He steps off the train. He looks around expecting her to be there. She said she would meet him. It is why he came. She does not answer her phone. As the night approaches, he gets a text message, waits patiently for the next train back to where he started.
I have had two, although the first is long forgotten, so perhaps it no longer counts, it certainly didn’t to her, announcing its end like the conductor of a train running late on the mainline to sadness.
Perhaps I have not forgotten but all I see is myself standing alone, intoning words to which the crowd intently listens, much like the audience at a reading by a lesser known poet, feigned polite awareness.
I’ll just say I’ve had one for it is easier that way on all three parties.
“Trains are present,” she said,” and somewhat the buses, but airplanes are mostly absent.” I understand what she meant, and didn’t need her to cover hands over her ears to cement the point. On a train, most sit back, some with ear buds but many simply stare out the window at towns and villages and fields flowing by, willing to share bits of their lives, real or imagined. On a train there is only truth, and what is said is real, if only within the confines of the car. On a plane the people hide inside headphones, bend their headrests around their ears, as if to demark some personal space inside which the person in the adjacent seat dare not enter, even with words. “Trains,” she said, “are as much about the journey as the destination, while planes are an abyss between the points of departure and arrival, crossed with the fear you could fall into the pit of another’s life and never again emerge.” I agree with her as we pull into a station and she rises to disembark.
The little girl-women pile onto the train carrying backpacks, pillows and stuffed animals, all they will soon leave in the rooms of childhood. In the train’s café, Gerald welcomes us back his “established customers,” he says to all, as we sit beneath the wide awning that is his smile, sipping the much needed coffee.
He stands transfixed on the bridge, arms outstretched, staring at the river always flowing slowly by below. He wears a garland of gold, an inscription in Hebrew, the holiest of holies, mocking those who hold him a man. Did he peer out of the corner of his eyes as they marched them across the bridge to the trains to the camps from which they would never return, never have headstones in small, ghetto cemeteries, would be merely names on a wall of remembrance? What did he want to say, what would they not hear, for surely he must have known, in the way a son knows so much more than a father imagines. They are gone, he remains, forced to be ever silent, and the river flows under the bridge beneath his ever constant, mournful gaze.
On this night the moon retreats from the sky, leaving the stars to play hide and seek behind broken clouds. The silence is enfolding, save for the whistle of a distant train traversing the city, and the whisper of the wind caressing the needles of the pine who answer wih a passionate moan.
Late in the night a train rolled by through the city, a few miles down the hill from here, its horn muted but still required at crossings. I know it appeared in my dreams, but I cannot tell if it was as the heron in flight over the lake, or the long bearded hiker with the oversize backpack who wandered down our street and became a slat in the fence at the dead end.
Night alters sound in ways we can never precisely determine. It is possible our hearing changes with the flight of the sun, but the moon scoffs at this premise. A train rattling across the landscape in the heat of day becomes a musical instrument in the relative silence of night, playing a melody that insuates itself into dreams. Birds raucous by morning are sirens in the night, drawing you from sleep onto the rocky shores of sudden wakefulness, the darkness a strangely unwelcome companion. But it is the breathing of a lover sleeping next to you that caresses you, and you slide deeper into Morpheus’ grasp.