Just After Sunset
You don't see what's right in front of your eyes, she'd said, but sometimes he did. He supposed he wasn't entirely undeserving of her scorn, but he wasn't entirely blind, either. And as the dregs of sunset faded to bitter orange over the Wind River Range, David looked around the station and saw that Willa was gone. He told himself he wasn't sure, but that was only his head-his sinking stomach was sure enough.
He went to find Lander, who liked her a bit. Who called her spunky when Willa said Amtrak was full of shit for leaving them stranded like this. A lot of them didn't care for her at all, stranded by Amtrak or not.
"It smells like wet crackers in here!" Helen Palmer shouted at him as David walked past. She had found her way to the bench in the corner, as she always did, eventually. The Rhinehart woman was minding her for the time being, giving the husband a little break, and she gave David a smile.
"Have you seen Willa?" David asked.
The Rhinehart woman shook her head, still smiling.
"We got fish for supper!" Mrs. Palmer burst out furiously. A knuckle of blue veins beat in the hollow of her temple. A few people looked around. "First one t'ing an' den anudder!"
"Hush, Helen," the Rhinehart woman said. Maybe her first name was Sally, but David thought he would have remembered a name like that; there were so few Sallys these days. Now the world belonged to the Ambers, Ashleys, and Tiffanys. Willa was another endangered species, and just thinking that made his stomach sink down again.
"Like crackers!" Helen spat. "Them dirty old crackers up to camp!"
Henry Lander was sitting on a bench under the clock. He had his arm around his wife. He glanced up and shook his head before David could ask. "She's not here. Sorry. Gone into town if you're lucky. Bugged out for good if you're not." And he made a hitchhiking gesture.
David didn't believe his fiancйe would hitchhike west on her own-the idea was crazy-but he believed she wasn't here. Had known even before counting heads, actually, and a snatch of some old book or poem about winter occurred to him: A cry of absence, absence in the heart.
The station was a narrow wooden throat. Down its length, people either strolled aimlessly or simply sat on benches under the fluorescent lights. The shoulders of the ones who sat had that special slump you saw only in places like this, where people waited for whatever had gone wrong to be made right so the broken journey could be mended. Few people came to places like Crowheart Springs, Wyoming on purpose.
"Don't you go haring after her, David," Ruth Lander said. "It's getting dark, and there's plenty of critters out there. Not just coyotes, either. That book salesman with the limp says he saw a couple of wolves on the other side of the tracks, where the freight depot is."
"Biggers," Henry said. "That's his name."
"I don't care if his name is Jack D. Ripper," Ruth said. "The point is, you're not in Kansas anymore, David."
"But if she went-"
"She went while it was still daylight," Henry Lander said, as if daylight would stop a wolf (or a bear) from attacking a woman on her own. For all David knew, it might. He was an investment banker, not a wildlife expert. A young investment banker, at that.
"If the pick-up train comes and she's gone, she'll miss it." He couldn't seem to get this simple fact into their heads. It wasn't getting traction, in the current lingo of his office back in Chicago.
Henry raised his eyebrows. "Are you telling me that both of you missing it will improve things somehow?"
If they both missed it, they'd either catch a bus or wait for the next train together. Surely Henry and Ruth Lander saw that. Or maybe not. What David mostly saw when he looked at them-what was right in front of his eyes-was that special weariness reserved for people tem porarily stuck in West Overalls. And who else cared for Willa? If she dropped out of sight in the High Plains, who besides David Sanderson would spare a thought? There was even some active dislike for her. That bitch Ursula Davis had told him once that if Willa's mother had left the a off the end of her name, "it would have been just about perfect."
"I'm going to town and look for her," he said.
Henry sighed. "Son, that's very foolish."