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SWC16 - Porcelain Woman

Arisia16 Student Writing Contest - 3rd Place Winner

Porcelain Woman

By Joyce Hida

    Miles of foreign countryside formed a quasi chasm between old and new for the young woman. She remained seemingly inanimate for the majority of the train ride, her long legs nestled gracefully atop her suitcase. Perched on her peeling leather seat, soft eyes set in a porcelain face kept an unassuming watch on her surroundings. She kept a pristine posture as the train carried her further.

    Only one passenger ever caught her interest. He was broad shouldered with calloused hands that proved he was older than she. As he approached her, she readied herself to decline his probably whiskey-induced preamble. When his hand outstretched and revealed a pack of playing cards, well worn and eager to be reused; she saw his amber. It glowed within his soul out through warm eyes. He dealt the cards, and they played in silence for several minutes, until her sharp eyes caught him slipping a jack of spades wrongly into his deck.

"You cheated," the Porcelain Woman stated plainly.

"So she does have her voice! I was worried you’d lost it like you lost this game," he smirked playfully. Soft golden light filtered in through the dirty glass of the train window.

"Your humor amuses me," she commented sarcastically, "What’s your name and your destination?"

"Mr. Lakefield," he said, a glint in his eye, "And if you must know, I’m going to visit my wife. She came down with an illness, and is with her parents at the moment."

"Quite interesting, a family man," the Porcelain Woman mused, regarding him with a scrutinous eye, "And your occupation?"

"Doctor," he replied quickly,

"A doctor with a sick wife? Isn’t that ironic? Could you not treat your own wife?" she questioned.

"Seems like that, doesn’t it?" he replied, "You see, my wife is not on my patient list, and I spend so much time healing others that I rarely have time to care for my own wife. Odd priorities we maintain in this world. Most of my patients write me checks in return for me giving them a simple reality check."

"A reality check? How so?" the young woman asked.

"I once looked a man in the eye and informed him that if every small pain he felt was an illness, then he must embody constipation; because he sure was a pain in my ass," Lakefield chuckled.

The young woman laughed softly, grateful for Lakefield’s woolen humor; coarse, but with good intent.

"Where’s the big destination for you, then?"  Lakefield asked the woman.

Unwaveringly, she stated, "The end." The sun’s rays seemed to cease filtering in the train window for that moment. Shortly after, Lakefield noticed the beginning steps of the sun’s daily descent into darkness.

"Ah," he said, his eyebrows raising to meet the slight crease in his forehead, "You’re one of those nomadic women aren’t you? Riding until the end of the line, far away from family."

"Hardly," she shrugged, "The way I look at it, we all ride until the end of the line. I just chose a comfortable seat, put my feet up, and came to peace with it."

"Then I think I’ll join you on the ride to the last stop," he spoke the words like a quiet revelation.

"Why are you heading to the end of the line all of a sudden?" she asked in a hushed tone.

A distant look occupied Lakefield’s eyes, as his gaze fell to the quickly passing scenery. An amber sunset enveloped the distant horizon, and for the first time Lakefield wondered if it choked the sky rather than embracing it.

"When I was a young boy, well before you were born most likely, my father worked in the coal mines. He returned home every day with soot coating his clothing and his lungs, but still he went to work the next day. He told us that his team needed him. One day he announced that he was to find new employment at another mine. His team had fallen too ill, and my siblings and I knew that he could not stand the sight of a suffering that he couldn’t fix. He switched positions the next morning."

The woman nodded in understanding, "What will your wife do, now that you have changed your destination?"

The corners of Lakefield’s mouth drew downward, as if gravity held those two specific points in a tighter grasp than the rest of the world, "My wife travelled to the last stop quite recently, in search of a doctor that had the time to treat her. So, in fact, my destination hasn’t changed that much. I assume she’ll be waiting for me."

In that moment, the Porcelain Woman realized that there is a tenderness in everyone, timid and newborn, that only peeks its head out when it sees brave souls faced with tragedy. Her right hand covered his in consolation.

