I came across a picture that–as they often do–made me wonder at the story behind it. It was of the tombstone of a little girl, never identified (for decades) struck and killed by a train. I could have made something up about the girl: why no one claimed her body; why there was no family that came forward to grieve for her. Given the times I could see how that could happen. Only the kindness of strangers provided a marker for a life barely lived. But I wondered at how the death of a little–unknown and apparently unloved–girl could have an impact and not be swallowed, ignored among thousands of other tragic stories. That would require a witness–one that wrestled with some guilt that came with serious consequences–who was transformed, in some way. So this is what I created:
That morning of Christmas Eve, Anna fought the coldness of a soul without hope; it lapped around her, rising higher, penetrating deeper. “What to do… what to do!” she screamed inside her head. It hadn’t even been a matter of love, at least for him. She had been foolish, not thinking of consequences. The shock that came with realizing she was on her own in this still numbed her even more than the cold wind flailing the station platform. She looked around. Times were hard and so many people seemed to have no place or purpose; they drooped and shuffled as if the gusts shoved them from here to there. A few moved with a clear direction; those that had jobs to go to or the prospect of one that made them move so steadily or stand so firm with shoulders squared and head up.
Each day she saw children, too; homeless and abandoned or used by their parents, left to shift for themselves or put to work to earn what they could. Anna noticed a bright-haired girl—must be barely 10 years old—coatless, a thin blanket for a shawl, in a worn, once-sky-blue dress not so different from the color of her own, as she shivered from person to person, a trembling tray of apples to offer them. “Apple, Sir?… Apple, Ma’am?” No takers, though and she watched the little girl’s smile dip and then struggle to rise as she bravely approached the man next to her.
“Trains coming,” Anna murmured, glancing down the track as the sound grew and people started to press forward ready to board and escape the bitter wind. Giving one last try, the little girl lifted her tray to the man who, not deigning to see her, brusquely pushed by causing her to stumble and fall from the platform.
The train’s braking screech covered Anna’s scream and that of the little girl as the engine’s wheels swallowed her, spitting shreds of red-dampened blue fabric to the side of the rails. In the stark silence, Anna looked away from the girl’s mangled body and saw an apple at her feet. Stooping, she picked it up gently like she was cradling the little girl to ease her pain. As she stood—the shock at what she had just witnessed still upon her—she decided that the answer, the resolution to her problem was simple. But terribly hard to bear the responsibility she had for the life she carried inside. They—she and her child—would live. They would go on as best they could, and she would always remember this day and the little girl in blue.
Anna learned that it’s an easy decision to turn and run away – a coward’s approach to life – and that as hard as standing and fighting is to do… you have to, if you hope to be happy.