"Table for one?"
Chloe returned to reality through a fog, and the maitre d's face floated in front of her, tilted at a sympathetic angle with patient eyes that turned down at the corners. His whole face looked a frown, and it distracted her for a moment. He had said something, hadn't he?
"Will anyone be joining you, or do you want a table for one?"
"I - I don't know..." Why was she so disoriented? She searched her memory. The last she remembered was watching her husband's life ebb away in the recovery room. The ER had been noisy and hectic when she brought him in, but this place was quiet. "I don't know if... I think - My husband just died." The flat statement came out automatically, instinctively, although not an answer to the question.
The maitre d's face grew solemn and he bowed his head with a "Yes, ma'am," followed by a moment of silence before he raised his sympathetic eyes and explained, "This is the Grief Train, Miss."
She looked beyond the slim tuxedo before her and saw a narrow aisle between two columns of tables. She was in a dining car. "The..."
"Grief Train, yes. Will anyone be joining you?"
Her eyes warmed and the room swam as tears marred her sight. The sympathetic maitre d' made a guess. "This way. We can change tables as more arrive." He offered an elbow for support which she accepted as an automaton, and they made their way down the aisle between narrow tables on one side and larger ones on the other. Chloe allowed the tears to overflow her eyes, and her vision cleared enough that she could make out some other diners.
Another solo woman wept into her arms folded on the table before her. A couple held hands around a candle, sitting in silence broken only by choked sobs. There was a trio of children with wide eyes staring at each other wordlessly. The dining car seemed to stretch endlessly before her. The tables with more people had fewer tears, she noticed. There were tears, but there were a few smiles as the groups talked together. Grief shared, she surmised.
As she was given a small table along the side, she wondered who would join her. Her last memory was John's death. No one was at the hospital. No one knew about the accident except the EMTs and Chloe. She had to get back. "Excuse me, how do I get back?"
The maitre d' was placing a menu in front of her. He smiled his sad smile. "You have to go through the tunnel and come out the end."
"And... where is this tunnel?" Looking out the small windows all seemed dark. Was it night? Foggy?
"We are in the tunnel now."
"And, how long until I reach the other side?" Not even his parents knew. She must find a way to reach them. "I have to let people know what happened."
"The length of the tunnel is different for everyone." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You are letting people know. Don't worry. They'll join you in time."
She looked at the small, paper menu. It was divided by emotion and goal. The "Numb" heading was followed by strong drinks. She ordered the one that listed the most alcohol and waited.
Chloe had no way of knowing how much time passed in the real world, but by the time her drink arrived, the waiter escorted her to a larger table to join John's parents and her own, along with his twin sister. At least now they could cry together for a little while.
As she hugged his sister, Chloe thought they might both be sharing a long journey on this train. As sad as the thought was, she was relieved to have company.
Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.
"Sorrow Shared" came from the prompt "The World's Saddest Restaurant" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here. Writing this was somehow cathartic for me. For more of my musings on death and grief, you could visit almost any of my posts from September 2019 on. The more recent, the less heavy.