Contest #168 shortlist ⭐️

One Day in October

Submitted into Contest #168 in response to: Make a train station an important part of your story.... view prompt

39 comments

Contemporary Fiction American

I’d like to think I would recognize an October sky without the Gregorian calendar telling me to expect one. There is an unmistakable ambience in the air, offered by its clouds and the clear blue sky and the aging leaves pointing their fingers up at the daylight moon. Especially here in California, where the seasons are subtle. We have to be more aware of the details, because that’s all we get. It is a slow shift. There’s no massive exodus of green leaves, and no snowstorm announcing Jack Frost’s pending arrival.


There’s just October.


And that beautiful sky, I think to myself. Today’s is just like the one I remember from all those years ago. I certainly didn’t need a calendar then to recognize its significance.


As stark as an Eastern season change, the horizon is torn from my view with the loud roar of another incoming train. Pulled from my reverie, I jump back a bit, startled by my reunion with the bustling reality around me: families ushering their children in line, lovers kissing tears off one another’s cheeks, and the group of well-dressed individuals further away from the loading dock, holding up signs to identify whom they’ll be escorting elsewhere.


The Branciforte Train Station is alive around me, but I remain seated on a bench, waiting on the sidelines. My knees are bouncing and my fingers are diddling; I know her train won’t be here for a little while more, but I am still nervous. So nervous that I’d arrived nearly two hours early, hoping the sights and sounds would stimulate the anxiety right out of my body; but, it seems to be doing the opposite. With each train arrival, accompanied by the off-boardings and onboardings of passengers, my knees and fingers speed up.


They say when you die, your life flashes before you, reviewing all your experiences, highlighting the moments that were most significant and altering for you. While I can’t attest to this yet, I can tell you it happens in other moments of life, too, not just in the face of death. My life rushes forth to the front of my mind, as if it knows a different end is coming for me today.


I think about how when you’re young, you don’t think about consequences. Developmentally inappropriate, is the term my now almost-forty-year-old brain, full of education, reveals across my racing mind. The teenager I was years ago didn’t have the literal psychology to predict this moment would arrive one day for me.


Yet, here it is, I drop my head into my hands, rest my elbows on my bouncing knees, jiggling my whole body.


I didn’t think about this moment, when I was younger. It never occurred to me. I was sixteen years old when I found out I was pregnant. I’d had sex a total of one time in my whole life. All I could think about was how scared I was. How it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. How everyone had wanted so many different things for me that it had been impossible to decipher what I even wanted for myself.


The father wanted nothing to do with a baby. As far as he was concerned, this is was my fault. He had done his part by pulling out, therefore, whatever my body was doing was my problem. My foolish heart believed him. Funny thing how rejection has a way of plucking the chords of approval. His refusal of fatherhood or husbandry was like a favorite song ending on the wrong note, and I needed that satisfying note to hum me back to safety. I wanted his love so badly that the child growing inside me started to feel like its only obstruction.


On the other side of things, my father chose to ignore it, while simultaneously ignoring me. He continued to provide for me in silence, and the situation was not to be mentioned around him. If anyone asked, it wasn’t happening. My mother honored my father’s disregard when she had to, but behind closed doors, she was supportive and sympathetic for my situation.


Men cannot understand these things, darling, she had said. It was her way of defending us both. Years later, I'd gone through a period of anger and resentment at my mother for even bothering to fortify my father’s ignorance; it wasn’t until recently that I’ve come to reciprocate my mother’s sympathy. She was right: men didn’t and don’t understand these things. And at the time, neither did I.


The friends who remained when the news of my pregnancy got out were supportive. This’ll be over soon, they would say. As if I had the flu.


You see, there was not a single person in my life who even considered an alternative to giving up this baby. 


And while the budding mother in me tried to speak her piece, the adolescent in me was so scared of giving birth, and of losing the life I felt was just beginning. I was so scared of being pregnant and of feeling a small thing grow inside of me, all while I, myself, continued to grow. I was scared to give it away, but I was even more scared to keep it. That fear blinded every other thought.


So, to me, there simply was no option.


And with no options to offer their potential outcomes, I truly never considered this moment, which was now racing towards me in the form of a literal train.


I tried so hard to forget about the child I abandoned, which, of course, only made it harder. And the harder it was to forget, the more I pushed myself into new directions, new distractions. I wanted so badly to live a life that justified my decision to not be a mother. I went traveling. I joined the Peace Corp. I double-majored in college. I played sports, and collected hobbies like they were McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. I avoided marriage, telling myself I’d already passed up my shot for a family.


