The Last Train to a Heavy Heart

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HE SAID he was eighty-seven, but he looked older.

He wore old jeans, a blue faded flannel shirt, and cowboy boots that hadn’t been polished since he last walked the back pasture.

He no longer owned a back pasture.

His hair was gray and thinning.

He wore a smile on his face and had a twinkle in his eyes.

He was on his third cup of coffee when I met him.

I was new in town and had wandered down to Haley’s Café to sit for a while with the farmers and ranchers who came to town every morning to watch the sun top the rise just beyond the cotton gin.

The old man said his name was Fitzgerald.

Everyone called him Fritz.

He kept glancing up at the clock behind the counter.

I could tell he was nervous.

Maybe he was just impatient.

The hands on the clock were moving slow.

He usually had eggs for breakfast, Fritz said.

Fried.

Topped with cheese.

Drowned with hot sauce.

He didn’t have time for eggs this morning.

“I’m in a bit of a hurry,” he said.

“Going some place?”

“I am.” His grin widened.

“Out of town?”

“Down to the depot.”

I shifted my gaze to Delbert.

He shrugged.

He took another sip of coffee.

“My boy’s coming home today,” Fritz said.

He sighed.

“I haven’t seen him for a while,” he said.

“Where does he live?” I asked.

“Da Nang.”

“Vietnam?”

Fritz nodded.

“He’s a soldier.”

“I appreciate his service,” I said.

“Thank you”

“Charlie is a platoon leader,” Delbert said. “He’s one of the bravest boys to ever come out of the town.”

The old man nodded, and the twinkle faded from his eyes.

“He earned himself a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts,” Delbert said.

The smile returned to the old man’s face.

“Charlie’s a good boy,” he said. “Charlie’s coming home today.”

Fritz looked again toward the clock.

It was eight minutes past seven.

“Better get going,” he said.

The old man stood, picked up a straw cowboy hat from the back of his chair, and placed it on his head.

He pulled it low to keep the morning sun out of his eyes.

The twinkle was back.

We watched him shuffle out of the café.

“Fritz goes down every morning,” Delbert said.

“Where?”

“The depot.”

“Waiting for Charlie?”

“He always knows that today’s the day the boy gets home.”

There was a strained sadness in Delbert’s eyes.

He stood and drained the last drop of coffee from his cup.

“I always go down and wait with him.”

He tossed a couple of dollars on the table.

“A man shouldn’t have to wait alone,” he said. “He gets real lonesome about noon.”

“Charlie’s not coming home today?”

Delbert shrugged again.

“The train hasn’t run since 1982,” he said.

 

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