Union Station
Corinne Purtill

One of Atka's favorite things was to straighten the candy display. It gave her great pleasure to stack the Jujubes into seamless towers, to smooth the M&M bags deformed by indecisive tourists' hands. When tour groups of junior-high students pillaged the Plexiglass case she forced a grim look of disapproval for the benefit of her manager, but inside she felt a tiny flurry of anticipation and silently rooted for them to keep at it.

Her least favorite thing was to sweep up the broken pieces of Philippine-made souvenir paperweights that were sometimes knocked off the shelves. The sight of the Lincoln Monument in shards made her sad, as did the remorseful tears of children being scolded by their parents for their carelessness. When adults broke things they left before anyone could notice.

She was a quiet employee, mostly. If a customer needing directions had trouble with her accent she might raise her voice to try to help him understand, and on one or two of these occasions she thought she saw her manager glaring at her. But nobody ever said anything, and by the time she'd turned the key in the lock of her apartment on F Street she'd forgotten all about it.

There were days when the sound of the trains made her homesick, or the sight of people buying flowers and candy for the people they were to meet gripped her with horrible loneliness. It was on these days when at closing time, after the tourists had trudged back to their hotels to record the day's events on postcards they bought for people they missed, Atka would take the sunglasses off the Styrofoam head by the register. She would slip them on, fluff her white curls, and smile coquettishly into the chrome dividers of the magazine racks, imagining bright lights, red lipstick, and a cheering crowd waiting to welcome her home.

Corinne Purtill is a writer and journalist working on a non-fiction book set in Cambodia. She lives in New York.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200812ustation.htm

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of super-structure.

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