And for what? Nothing ever made it easier.


You see, you can separate a child from its mother, but the mother will always be in the woman. There’s no erasing those experiences from a person’s mind. Or their body, or their soul, for that matter.


With all those experiences I'd desperately and purposefully placed on top of that one single experience, the only one I can see now is her being placed in my arms when it was all over. I’d considered asking the nurses not to show her to me, but I couldn’t. I had to see what I was giving up. I had to burn that memory into myself somewhere. Maybe it was self-sabotage, or Karma digging her manicured claws deep into my psyche, ensuring I would live with the decision I made every day for the rest of my life.


And I have. While I’d intentionally chosen a family for her on the other side of the country, I still caught myself locking eyes with babies everywhere and wondering… I did this everywhere, even in different countries, and with babies of different ethnicities and different genders and misaligning ages. It was like I was looking to be the mother for them all until I finally found those deep hazel eyes. Until I finally found the one who belonged to me.


I huff audibly at the thought. She doesn’t belong to you.


I reach into my back pocket and pull out a printout from that ancestry website. Despite all my looking, it was her who found me. Imagine that. An internet website bringing us together. It’s no wonder it never occurred to me that I would see her again. This wasn’t an option back then. There had been no options…


She reached out to me just two months ago, and I was both jubilant and apprehensive. Who knew the answer to your dreams could disguise itself as a tiny notification within your computer screen? That initial realization was exhilarating. Then, I was a teenager again: frightened, anxious, guilt-ridden, and looking for someone else to tell me what to do.


How will she ever forgive me? I’d thought.


I suppose the question should have been, how will I ever forgive myself, because she had been friendly and eager and curious, without a hint of resentment in her messages. I remember crying when I received her request to meet in person. I don’t deserve this, I sobbed to myself, covering my mouth and sliding down the doors of my refrigerator onto the kitchen floor.


I imagine in a traditional mother-daughter relationship like the one I’d had growing up, one that is fostered lovingly and gradually and consistently throughout the course of a child’s life, it would be the mother who has the wise words to give to their daughter; and I so desperately want to be that for my daughter when she arrives; but in our circumstance, as the clock ticks closer to her train’s arrival time, I find myself becoming more speechless.


I’m replaying the morning I met Carl and Ruby. I’m replaying the looks on their faces, a mixture of sympathy as they saw me, a small teenager who’d found herself in this most difficult predicament, and the look of utter joy when they saw the bundle of innocence curled up in my arms that would soon be theirs. I’m replaying handing her over to them, wishing she would wake up so I could see her eyes one more time, and telling myself this was the only option, that I would feel better later even if I didn’t feel OK then. I’m replaying the leaves that rushed past my car window as a gust of wind tore them from their branches, while my mother drove me out of the hospital parking lot empty-handed and with scars inside and out. And that daylight moon cradled in that light blue sky of a crisp morning.


I squeeze the paper in my hands tighter at the memory.


“Amaya,” I say her name aloud, practicing, looking at pixelated photo my outdated printer managed to spit out.


Just then, a gust of air and a loud rumble tears the paper from my hand, sending it off down the railway. Reflexively, I jump up to try to catch it, but it is a reflex without a chance. It’s gone.


The train in front of me stops, and it occurs to me that the next scheduled train was to be hers. Which means…


She’s here! I think anxiously.


I’m patting down my clothes, taming the wild hairs on my head with a quick swipe, and sliding my tongue across the front of my teeth like a nervous wreck. I take a few deep breaths, and then the train doors begin opening one by one. Passengers are ducking out quickly. My hands begin to sweat and my heart races. I’m hyper focused on the door closest to me, scanning faces as they exit. There are some with their heads down: the passengers who will find their own way home, darting off like arrows to a target; and there are others who are tilting their chins up, searching. I see their faces light up with recognition as their eyes find who they’re looking for. I let myself imagine Amaya’s face doing that…


Within minutes, the rush of people becomes a trickle, and then almost suddenly, the loading area becomes still. The train doors shut as it prepares to continue on to its next stop. I’m no longer anxious-excited, but anxious-disappointed. I look left and right, up and down the length of the railway. I see small clusters of people who are still greeting and hugging, and others who are glued to their phones, waiting for another train. But I don’t see the face I’m looking for.


I open the messages app on my phone and read the last message from Amaya. She’d given me an update, and confirmed her arrival time. There was nothing since then.


Part of me knew to expect this. I’d told myself not to get too excited. You didn’t deserve this, a tiny whisper interjects.


