I fondle the yellow marigold between my fingers as the rusty train screeches down the track. The sun shines on me through the dark clouds and through the glass window; the wind pulls my hair out of my face.
“I love you,” says a low, murmuring voice. I turn to the stranger on my right, and then whip my head to the seat behind me.
I shake my head, amused with myself. No one is talking to me. I am alone.
I try to remember when the last time I heard those words was. Too long ago. I’m going home now, to my parents who raised me. But home with them is of one kind, while home with my husband is another. I won’t really be home till I die.
“I love you,” says the voice again.
I grip the marigold, and turn hesitantly to the stranger on my left. “Ma’am…?” I say, my voice breaking.
She is a big woman who is idly knitting a scarf in her lap. “Hmm?”
I give a tight smile. “Did you hear some feller say something?”
She narrows her eyebrows and gives a quick glance to the wild kids in the back. “Those childrens’ are a bunch of mouthfuls, if tha’s what you meanin’.”
“No, I mean,” I bent to whisper in her ear, “some feller said ‘I love you.’”
The woman chuckles, and bends forward to the young girl and boy in front of us. “You two havin’ some fun together?”
I press my hands over my face in embarrassment.
The woman turns back to me, and pats me on the shoulder. “Ah child, don’t ya cry. Lovin’ ain’t a problem. Where you’s from, anyway?”
“Kentucky.” I jab on the stem of the marigold with my fingernails.
The woman snatches the marigold out of my hand. “Don’t tear up that beauty! Where’d you get it?”
“My husband gave me a bunch of marigold seeds and I planted a garden back home. But he’s gone now. He’s passed away a few months ago.”
The woman frowns. “Well ain’t that awful. I say you’s havin’ memories from yo’ man–maybe tha’s why you’s thought a fella said he loved ya. I’m awful sorry dear. Yo’ too young for pain like that.”
The pit in my stomach deepens, and the old hurt creeps back in. “Yeah,” I say, the rest of the words lodged into the back of my throat.
“I love you,” says the voice, hushed now, right into my ears, to my heart, as if it is speaking to me. It isn’t my husband’s voice either, for it seems to have a higher sort of authority, like a father.
“Hey, I didn’t catch yo’ name, girl?” says the woman, interrupting my thoughts.
“Elizabeth. What’s yours?”
“Mabel. Nice meetin’ ya, Liz.” Mabel fondles the marigold, smiling tenderly. “Pretty thing, ain’t it. God sure knows how to make a thing pretty, flowers and girls alike.”
I grin sheepishly. “He’s amazing, isn’t He?” I think I hear the voice again, and it starts to dawn on me where it might be coming from.
“Sho’ is. And He’s right here with ya’ dear. Tha’s somethin’ ya can’t forget. He’s with ya no matter if yo’ husband is or not.”
I smile a little, but inside I’m terrified. I haven’t thought about God in so long. No wonder He’s been trying to get my attention.
“Do ya talk to the Big Man?” asks Mabel.
“Sometimes.” I shrug and stare out the window at the blurring trees.
“Talkin’s the only way you get to know the Father. Whenever I’s talk to Him, I’s comforted, you know.”
I should talk to him, I think. So I do. “God,” I pray silently, “I’m here now.” A rush of peace slowly overtakes me, relaxes me, lifts the weight off my heart. I can’t hear him saying he loves me anymore, but I know He does. I can’t see him, but I know He’s with me even though my husband is far, far away.
Mabel smiles at me. “When I get to Chicago, I’m gonna hear my husband preachin’ ’bout the mighty Lord. Yo’ invited, Miss Liz. He loves everybody so much.”
“Well, yes. But I’s talkin’ ‘bout our Heavenly Father. I hope ya know that, girl.”
“I think I do,” I say. “Maybe, probably. Hopefully. I mean, I know he loves me, I’m just trying to believe it.”
“Tha’s one step in the right direction,” says Mabel. She gives me a mischievous grin. “I dare ya to whisper that in somebody’s ear.”