Our Sunday writers love getting up early to meet up and write together in any one of Vienna’s cafes. Here’s one of the writing prompts from our last Sunday session at Cafe Jelinek:
Write a story about missing the last train.
And here is how one of our talented regular writers responded:
by Connie Phlipot
All day she had been walking. Through a city park on the edge of town, that part of town where the light fixture stores fade into the hardware stores and then turn into apartment blocks built just after the war. Hulks of ugly buildings with courtyards of scrubby growth and broken down playground equipment. She saw the heavy iron gate to the park entrance. It opened easily, with a familiar twinge of the rusty hinge.
The snow had just melted last week, melted with the killing snow of early spring, leaving puddles of gritty water along the path. Autumnal activities were now revealed as the snow retreated — condoms, hamburger wrappers, dog turds, combining into a smell like an old grocery store — the kind where the vegetables are not refrigerated — on a warm summer day.
It was not hard to walk despite the trash and puddles, so she kept going. The movement relaxed her muscles which in turn let her mind free to wander and reflect. She pulled a water bottle from her cloth sack. The plastic taste tainted the water, but was still refreshing.
On the google map, the park had appeared to be only a few hectares in diameter, but she had already been walking for a hour and couldn’t see the end of the trees. The shadows were lengthening as the early spring sun slid behind the apartment blocks. The lights lining the park allee lit up, slowly, reluctantly casting enough light to see the muddy puddles but not enough to see her paper map.
No problem, though. Ahead was a sign post indicating multiple directions. Surely this would point to the park exit or the subway.
Arkhangelsk 5,000 kilometers; Paris 2,000 kilometers, Tokyo 25,000 kilometers. One of those signs! What did the planter of such signs have in mind? To give the walker a sense of her place in the world? To be silly, to play with her mind? Where they accurate?
If they were at all accurate, she should choose the Paris sign as her subway stop should be west of this park. What if she kept walking all the way to Paris? But first she had to get out of this park.
A glint of a phone over by a statue she had not noticed before. She headed toward it.
A light man, hatless loosely curling hair fell to his shoulders, aquiline nose. All these features illuminated by the phone he was staring at, not noticing her.
Pardon? She asked not knowing his nationality, figuring this expression would do. He looked at her stonily. Stonily because he was made of stone. The statue was holding the phone.
She laughed, then embarrassed to be laughing when no one was around. Had a trickster put the phone there? Or was it new public art?
Or was she going a little crazy? To reassure herself she touched the statue. It was cold, slightly damp and hard. The phone light flickered then died out.
She continued toward Paris under a canopy of leafless trees. Once again, she felt calm. Eventually the park would end, she would find the subway, in the meantime, she was enjoying the quiet. The darkness hd hidden the garbage strewn the park and she had become accustomed to the rotting smell.
Another sign post — also for multiple directions. And for the same far-flung destinations. She had gone in a circle. A half hour wasted without getting closer to her goal.
This time she set out for Tokyo. The trees along this allee were shorter and a bit twisted, like those on a barren hillside buffeted by wind. Another half hour and she spotted a narrow path that, unlike the rest of the park, was still snow-covered. Usually, she avoided the little used paths, but since the allees had not been productive, she decided to take it.
A tricycle lay along the side of the path; a broken umbrella sprouted from a garbage can. She quickened her step at the sign of inhabitation. And then she reached a sidewalk and to the left, the faintly lit M sign of the subway.
The stations gates were closed. She searched for a sign indicating which entrance might be open. Nothing. Could it be midnight already when these suburban stations closed? Her phone was now dark, she must have used up the battery searching for maps earlier in the day.
The long blocks of apartments gave no clues. She turned away from them to the park.
That sign again. She chose Arkhangelsk and headed north.