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FICTION


sugar onto the tongue. And the trains rolled by it, stoic.


I followed them around the last bend,


that scuffed and frayed carpet drawing me back now towards the lobby. The trains skirted works of man—mining pits and diners—they bridged a high and rocky gorge over a painted river.


A placard read:


“On a hot night in August of 1952, a handful of men, in a desperate fever of anger, conspired to seize a porter known only as Isaac over a perceived advance on one of their wives. They threw him out of the train over this gorge, and what became of him was never known. One of the co-conspirators, after many tormented nights, turned to the service of the Lord. It is not known whether he found forgiveness, but twelve years later he was jailed.”


At last I reached the train-yard, a thick


weave of tracks aimed at every horizon. In this nervous center were cars and engines and switches, and my mind reeled at so many combinations and destinations. As trains glided in from their little odysseys, I could loop them around the yard, delaying their next departure.


As I let one slip free, I thought of the


intersections behind me, and wondered if, with my nudge of timing, I had created an inevitable catastrophe for the days or weeks ahead. I wondered if the owners of the Train Museum knew these paths and their timing well enough to anticipate it, wipe it away. I surprised myself with the force of my hope that this was so.


And poised on a junction track


aimed out into that vast adventure, I saw a ready train. At the far, back end, on the little jutting platform of its caboose, was a figure, the first I had seen on any of the trains; sitting, legs dangled over the ground through the railing. Like the other model people I’d seen it was too small for any but the most suggestive features; could have been man, woman, boy. The figure, and the train, waited together, and I could not see if they were eager or wistful, anxious or bold or serene.


Now the corridor ended, and an old banner thanked me. Two machines promised to sell me a fat gumball or stamp my pennies with the symbol of the world-famous train museum. And on a simple stand, titled in fancy script, was the guestbook, and I pulled it open by a purple marking ribbon.


Every page encouraged me to sign,


and I saw that people had not just left their names. They wrote of loves lost and found, dead brothers, great ambitions, beloved buildings that grew grander in the memory for each year since their demolition, the miracles of spring and the cruelty of old scars. Some pages showed faded spots, the ghosts of teardrops.


I took the pen and I wrote: It has been 10,000 miles since I slept in


my own bed. And I can go home now. I walked out the door into the blazing


afternoon.


29


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