Defeated, I surrender an exhale and take a seat back on the bench I’d waited on all morning. I catch my head in my hands just in time for the release. The sob is uncontrollable, but quick. I’d learned that the more I surrendered to them, the shorter they lasted.


I’m wiping my eyes dry when I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. Expecting a good Samaritan, I eagerly offer my palm and say, “I’m fine, I’m fine! It's just allergies. Thanks!”


Looking to the either side of me to make sure I don’t leave anything behind, I can still feel a person in front of me. I look up, and my mouth falls open.


“Hi,” Amaya says through a shy laugh, waving her hand softly.


I jump to my feet, and I’m instantly met with the eyes that have haunted me since I was sixteen years old. Of all those eyes I’ve looked into, none of them were like these. Those beautiful hazel eyes.


A bluster of wind stirs, and I can hear the nearby trees shaking their leaves off. Something clicks inside me. Without another thought, without any fear, guilt, or hesitation, I pull my adult daughter into my arms for the second time in both our lives.


“Happy birthday,” I say.

October 21, 2022 23:41

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39 comments

Amanda Lieser
19:12 Nov 12, 2022

Hi Anne, I loved this story so much and I was so touched by this narrative. I thought that it was such a beautiful example of a challenging choice. I also loved the way you characterized these individuals. I loved how you contrasted the two different sets of parents. I also thought it was lovely how you italicized the past dialogue. Congratulations on the shortlist! It was brilliant!

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Anne Marie Miles
20:43 Nov 12, 2022

Thank you Amanda! This was a new voice for me and trying to imagine what this situation would feel like was definitely a challenge, but it guess it worked out in the end! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:07 Oct 31, 2022

First class work. Congrats.

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Anne Marie Miles
15:26 Oct 31, 2022

Thank you, I appreciate it!

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:48 Oct 31, 2022

My pleasure.

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Edward Latham
10:21 Oct 30, 2022

You built up the mother's nervousness and anticipation so well that I ended up reading faster and faster! Very emotional story!

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Anne Marie Miles
13:39 Oct 30, 2022

What a wonderful compliment, thank you so much!

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Tessa Odhner
21:51 Oct 29, 2022

Awwww. This story made me cry.

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Anne Marie Miles
22:30 Oct 29, 2022

Aw! It is an emotional piece. It gave me goosebumps. Thanks for reading, I appreciate you taking the time!

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Francois Kosie
23:41 Oct 28, 2022

Really enjoyable story. Very emotional and makes us relate to the main character. Ending was great. Well done!

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Anne Marie Miles
23:59 Oct 28, 2022

Thank you so much for taking the time to read. I appreciate it!

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20:46 Oct 28, 2022

Congratulations, a very good story.

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Anne Marie Miles
22:00 Oct 28, 2022

Thank you kindly!

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Daniel Allen
16:34 Oct 28, 2022

Congratulations on making the shortlist! This was a great story.

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Anne Marie Miles
19:19 Oct 28, 2022

Thanks, Daniel! I appreciate the support :) Honestly, shocked by this one 😅

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T.S.A. Maiven
11:20 Oct 27, 2022

Wow. The tears welling up in my eyes dont stand a chance against falling down my cheeks. What a beautiful moving piece. Congratulations on such a wonderful story that affects the senses so wholeheartedly. I love it!

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Anne Marie Miles
19:56 Oct 27, 2022

Wow, T.S.A.! You're back! I was hoping to hear from you again. Thanks for your kind words and taking the time to read. This piece was definitely out of my comfort zone so I appreciate your comments. Hope to read more from you!

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T.S.A. Maiven
15:42 Oct 30, 2022

Yes, I had a small hiatus. There was a local writing contest that I focused on the last few weeks instead of Reedsy. I must say though, I did miss the weekly contest so I'm back to work on my writing as well as catch up on reading other stories. Who knows what will be produced this week? We shall see! Have a great day.

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Anne Marie Miles
18:31 Oct 30, 2022

Glad to hear you were still writing! And happy to have ya back. Hope it's smooth writing this week :)

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Michał Przywara
20:47 Oct 25, 2022

I really linked this :) The opening is pretty laid back and slow, which really sets up the reveal. Initially we only get a faint hint that something is going on, with her bouncing her legs nervously. Then we learn about the teenage pregnancy, and that gives us some more details about the narrator, but we're still not sure who or what she's waiting for on the platform (well, *I'm* not sure. Maybe others caught on quicker.) Anyway, then we find out it's her long-lost daughter she's waiting for, and because we slowly built up to it, it had ...

