she dropped down into his chair. Who drew this? She asked, looking at the lines and boxes and sea horses. You?

Just then Mermachree burst through the door. Did you hear anything strange? Mermachree asked. We heard some things. From the train! There was somebody out back. Did you see anything funny? James looked over at his desk. The woman had disappeared. Maybe she was hiding behind it? I heard, James started. I heard… heard, uh… a whistle.

The whistle of the train. Of course. But any voices?

Well, I suppose I heard voices, probably people in the dining car.

You wouldn’t have heard that. Mermachree glanced at the drawings on the desk. Who drew those?

I’m not sure… I—

What do you mean? Mermachree paused. I was just about to praise the artist. Hey, relax James. It’s Friday. He patted James on the shoulder. But then Mermachree coughed and spat and collapsed right there on the floor. The woman revealed herself from the shadows. She placed a bloody butter knife on James’ desk.

James looked down at Mermachree. He dropped down on one knee and turned Mermachree’s body over but it had gone cold and stiff. Blood spread on the dark hardwood.

I’m taking these, the woman said, lifting the drawings carefully from the desk and folding them into squares. Then she was gone out the door.

James stood and pulled some tissues out of a box to wipe Mermachree’s blood off his hands. He pulled his cell-phone from the charger and entered 9-1-1. But before he got through to a dispatcher he’d put down the phone and was climbing out of the window, lowering himself down to the gravel by the train tracks. Another 87 Pacific train moved slowly past. At just the right moment he jumped half onto a flatbed train car. He swung his legs up and held on as the train accelerated. The whistle blasted, sounding like an alarm. Lying on his back he took a nail and scraped Mermachree’s blood from under his fingernails. When he was satisfied he’s gotten all the blood off he closed his eyes. The train rattled on, taking him further and further away from his usual desk and the cell phone that wouldn’t stop ringing.



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