Time rolls slow as freight trains through Garfield. Used to notice them, but the whole city’s been trapped by tracks for so long the whistles became silent. There’re signs everywhere warning people about them; they put up a fence down the tracks so people might not walk down them anymore, like I used to. They just put up some more signs. This time the kid didn’t see it coming; he had earplugs in and was trying to cross with his bike. The gates never came down. I think he was 11. Now there’s a little memorial leaning against a phone pole next to all the signs; some flowers and candles, a little framed picture.
I remember when the teacher walked in front of the train; it was a big deal in the city. He was flirty with the girls in high school and maybe took it a step or two too far; never got the trial, never found out. The day he was supposed to be arrested he took his final step. Police were searching near my house looking for missing parts. I never saw any. His corpse was given a parade around town, the girls were ignored. Before him it was a teenager. After him a man in his 30s. I guess we average ‘bout 1 a year.
Once it was a guy who got into an argument with his girlfriend and made a decision. Another time it was a grandmother who was hard of hearing, gates malfunctioned and didn’t come down; no warning. A long time ago it was a friend’s brother, choice.
Read an article once about the tracks, how the conductors call it “Suicide Alley”. They hold their breath while driving through the 2 mile steel noose, hoping it doesn’t tighten around them.
The whole town gets quiet when it happens. People whisper what they know to each other, afraid it’s true.
I heard. Oh, no.
I used to walk down the tracks to get home from school or just to walk; there were some old train cars near the baseball field where I’d go and be by myself when I was 15. I’d sit on top and watch them pass, or put some rocks on the tracks and watch them fly. Other days, with other people around, we’d put pennies on the track and search for them all flattened and hot once the trains left. Maybe a few times I thought what it’d be like to get hit by one but never thought to do it.
Wonder what it takes. Wonder what that little boy thought, if anything. The last thing you see is a bright light and steel. Last thing you hear’re howls from the silent whistle; it’s a helluva thing. Wonder how the conductors doing. Wonder if any cars were passing when it happened, or if anybody was nearby at all. Can’t imagine any of it. Just think of words and darkness and my own memories. But not that.
Every time I’m caught by these gates waiting for the train to pass, I can’t help but stare at that memorial. Picture in the frame looks faded from the car, can’t keep all that rain and snow out; too many seasons passed. People still come by, I don’t see them though. The flowers always look fresh. Candles are lit half the time. Gate rises, I go. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a different way, cross the tracks at Van Winkle. Look at a different memorial. Caught by the same memories. Maybe I won’t catch the train. Maybe I won’t have to think.