There’s something about a train station that makes everyone look like they’re in a movie. I couldn’t help smiling, as I waited with Dad for the 3:12 PM Princeton Junction train to New York Penn Station that was running thirteen minutes late — now eleven, corrected the friendly female recorded voice.
But that was okay. I looked around and smiled, at the curly-haired brunette lugging her large suitcase and violin past me, the frigid February air fogging her black-rimmed glasses.
The slick, bearded 20-something-year-old with skin the color of coffee and a Starbucks cup of it in his hand was making conversation with a stout, stubbly guy sporting only a sweatshirt to fend off the cold.
There was a young woman with dark blonde hair that flipped out at her shoulders and moved with the wind as she sat alone on a corner bench, hands gloved in black leather and clasped in her lap while her eyes roamed.
The couple next to us was huddled together and talking quietly; when they laughed, it was as if they were spilling a secret, and, forbidden or not, it was a beautiful thing to hear.
We all waited in the cold, some hopping or rubbing arms, but most standing still.
The trains that passed before ours were fast. When the first one went by, Dad and I were so unprepared for the speed of it that we both shouted and turned away, arms around each other to form some travesty of a shield. But I was smiling when we came out of hiding.
And I was still smiling when I looked across the tracks to see a newcomer, insolated by a puffy yellow coat with the hood up, legs clad in dark blue jeans, and an Adidas satchel hanging from one shoulder. When I finally made it to his face, he was looking at me.
Automatically, I looked away, but then the after-image in my mind made me turn back. He was still looking, just for a second, and then the contact broke.
In a bout of insanity, I thought he might be in love with me.
(Was it the fitted white coat that did it? My wind-blown hair?)
I laughed at the sheer absurdity of it and continued looking at the movie stars around me.
As train after train roared through the station, they began to leave, each of them in twos or threes or all alone.
Those of us still waiting shifted. We shivered as wintry air breathed into our jackets, shuddered as it dragged its fingers almost imperceptibly along the backs of our necks. I thought of Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" and wondered: were we petals, or ghosts?
My thrill at being on the set of this station diminished with the amount of people remaining, and at last the icy assault of the wind managed to steal my smile.
Perhaps I had merely become a part of the film.
I transferred my bags from one hand to the other until a sudden insight made me leave them on the ground.
I had brought sunglasses, and I couldn’t fathom why, but I saw it fit to wear them at that moment. I told myself it was the blinding light reflected in the snow that made me pull out my plastic diamond-studded shades, although why I had to justify it to myself at all, I can’t say.
The female voice-recording announced once again that the train to New York Penn Station would be eleven minutes late.
More and more trains that weren’t ours went by, and I wondered if everyone else was imagining a person in front of them every time, with the objectively curious afterthought of that abrupt, momentary impact lingering in the snowy wave of February air left in their mechanic wake.
The next time I turned around, someone was smiling.