Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Railroad, pt. 1

446 words - Railroad
Sarah Van Name

I grew up with the meadow, reaching for the tops of the grass. I don’t remember leaving for years and years except to go to the sparse farmer’s market a couple miles down the long dirt road that connected our house to another, more well-groomed dirt road that connected to a highway that was as mystical to me as the ocean. We grew our own tomatoes, and I remember eating barely anything else for most of my childhood. There was school, and homework in the basics of spelling and multiplication, and there was the pond and the soft sticky sweetness of the Southern atmopshere, April through September.

I didn’t know it then, but we were about fifty years behind the rest of the world and my parents must’ve liked it that way because they never tried to catch me up. I didn’t know what computers were until the school got a couple; there was no Internet access at our house. I didn’t know what cell phones were; there was no reception. I was never bothered by any of this until much later, when I realized that life had been a different thing – shinier, more metallic and sharp – for other girls.

One warm September aftenoon, when I was thirteen, I opened the door to find my mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, hands folded and waiting. I thought quickly but I hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Sit down, Margaret,” my mom said. My dad was quiet and and his eyes were focused on not me but the treeline, beyond the pond, the thick deep green of the pines.

“What is it?” I asked. And I thought again. My grandparents were in good health; I could see the dog, droopy-eyed and sniffing at the couch, in the next room.

“We were informed today that the state is building a railroad track up to D.C., and it’s going to run right by us.” She paused. “Just past the pond over there. They’re going to be cutting down a path through the forest so it can pass.”

My dad’s expression hadn’t changed. He was still scrutinizing the tree line, as if imagining what it would be like to have a shrieking metal beast slide through it every hour. “Can they do that? When do they start?” I asked. I was more curious than troubled. I had never seen a train except in my history textbooks.

“It’s not our property, technically, so yes. It’ll be a couple months.”

I think she expected me to have more questions. But I was already daydreaming of leaping from the ground into an empty boxcar, like a dirty-faced urchin searching for a different sky.

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