Andrew Plattner ~ Schuylkill

She spot­ted Alvin seat­ed in a pew in the 30th Street Station, dressed in a wool coat too warm for September. He seemed to be focus­ing on the dig­i­tal board that held depar­ture infor­ma­tion. She’d thought of vis­it­ing him at the WellCare Center, which he’d been moved into last month. Their daugh­ter Daphne had informed her of that.

Back when he’d been work­ing, he’d rid­den the trains. Up to Trenton or down to Towson to make his sales calls. When they had the tiny apart­ment on Bach Place, she’d walk to the sta­tion, cross the Schuylkill on the JFK Bridge, wait inside the sta­tion for him to return. Back at the apart­ment, they’d have din­ner, talk about where they might live some­day. Along came Daphne, their baby. They moved into a two-bed­room house in Cobbs Creek. She sat across the main aisle of the ter­mi­nal from him, didn’t take her eyes from his pro­file. Her train for New Brunswick was sched­uled leave on time.

She decid­ed to text Daphne. Your father is here at the 30th Street Station. Do you know why? 

A minute lat­er, her phone rang. She tugged down her face­mask. “Daphne.”

What’s he doing, mother?”

Sitting, wait­ing, I guess.”

What train is he taking?”

I haven’t the slightest.”

Have you gone over to him?”

I will.”

I’m going to call WellCare, can you stay there?”

I have a train … yes. But I can catch the next one.”

I’m call­ing WellCare, right now.”

She returned the mask to cov­er her nose. Alvin was not wear­ing a required face cov­er­ing. She won­dered if an employ­ee, a secu­ri­ty per­son, would say some­thing, but he was an old­er man and maybe they decid­ed to just leave him alone. She’d need to call her friend Patsy, in New Brunswick. They’d sched­uled a lunch date, then were going to see the 3:20 show­ing of French Exit. Following that, she’d catch the 6:15 from New Brunswick, and return. She would have to choose between the lunch and the movie. She typed out a text for Patsy: Unexpected issue, will have to take the 12:45. Can meet you at the the­ater. I do want to see how Michelle Pfeiffer is doing.

There were board­ing calls, the Acela Line for DC, Keystone Service for New York. A track change for the Empire Builder to Chicago. She thought, When you weren’t work­ing or talk­ing about work, what were you doing? Making love. She peered at him. You gave it to me good, pal. Not only me. She let it go. Once, she’d fucked an art stu­dent from Villanova, the guy had been half her age. That was a sto­ry. “Alvin,” she said, though there was no way he could hear, not over the announce­ments, which includ­ed the board­ing call for her train. He wore ten­nis shoes, mis­matched socks, one brown, one mid­night blue.

Her phone vibrat­ed. Daphne spoke, “He’s miss­ing. I told them that you locat­ed him. They’re scram­bling. They want to send some­body. But I’ll do it. How’s he doing?”

Sweetheart, he’s sit­ting in a pew.”

Does he know why he’s there? You haven’t spo­ken to him yet?”

I’ll stay here till you get here, I promise.”

WellCare is so fuck­ing under­staffed. I’ll have a talk with them.”

All right. Text me when you’re out front.”

On the Schuylkill side. Be eas­i­er for me to get back on the Expressway.”

I know where you mean.”


Daphne lived up in Bala Cynwyd, a twen­ty-minute dri­ve, maybe not even that on a Sunday morn­ing. It might take a few min­utes to walk him across the sta­tion to the Schuylkill entrance. When they’d been mar­ried, of course she could see traces of an old man com­ing, the stoop­ing shoul­ders, sink­ing cheeks. She’d want­ed him to try anoth­er line of work. She’d said that to him so many times: Do some­thing else. His response? A wist­ful smile. This is what I know how to do. The last time she’d seen him, which had been in May to cel­e­brate the grad­u­a­tion of Daphne’s daugh­ter from SJU, she thought he’d rec­og­nized who she’d been to him. At Daphne’s they sat next to one anoth­er on the couch. He’d smiled and they’d chat­ted, spar­ing­ly. The idea was not to pelt him with ques­tions Remember me? Remember when? We had a good time, didn’t we? When he said some­thing, it was all right to respond, though he should nev­er be pressed. He hadn’t said her name, but Daphne had already told her he was much bet­ter with faces.

Patsy texted: Should we do it anoth­er day? 

She texted: Michelle Pfeiffer!! (They serve wine in the lob­by, don’t they?)

If she went over right now, there wouldn’t be a lot to say. None of trains were his, not today. She closed her eyes and tried to imag­ine what he was think­ing now, though Alvin’s doc­tor had report­ed that his vision was just fine. Footsteps, con­ver­sa­tion, board­ing calls. Her eyes snapped open; he was still there, hadn’t moved.

Patsy texted: (laugh­ing) will meet you in the lobby. 

Then, she noticed a secu­ri­ty guard, a small­ish woman in a dark uni­form, mov­ing delib­er­ate­ly in his direc­tion. The guard stopped a few feet from where he sat, leaned for­ward and said, “Sir? Sir?”

She arrived right at the guard’s side. “I’m keep­ing an eye on him.”

Oh,” the guard said, straightening.

In a low voice, she said, “He likes com­ing here, that’s all. It’s what he used to do.” Alvin watched them both and she felt her fore­head crin­kling. He hadn’t shaved in days. His hair was swept back nicely.

