She said “I’m going to take a walk before dinner.”
“Wait.” I spoke up. “I’ll go with you. Let me change my shoes first.”
We walked along familiar streets in the neighborhood, she setting the pace and me
struggling to keep up. The sun was getting low, but it wouldn’t be dark for a while. We walked on,
and on, though I was tired and ready to return home, have that martini, dinner and turn in early. We walked on, I staring at the sidewalk so as not to trip on a rough spot, and occasionally stopping to look at the houses along the way.
And now, our route took us along a street adjacent to the railroad. Just the sight of the rails brought memories, childhood memories of walking on a rail until I fell off, naming the towns that lay ahead, and wondering what was around that next bend. Railroad tracks attract people for different reasons, and for some, it’s a way to leave their tortured life. And so, the authorities have made it an offense to set foot on the right-of-way. But I felt offensive; and the sight of the rails drew me to them. I tell her “Follow me!” and we are both on the track, skipping every-other tie, oblivious to the danger, and living in the past as we trot along.
At first, buildings butt up to the track on both sides, but soon, the scenery opens, and fields
interrupt the small villages we pass. “There,” I tell her, “is that small hotel where we once spent
the night and you played piano in the bar when the regular didn’t show up. And there are our children in that playground, on the swings. “Don’t you see them?” “Yes, yes.” She answered as we move on. Other sights delight our memory as we walk on along the track, the church where we were married, and the lake where we vacationed; there seems to be no end.
But now, it is growing dark, and it is difficult to tread smoothly. What is happening? The rails have disappeared, and we can barely see that we are now walking on a pier over a great expanse of water. We feel the damp fog encircling us, though we cannot see it. Nor can we see the deck of the pier. We move cautiously on, one step at a time, testing our footing. We stop, and I stoop to feel the pier. My hand reaches out into empty space, and I say, “We stopped just in time”.
We cling to each other as I fumble in my pocket for matches. I pull out a book and strike the match, but it has already become moist. I try several more, but to no avail. And then, as I draw the last match over the striking surface, a brilliant light illuminates the area. We look over and see a railroad, and a station. We cautiously cross over, and as we get to the track, a young boy is running away from the station, shouting “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.” We turn and walk up to the station, a curved roof covers the track and disappears in the distance. There, on a platform at the rear of the train, people are sitting in comfortable chairs, a bright light displaying their fine clothes. They are quietly talking with each other, and occasionally, one touches a handkerchief to her eyes.
I call out to them, “Is there room for two more on the train?” They don’t answer. Perhaps they don’t hear me. We move closer, almost in their faces, and I repeat the question. Still no answer. I ask, “Do you speak English?” No answer, they don’t even look at me. Well, then, let’s go back to that building, it must be the ticket office.
We enter this gleaming white room, and a man in a white coat tells us there is room for only one more passenger. We look at each other, and, after a quiet moment, she says, “I’ll stay.” Another short wait and I answer, “I’ll send for you.” And as I turn to go she tugs at my coat to hold me, but I break loose and walk to the train. Farther on, I stop and turn. “I’ll send for you,” I call.
I reach that car with the people who wouldn’t talk to me, and I realize these are folk seeing friends off on their voyage. They are still talking among themselves, but they don’t see me. I walk on and meet the conductor. He doesn’t wear the usual railroad hat, but has a colorful shawl draped around his shoulders. He’s carrying a book, which must be his timetable. I ask him, “What time do we arrive?” He doesn’t answer, just waves me on. He stops beside a car and opens a door and motions me in. It’s a very small room, just room for a bed. I lie down. He closes the door.
It is quiet. Not a sound. No, there is a sound, that sound I call the “white noise.” I used to hear it when I would waken during the night. Absolute silence except for this light whirring noise I could hear, not really in my ears, but in my head. The white noise. I can hear it now. The train starts to move; it’s like taking off in an airplane, but it doesn’t level off. It keeps accelerating, faster and faster. I can sense the wheels going around and around, and for some silly reason; I remember having said, “Your honor, see this spot on the tire. As it revolves down and meets the pavement, it changes direction and starts upward. And at the point that it changes direction it has stopped. So, you see, your honor, I did stop!” He answers, “I’ve heard that one before. Guilty! One-hundred dollars. Pay the cashier down the hall.” “But, but, but, I protest.” as the Bailiff pushes me out of the courtroom.
We are travelling faster and faster, and I liken that rotating wheel to time. As it is coming down to meet the pavement, that represents tomorrow, when it reaches the pavement, that is the present, or now, and as it passes on and up, that is yesterday. But as we speed up, tomorrow, now, and yesterday seem to merge into one. How long is now? A day? A minute? A second? If you cut it in half, half is left, and as you keep cutting it in half, there is always half left. You decide that the only time you can measure it, is when it stops. Yes! That’s it. You remember now – Einstein,—, Huxley (what was it? A novel?), or was it Shakespeare, with his all-encompassing understanding of mankind. Yes! That’s it! That’s it! ” Time Must Have a Stop.”
As we keep accelerating, the white noise in my head rises to a fever pitch. It is now screaming higher and higher, higher and higher!
And then, just like that! —, the white noise turns to stone.
The last thing I remember is seeing the word etched on that stone:
George W. Parker
Tags: Railroad tracks