All the tables at the Amtrak station cafe were taken. Tom wanted to sit alone, it was raining and he had already missed the first scheduled train that morning. Punctuality was a point of pride for Tom, but he'd have to swallow it down today. His car had been rear ended in the morning traffic jam. Driving on the 99 in Sacramento was always like this during the rain. It was usually someone else, but today was just his luck.
Tom didn't care about the damage, it was an old car after all, but the administrative detail of calling the insurance company had drained his energy. The other party had accused him of not turning his lights on, a bogus claim. He'd need another coffee later.
Dave wasn't happy when Tom called. With the rear bumper the way it
was, he didn't trust the two hour drive. “You're killing me,” Dave
You'll live, Tom thought of saying but instead he said, “I'm sorry. The next train won't leave until 9:40. If the morning's no good, I can wait until the afternoon. I'll let you know.”
“You better do that.”
Tom looked around the cafe; there was a space at one of the circular
tables in the back. A woman in a beige trench coat with black hair was
seated there. Tom walked over and smiled. “Do you mind if I sit here
for a while?” he said.
The woman looked up from her thick spiral notebook, she was drawing and had a set of color pens laid out in a silver casing on the table. She nodded without answering. Tom returned the nod, smiled, and laid his bag on the empty chair. “I'll be right back.”
He took a step, stopped, and turned around. The woman was absorbed in what she was doing. She was likely a few years less than 30, likely around his own age.
The Amtrak station is always is full of morning commuters. When his license was suspended, Tom took the train often to get to the Bay Area. Most of the people were on their way to San Francisco, Oakland, and the in between places like F airfield and Vacaville. Some were on their way back. The busiest days were at the beginning and tail-ends of the week, Monday and Friday. Tom liked to sit in the rear train car where they kept the lights off and asked the passengers to silence their phones.
“What can I get you?” the barista said.
“Just a medium coffee please.” Tom said.
“Sure. You're just in luck, I have to make a fresh brew,” the barista said.
Was he really in luck today? Tom thought.
“Do you want a number two or three?”
“What's the difference?”
“The two is lighter so there's more caffeine in it.”
“I'll take the two,” Tom said.
“And your name?”
The barista raised an eyebrow. Tom liked giving fake names for the reactions.
“Okay Sirius. I”ll have that right out.”
Tom stood to the side of the line and let his eyes drift to the table where he left his bag. The woman's pen moved less fervently now. In the rush to find a seat, he hadn't looked to see what she was working on. The full set of color pens intrigued him. Now he wondered. Maybe she was an illustrator or designer hurrying to get a few concept sketches for a client later in the morning. She was smartly dressed in work clothes but was still casual in a pair of completely black Converses.
Throughout his life, Tom had always run into illustrators and designers. Both of his past two girlfriends were illustrators. He did not actively seek them, they just happened to be. It was apart of his own idiosyncrasies. Like the names at the coffee counter.
When they were together, Tom would spend hours on the weekend watching them work. He had converted the basement of his home into and office, which took on the nature of a studio when they moved in. Now it was an empty space and all the easels, mattes, trimmers, paints, brushes, and t-squares were gone. After the fall-out and vowing to live an austere life full of work (Tom felt easier this way) the interiors of his apartment followed suit. Seeing the woman reminded him of that life. Waiting for the fresh brew, he began to feel nostalgic.
Tom sat down and looked at the pen set: blue, green, black, purple, yellow, pink, teal, many more. He leaned back away from the table, put his left ankle on his right knee, and peeked at the open page over the brim of the cup. They were the kind of childish drawings that only adults could master. Whimsical, slyly playful but laid-back. It reminded him of the Sunday cartoons—Tom always preferred the ones with clean simple lines—like a less frenetic version of Calvin and Hobbes.
A girl was standing on top of a clothes pile at the center of a
cluttered bedroom. Like a mountain climber, she had her hand raised
triumphantly with two golden tickets held high. The words stood off to
the side in plain handwritten print: “It might look like a dumping
place to others, but it surely is a treasure to someone. Found two
lotto tickets yesterday for $50.”
Tom laughed. “I like your drawings, are they for work or yourself?”
The woman looked up and smiled again, moving her fringe away from her face. She did not answer.
Tom wondered what the silence meant. It made him self-conscious. Had he done or say anything to give the wrong impression? Maybe she was just shy? The woman went back to her notebook and Tom went back to sipping coffee and observing.
The woman never reacted to any of the announcements, either from the station or the coffee counter. Tom took his pen out of his inside coat pocket and wrote on the napkin in front of him. “I like your drawings, are they for work?” He turned it around and slid it into the edge of the woman's view.
She stopped, capped the red pen she held, put into the empty slot of the case, and pulled out a blue one. She moved her fringe to the side of her face, again, and wrote underneath Tom's handwriting. “Personal doodling,” she wrote. She set the blue pen on the table, blew on a section of the page and closed the notebook. She was sitting up straight now with her elbows on the table and her fingers locked together, at attention.
Perhaps, I shouldn't have disturbed her, Tom thought. It was only curiosity at first that he wanted to know but now she gave him her attention. He reached across the table for the napkin. “They remind me of the Sunday cartoons in the paper. I mean that in the best possible way. I'm Tom.”
She watched his hands as she waited for him to finish the sentence. He
had almost written Sirius.
“I'm Denise. Sorry if I seemed rude, I'm deaf. =P ”
Tom noted the face. This made him smile too.
“That's okay, I've got lousy handwriting, I guess we're even,” Tom wrote. He winced as she read it, it was a terrible thing to say but she didn't notice.
Denise took the napkin and placed it between some blank pages. She
reached down into her bag and took out a small legal pad. “Are you
waiting for the San Francisco train? I am too. I was late to the
“I am. I was in an accident on the way here. What are you going to do in San Francisco? ” Tom wrote fast to match her pace, her hands moved quickly.
“That's too bad. I haven't driven in a long time...This is very nerdy, but I'm going to help out at a comic book convention.” She looked down, then away from him. Her fringe fell back in front of her face.
“Nothing nerdy about that. I love cartoons. Actually, I'm a huge Charles Schulz fan.”
Denise paused, putting the back end of the pen in the corner of her lip. “Which one is your favorite? I ask everyone this if they talk about Charles Schulz. It says a lot about the kind of people we are.”
Tom tried to draw it: one large round head, two dotted eyes, an elongated smile that curved up in the corner, and a swirly line for hair. She watched intently. The drawing was lopsided but not too bad, Tom thought. “What's yours?”
Denise took the red pen out of the case and drew a quick caricature of herself with a hair clip. She colored in the hair, which was swept to the side, with large swirl patterns. "Little red-haired girl," Tom said out loud to only himself.
Tom looked at his watch, almost 9:40. It was quite a morning, Tom didn't mind being late.