The Widow on the Train

Olivia Walters

I was traveling on the famous SNCF train in a compartment for four, but on that day, it was occupied by two.

Lucille gave me her address and made me promise I would come visit her in Paris for tea. In a matter of an hour, a widow opened up to me, told me I was brave, and unashamedly warned me against dating men of color.

Plus, not to offend, “Marriage isn’t on the list of priorities.”

It’s easy to invite strangers when you’re travelling alone. People find you interesting. In so few words: an unforgettable first impression.

She crossed her legs, and then smoothed the wrinkle that appeared on the lap of her midnight-black sheath dress. I couldn’t ignore, after settling in the adjacent seat, how conspicuously poised she looked in a pearl mink coat with a coiffured bob like Cruella Deville. 

The next few moments were passed in silence while she burned a hole right through me with her cold, pale blue eyes. 

Her name was Lucille. She’d been a widow for five years and was travelling to see her son in Brittany. We started talking after she commented on the fact that I was alone. It seemed peculiar, to her, that a women of my age wouldn’t be travelling with a man, let alone be unmarried. 

I let my guard down to look past her Victorian old lady sneer. Regardless of whether I agreed with her, she was almost seventy and was captivated by my retorts- “My studies are more important right now.” Plus, not to offend, “Marriage isn’t on the list of priorities.”

Her husband had been a voracious smoker, which was incidentally the cause of his death. Here came another life lesson. A wild hunger in her eyes never left me the longer we spoke. 

My curiosity had gotten the best of me as she started telling me about the trips she and her husband had taken to Spain during their marriage.  

Remembering Spain and her wealthy status by the pool as her husband sucked on his cigars seemed to torture her. Women twirling the Flamenco, vibrant colors, and the sultry ambiance had hypnotized Lucille and her beloved. 

I was enraptured in her throaty story-telling.

When Lucille explained that she used to own a hat boutique in Paris, I nodded in recognition of the exquisite statement piece titled so meticulously on her head. 

Once I asked more about her husband, the touchiness grew heavier between us. Tears formed in her eyes when I suggested she revisit Spain as a way to cope with her grief. It was too painful though. The woman would have cried to anyone, but lest I forget, showed no remorse in offering her next life lesson. 

It came up that interracial dating had to be one of the biggest sins a white woman could commit. Dating colored men was out of the question.

So, I added “racist” to the growing list of reasons why Lucille was crazy. 

I think because I had given her attention, she saw something in me that reminded her of what she had never been.

Before I could interview her any further, she stood up, watched as a man voluntarily pulled her suitcase from the rack above, found her bearings, and pressed firmly on the address jotted down on a scrap of paper. Then Lucille was gone. 

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