Day One Hundred Four
I was on a road that followed the rail line, and around noon I came upon a train stalled on the tracks.
There was a man standing in the shadow of the open door of the last car, and I asked him why the train was stopped.
“Something blocking the tracks,” he said. He sounded cheerful, like being stranded between cities was a grand adventure that suited him just fine. “Come on board. I’ve got a bottle of Tennessee whiskey, if you’d like to share.”
What a silly idea! I laughed and shook my head.
“Don’t tell me I’m going to have to settle for the company of boring old widows and mommies with screaming children.”
I looked up at him again. He had a nice smile, and I guess I was still feeling a little of yesterday’s giddy confidence, because I heard myself say, “Maybe just one drink. You got cups?”
“Sure. Food, too.”
I tethered Flecha to a nearby tree and let the man pull me into the car.
He said his name was Gilbert, and he hadn’t been lying about the whiskey. He had a whole bottle of it, as well as a nice cheese and some spicy peanuts. I was nervous at first that he might have other ideas besides just sharing a drink, but he took no issue with my desire to sit at the open doorway, and I was reassured. He set the bottle and food within arm’s reach, and we dangled our legs over the side of the rail car, sipping our whiskey, looking out at the landscape, and talking.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“All over. You?”
“Mississippi. I’ve been trying to get to Chicago for a couple weeks now, but the train keeps getting diverted. At the rate I’m going, I’ll get to see the whole world.”
“That happened to a friend of mine,” I said. “She finally got tired of it and got off.”
“It’s tempting, but I really need to get to Chicago.”
I wondered what could be so secret about a trip to Chicago, but it was none of my business. I leaned against the door frame and he told me about Mississippi, with its kudzu, sweltering summers, and air heavy with moisture all year round.
“Sounds lovely. It’s desert where I’m from. Some days it’s so dry you can feel the moisture being sucked out of your skin. And then the creeks and wells run dry, and in the afternoon the dust storms come, instead of rain.”
“How do you survive?”
“We know our land. And the rains do come, eventually. We would sometimes take our chairs outside and watch the clouds come in, the way people long ago used to watch television.”
We talked for at least an hour about everything and nothing in particular. The cheese was delicious and the whiskey was smooth and golden, like dark honey. It made the afternoon sunshine seem softer, and after awhile, I found myself leaning against Gilbert’s shoulder, his arm around my waist. I could’ve sat like that all afternoon, talking nonsense and dreaming the world away, when the train made a sudden jerk that caught me off balance. Gilbert’s arm tightened around me, and I grabbed onto the door frame.
“I got to go,” I said.
He pulled me close and kissed me hard.
The train jerked again. Gilbert let me go, and I jumped to the ground. I turned back to him and waved, and he got to his feet. We stood there like that—me on the tracks and him in the doorway, waving and calling our good-byes as the train started up, first slowly, then faster and faster, until it was nothing but a pinpoint in the distance.
I stood for a moment in a stupor. We had been best friends for an hour, and it seemed incredible that just like that, he was gone. I stepped off the tracks, walked over to Flecha and leaned against her shoulder. “Well, better to be friends for an hour than never at all, wouldn’t you say?”
She turned her head and looked at me like she didn’t agree.
“Okay. It was a dumb thing to do.” I swung into the saddle, light-headed from the whiskey, and we continued on our way.
When we came to the outskirts of a city I decided to go around, if I could. I had just left a city two days ago and wasn’t interested in seeing another one so soon. As I passed the outer suburbs, I noticed one of those elevated freeways, slowly sinking into the land and being taken over by nature. I couldn’t help wondering when the road had been built and how long before there would be no trace it had ever existed. In human terms, it was taking a long time for the freeway to vanish, but to the earth, it was probably just an eye blink.
I successfully skirted the city and continued northeast. Toward evening, I came upon a river and decided it would be a good place to make camp.
Several other people had the same idea, so when I went to shoot a rabbit for my supper and found the nearby fields nearly overrun with the creatures, I shot a few extra and gave them to the families that seemed neediest. I refused all offers of supper, though, and roasted my own rabbit over my own fire. But although it felt good to do things for myself, I found my thoughts returning to Gilbert, my afternoon boyfriend.
I miss having a man. After my disaster of a marriage, it feels strange to admit it, but it's the truth. I hope the lady at the carnival knew what she was talking about. Will I have to wait a whole year, though, for the right man to come to me in Kentucky? It seems like a long time to wait. I want someone now.
I must have spring fever.
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