"May I see what’s in your bag?" he interjected to change the topic as he saw a feather sticking out of her purse. His hands flew to grip the leather handle as if anticipating her off guard agreement. His anticipation deemed correct, and he pulled out a soft mask embedded with old, dyed feathers.

"You’re an actress," he commented, "Or rather, wanted to be."
Her gaze fell to her pristinely arranged legs for the first time the whole train ride.

"I was a child once," She said softly, "I don’t deny myself the pleasure of pretending to still be one, at this stage in my life."

"Do you reckon there’s much work for an actress out in the new nation?" he implored.

"Of course," She nodded vigorously, "Everyone is an actor in the new nation, they all pretend they left their troubles behind, that they are reborn. They wish to rewrite their own script with their bare hands. I fear that I, too, fall in their ideologies."

Her hands reclaim the mask with a gentleness that would lead one to believe she held the crown jewels in her palm. Trailing her fingers across the worn feathers, she rubbed the remnants of dye that wore off between her fingertips. The weak sunlight filtering in stroked the woman with its own featherlike touch, almost as in an attempt to claim her.

"You have been on this train for a while," Lakefield commented, "yet you’re still young."

"Age doesn’t matter, all that matters is proportion. I’ve spent much of my time moving forward on this train; far too much time, in fact. The conductor is about to throw me off." the woman remarked, "If I could but move my legs I might’ve disembarked earlier."

"I was wondering why I’d never seen your legs stir, but it seemed impolite to ask," Lakefield replied.

"Part illness, part loss of motivation; who really knows? The irony lies in that my stone legs carried me on this train," the woman laughed bitterly, "there’s not much use in this world for a cripple. But you, Dr. Lakefield, you are able-bodied. Why don’t you get off? Do you not have a child to visit?"

"I have a daughter, yes. There isn’t a more caring soul in the old or new nation, I can promise you that. Her first steps were to deliver a cup of water to me," he said, "She’s under the care of my sister, who is both able-bodied and able-spirited. She will be in good hands"

The sun sank behind dark, sentinel mountains that eagerly awaited something new to guard. The young Porcelain Woman studied him carefully before speaking cautiously and precisely.

"Dr. Lakefield, I’m afraid you won’t be able to accompany me to the end of the line. I will not have it. A body is broken without consent of the owner, but a spirit cannot be broken unless given permission. Your daughter is young but already has compassion, and that is necessary in this world. She needs you."

"She will still be compassionate regardless of my presence," Lakefield replied, eyes studying the sunset as if reading an alarming article.

"You do not understand me," the Porcelain Woman said, shaking her head, "Look around you! This whole train is full of fools going to the new nation as if there somebody will care about them. They don’t realize that they are herds of sheep, tagged and numbered in the same population, just moving to a different pasture.  New scenic nature hardly ever changes human nature. But you and your daughter are the only souls I’ve met that pack compassion in your suitcases. If you get off at the last stop and leave her traveling to the new nation alone, she will lose her luggage, and with it, the only hope for this world. Do you understand?"

Lakefield sighed in contemplation, clasping his hands together as the train took its penultimate stop. Standing up cautiously like a newborn deer, he said, "Will you be coming with me then? Would you like to meet my daughter?"

A wide smile crossed the young Porcelain Woman’s face, "I would like to," she replied, then looked down to her legs somberly, "But I did not enter this train by choice, and I cannot leave it by choice either. Best of luck to you, Dr. Lakefield. I’ll send all of your love and regards to your wife."

Lakefield nodded sadly, shaking her hand. Waving farewell to the Porcelain Woman, he gingerly stepped off the train in search of his daughter. As he looked to the horizon, he saw a pristine orb of rapidly diminishing light perched atop a peeling birch tree. Its rays, much like legs, faded, but scarcely moved.


Several hours later, the young Porcelain Woman heard the train’s brakes screech at the last stop. She was alone save for one elderly couple. The elegant Porcelain Woman uncrossed her long legs and stood shakily for the first time in ages. Clutching her soft-feathered mask, she quietly exited into the eager darkness at the end of the line.