The railway strained towards the horizon, sprawled below my feet.
I’ve always liked train tracks. Each rail narrates tales of the trains that pass over them, of their passengers. Where were they going? Why were they going? I would ask them every day and listen as they rattled out stories of sons leaving to wed, daughters leaving to college, friends leaving to war.
But not anymore.
Train-track stories are about journeys. Middles, centers of narratives, unending with conclusions unseen. They are never ends.
That was what I thought until two years ago.
• • •
The bouquet of sticky, hot tar, sweet and gooey in the air, clung in my nose; I grinned at the wobbly heat, twirling in the air to a hidden symphony of cicadas and speeding cars. My hand dragged along the cement wall guarding the train tracks below, each finger plunging and scaling the jagged gorges pitting it. With the other, I slid a thumb along the smooth screen of my phone, checking a friend’s Facebook, offering devotion to neither the tracks nor the phone.
A distant rumble proclaimed a coming train, blazoned by its whistles.
“Hey, look out! Someone stop the train!”
Shouts echoed through the empty air above the tracks. I flicked my neck towards the sounds, my body rotating to follow. Across the tracks, a small group of two, now three, shouted towards the railway, flailing their arms, pointing to an area beneath the short drop in front of me. Leaning over the barrier, I tracked their mark to a man stumbling over the railroad ties.
Before I realized it, I was shouting too. What, I don’t remember. It didn’t matter.
What time I had before the man was swallowed by the maw of the oncoming train was devoured by a thrash of the panic and terror, the kind that comes when the body must act but the mind cannot speak how. I stood there — a hitched gape on the spot I had last seen the man and the sound of shrieking metal the only senses I can recall —; for how long? I don’t know.
I wished I hadn’t been there. I wished I had been longing for the sight of an oncoming train, looking for it. If I had been paying attention… I could have saved him. I wished I could have. I could have.
And I didn’t.
Two years have passed.
I have rattled my own story. But, now, I am here again. And I still can’t pluck the blood from my mind. I’ve tried. Standing squeezed between the tracks, I can feel it still, barbed but smooth, crystalline splinters impaled through every heard tale.
But I am ready to listen again to the stories. Ready to not just hear, but listen. Listen to the story I saw, but they felt.
And maybe this time, I will tell them my story. Tell them what I saw that they felt. Tell them my train-track story.