The guard held up her hand to her nose and mouth.

I have a cov­er­ing for him, yes.” She cleared her throat, stepped for­ward. “Alvin,” she said.

Yes,” he said.

It’s me,” she said.

Yes, I know.” She turned part­way, gave the guard a solemn nod.

Well, Alvin,” she said, mov­ing clos­er. She reached for his hands, felt her­self swal­low­ing. The guard moved back. Then, she sat down next to him. She sat for­ward on the bench, held one of his hands with both of hers and he didn’t find this dis­agree­able. Her eyes trav­eled around the immense sta­tion. She decid­ed to sit back in the pew, next to him. They sat for a minute, then anoth­er, with­out speaking.

Well, your ride is out­side,” she said. “We’re all ready.”

Oh, real­ly?” he said.

She held out her hand.

Oh.” He scoot­ed for­ward. He was able to stand on his own, but then she had to steady him. The guard returned. She and the guard each took an elbow. Sunlight streamed in through the series of cathe­dral-height oblong win­dows. She’d always adored the deco-style chan­de­liers. Her heart tugged. She want­ed him to ask if din­ner was ready, what they were hav­ing. She said, “Baked chick­en, mac­a­roni,” even though he hadn’t said a thing.

Yes,” he said.

Outside the entrance that faced the Schuylkill, she told the guard they would be all right and the guard final­ly moved away. She glanced to the north, to the curve of the steel-blue riv­er. He faced the same direc­tion, but seemed to be focused on some­thing else … the Cira Centre build­ing; the blue glass and dia­mond-like design did seem rather mes­mer­iz­ing against the clear blue sky. Daphne arrived. Dressed in sweats, her hair tied in a loose bun, she took his arm. “I can walk,” he said, grouch­i­ly. Daphne closed the door after he was sit­u­at­ed in the pas­sen­ger seat. She went over to where her moth­er stood.

I looked up and there he was,” she said. “You have the keys, right?” Daphne held them up; she had a lit­tle Eagles foot­ball hel­met for a key ring. “Well, how’s my grand­daugh­ter?” she said.

Grad school is a chal­lenge. She’s anx­ious, hap­py.” A car honked, a taxi. Daphne made a shoo­ing motion with her hand. “WellCare’s gonna hear from me,” she said. “This could’ve been a lawsuit.”

Daphne looked tired, though she didn’t say any­thing about it. “Your father’s pret­ty crafty.”

It’s sup­posed to be a decent place. Goddamnit … don’t wor­ry, I’ll han­dle it. What’re you doing here, Mom?”

Patsy, just going to see Patsy.”

I thought you didn’t like Patsy.”

She shook her head. “Will you tell me … when you find out, how he did it?”

I will.”

The taxi dri­ver honked again. He took both hands from the wheel, held them up. “Well, go on, sweet­heart,” she said.

Daphne did shoot the bird at the taxi dri­ver before sit­u­at­ing her­self in the driver’s seat of her Honda.  She stayed out­side, watched them dri­ve off, onto the express­way. She felt her shoul­ders drop, then she went back inside the station.


Daphne called her two nights lat­er; it turned out that the mys­tery wasn’t much of one.  On the morn­ing of his escape, the WellCare secu­ri­ty cam­eras record­ed her father walk­ing out of the lob­by, ful­ly dressed. The lob­by was emp­ty, who­ev­er was tend­ing desk there had stepped away. Alvin might’ve been wait­ing for such an oppor­tu­ni­ty. Daphne the­o­rized he’d been bid­ing his time in a stair­well. It was not beyond his men­tal capac­i­ty to do such a thing, though this was her opin­ion, not that of the med­ical staff. From there, he’d sim­ply walked down the dri­ve­way of the clin­ic and out to Rockland Street. There, he might have waved down a taxi or Uber.

Overall, there was lit­tle ques­tion the clin­ic had been lax. No harm was done, there wouldn’t be any law­suits. Daphne sighed after con­ced­ing this. The direc­tor promised they would do bet­ter in the future. “I’ve heard sto­ries about oth­er clin­ics, how much worse they can be,” Daphne said. “Hey, he didn’t have a tick­et on him. We checked.”


How was your trip to … where were you going?”

New Brunswick, to see Patsy. She’s all right. We saw a movie, went to an actu­al cin­e­ma, the Majestic.” She wait­ed, think­ing Daphne might ask about which movie. “Michelle Pfeiffer,” she said. “Covid be damned.”

Oh my god, I love her,” Daphne said. “Tell me she was good.”


Yeah … but what, that isn’t that play­ing here? Somewhere in this great city of ours?”

Patsy and I take turns. She vis­its me or I go up there to vis­it her. It’s a loose arrange­ment. Get your rest, sweetheart.”

Right,” Daphne said. “I’ll talk to you next week.”

Let’s have din­ner,” she said right away. “We’ll vis­it your father after that.”

Visiting hours are over at eight.”

We’ll vis­it when we want to.”

Right, Mom.”

Night, angel.” She placed the phone on the night­stand next to the wine bot­tle. She thought about her next vis­it with Patsy; she felt like going up to New Brunswick again, soon. She rather liked the lit­tle Italian place just up the street from the Majestic. They had this won­der­ful Risotto Cake. Soon enough, she would be look­ing for­ward to it.


Andrew Plattner’s new col­lec­tion,Tower, was recent­ly pub­lished at Mercer University Press.