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Paul J. Willis


On Time

On Time
Mr. Roscoe, we called him. (So fun to say: Roscoe.)
He worked for the Southern Pacific. When he came
to our Sunday School, he sat down carefully
on the stage, then rescued a gold
railroad watch from his back pocket and said
with a wink that he was always on time.
That might have been his exact job, to keep
the trains on time, except he told us how much
more important it was to keep time with eternity.

Mr. Roscoe was a little man, dark hair
slicked back, beginning to bald. The kind
that came every Sunday from the neighboring
mill town with his round-faced wife
and his round-faced daughters—who,
in terms of fashion, were not exactly up-to-date.
This was the 1960s, but the Roscoe girls
wore floral-print dresses and wavy hair,
same as the pictures of country people
in my parents' wedding book.

But one day, Mr. Roscoe was not on time
for church. He was not even there, and did not
ever come again. His wife and daughters
kept arriving now and then, but sat
beneath their rosy skirts in a way that said
they did not wish to speak with us.
We were finally told that the late Mr. Roscoe
had not died, he had just run away
with a Southern Pacific secretary. Boarded a train,
presumably, sitting gingerly on that hard seat.

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