“Tracks” was based on an idea I had years ago but that took a while to develop—not that there’s much development here. I wrote this thinking it would fit neatly into a short story collection I had planned but I think that it’s probably better on its own, though the short story “Terminal” works as a sequel to it.
This one has never been published. I don’t think I’ve ever even sent it to anyone.
By Lee Wright
She’s waiting for me at lunch and it’s there she gives me the news. I don’t take it well and I don’t say the right things. She gets up and walks quickly to the door where Julie is waiting. Julie shoots me a nasty look then leads her outside. In no mood to eat, I dump my tray in the trash and head out back for a smoke with the losers and burnouts.
Somehow, I get through the rest of the day and, after school, we drive up to the old cabin on the mountain. She doesn’t want a beer or a cigarette—gives me a dirty look when I offer—so we just sit on the back porch and stare at the kudzu shrouded trees. We don’t say much.
After a while, I get up and walk down the narrow game trail to the bluff. She waits a couple of minutes before following. Below us at the edge of the lake, weedy, rusted train tracks sprout from the factory where my father works. The rails slash like a wound through our hometown and out of sight before bending gently westward, threading their way through the pass and into the open valley beyond.
I tell her that, when I was little, my grandfather talked about his time as a hobo—though he never referred to himself as such. He and his brother, “out of work, thanks to that damned Herbert Hoover,” travelled the country by rail. They worked odd jobs when they could get them and, sometimes, stayed on for a full season. When the work dried up or their pockets were full, they hopped on a boxcar and moved on in search of something better.
As a kid, that had always seemed like a great life to me so, at fourteen, I ran away from home and went down to the pass. I had a backpack with two changes of clothes, a towel, and several cans of food. In my pocket was a Swiss Army Knife and almost thirty dollars I’d earned mowing lawns. My plan was to jump onto an open boxcar as the train slowed to make the hairpin turn. But, as the train chugged by, I found no boxcars at all. Those had been phased out, replaced by brightly-colored, graffiti-scarred shipping containers that could be lifted from their flatbed cars with a crane and dropped onto trucks or ships for the next leg of the journey. It was damned efficient, unless you were a hobo.
“The trains don’t even run in the valley anymore,” I say.
She takes my hand in hers and, after a time, we sit, looking out at the valley and imagining the world beyond the pass.
© 2012 Lee Wright