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FICTION On a side track one train idled,


intentionally still. Another placard here: “On an unseasonable day in March


of 1933, the train was stranded here by foreboding conditions in the Rocky Mountains ahead. This was no tragedy to Virginia Newkirk, who prayed for every extra second that could be added to her journey east, that she might hold her daughter Helen longer before having to deliver her to care and schooling by more solvent relatives. To relieve her boredom, 12-year-old Helen danced in the aisle, singing a song she had heard on a radio to the delight of the passengers. One of them was the newly- hired agent for a music-publishing company that was expanding operations into Kansas City. He compelled the Newkirks to exit the train early, and Helen spent the next thirty years singing songs and commercial jingles for a fair income, in radio and, eventually, television.”


Other trains zipped mindlessly by this


one, where the Newkirks, somewhere inside, remained frozen in their moment of dread turning to deliverance.


The tracks betrayed no geographical


reason. A Western desert could melt into an Atlantic fishing village, yet the train somehow escaped to surge across a nearby miniature of the Mighty Mississippi. Mountains neighbored oceans, and the metal cities did not swallow the villages, but shared equally in the electric light of the fake sun and fake stars while the little trains wove and purred. There was no measure of miles, and no borders.


28


I pressed another button by a plain of grass, and from a plastic shrub, a coyote head poked out to look for the moon.


Here the placard read: “Roy Caffrey had a way of not shedding


despair; though others had found the path forward from tragedies like his. He could learn a lesson, but the regret and anger of the mistake remained. And when he could find people to love, the melancholy of those lost would still not stop visiting. He had no one to rage at for the illness which grew inside him, he knew too well there would be no justice in it. Heavy with drink, he passed out while following this track in Nebraska, and didn’t feel himself die.”


The corridor bent now, twice, making


the bottom of a U-shape, and here the trains circled a great park, a lake bounded by sand and grass, a bandstand and a Ferris Wheel. Here the stringed lights never dimmed, and the pony rides ran all night. Family figures stood mid-gallop on the fairway, balloons always plump and inflated, pink dots of cotton candy always just beyond their lips.


And within this park, the tiny model


children rode a tiny model train, round and round a tiny model track.


An abundant row of buttons offered


themselves to my control. With a touch I could light the top of a maypole. I could turn the carousel. Electric fireworks blossomed night or day, and rowboats circled through an intimate cave.


There was no placard here, no story to


tell except the fair, itself; its hope, with paint and filament, to trick music into the ears and


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