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Anne Marie Miles
21:59 Oct 25, 2022

Hey Michal, thank you for your comments! I'm glad to hear this worked for you. It was much different than what I usually write and it was a bit uncomfortable for me, which is why I wanted to write it. I appreciate all your feedback and insights!

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Michał Przywara
22:54 Oct 28, 2022

Woo! Congrats on the shortlist! Well deserved :)

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Anne Marie Miles
23:23 Oct 28, 2022

Thank you Michal! Truly surprised by this one.

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Lindsay Flo
18:42 Oct 25, 2022

You see, you can separate a child from its mother, but the mother will always be in the woman. There’s no erasing those experiences from a person’s mind. Or their body, or their soul, for that matter. - This is a super powerful statement, and perhaps my favorite. Motherhood is such a unified existence, no matter how vastly different each person's experience. Great story with good build up...I kind of want a part 2 to see how she handles getting to know Amaya :)

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Anne Marie Miles
21:54 Oct 25, 2022

Ooooh, a part 2... I will consider this. This piece was a bit out of my comfort zone, and I really struggled through it , but maybe part 2 will help me improve this type of reflective narration. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment :)

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Daniel Allen
12:32 Oct 25, 2022

This is such a powerful story! So many vivid emotions combined with clear and apt descriptions. Great job!

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Anne Marie Miles
12:58 Oct 25, 2022

Thank you for your comment, Daniel! I appreciate you taking the time to read it!

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Marty B
05:17 Oct 25, 2022

I appreciated the anticipation building and building as she waited, making the moment her daughter arrived even more sweet. But I guess she has been waiting for almost 24 years and so the anticipation is huge- the size of a passenger train.

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Anne Marie Miles
12:55 Oct 25, 2022

The size of a passenger train indeed! Thank you for reading and commenting!

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F.J Red
17:28 Oct 24, 2022

Wow, I felt like I was in her head, feeling her emotions throughout this entire piece! It's so heartbreaking and multifaceted and we still got a happy ending to top it all off! Really enjoyed reading this!

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Anne Marie Miles
01:34 Oct 25, 2022

Wow, thank you! I was feeling really insecure with this piece because it's a bit out of my comfort zone, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. :)

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Helen Smith
14:06 Oct 23, 2022

A powerful story. I was relieved the mother got to meet the daughter at the end

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Anne Marie Miles
15:49 Oct 23, 2022

Thank you, Helen. It can be so satisfying to write the happy endings. :)

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Rebecca Miles
06:01 Oct 23, 2022

Hi Reedsy Sister! Having a bit of a read early on Sunday morning, German time, wondering how warm it still might be in California...this packed more of a punch than my first coffee of the day. First off, go you for not holding back on such difficult content. I liked how you flitted back to her 16 year-old self and how she had never considered her 40year-old self. I think that's so true of the decisions we make when young. The story built to some great anticipation and the double twist of the end was really effective. Good job!

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Anne Marie Miles
15:39 Oct 23, 2022

Hi again, so soon :) it's very warm here. We are still having 70°F days and earlier this week it was 90°F☀️ I love this weather so I can't complain.... How cold is it in Germany?? Thank you for reading and commenting. Quite a stark contrast from last week's submission! It was uncomfortable for me since it's an unfamiliar topic, and I struggled to fill it with genuine emotion. I still feel a bit off about it, but I wanted to challenge myself to go for something out of my wheelhouse. It's comforting to know you found a punch in it! Thank you a...

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Rebecca Miles
04:45 Oct 29, 2022

Big congrats coming your way on your second shortlist. Its words in flames in California 🏅

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Anne Marie Miles
12:38 Oct 29, 2022

Thank you sister Miles! A big surprise for me!!

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Rebecca Miles
19:21 Oct 23, 2022

90F?! That's crazy...we have had a day of unseasonably warm weather at 70F but they'll probably be snow before the month's out so I'll gladly take your cup of California sunshine😂How are the ideas for spooky stories coming on? I have zilch at the moment🤔

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Anne Marie Miles
21:00 Oct 23, 2022

Oh man, snow?? ❄️ Hope you're bundling up! 🥶 I have a few ideas percolating...I like writing dark things, but I usually don't get to write til the end of the week so many things could shift between now and then. I thought maybe the shadow prompt could be taken in a romantic way since it's a little more open ended. Maybe that'll help stir some ideas for you. Looking forward to whatever you come up with!

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