A woman walks the tracks. The morning air wraps her tight, a cocoon of fog inside and out. Her protuberant belly leads the way: right hand supporting, left tucked against the aching of her back. A scarf or is it an hijab—tangled about her neck—flashes red and gold in the soot world through which she passes.
There is no destination only the fear of where she stops.
The child kicks. She grimaces and smiles matching pain with primal love.
Yes, a boy, powerful like that man, too powerful for resistance.
Her nerves pulse. The third rail hums; the creosote ties sing an electric tune.
The eight o’clock is filled with jostled commuters. The smell of pressed humidity laced with colognes and antiperspirants. Newspaper shields forbid conversation, deny intimacy. Except the one couple in the rear of the third car—he a stock broker, she an attorney—who will, near close of day, lie to spouses. Staying late in the city—not for work—they will talk of divorces, dreams, of starting over.
They don’t know how quickly the train can stop. No matter. Pieces of the solitary walker take flight. Some sail over the wall and into the factory yard where strong-armed men have, for years, dumped waste into the aquifer.
What is felt in her last moment—elation, terror, pain? Perhaps relief. No more walking to the nowhere of her life. No more burden that cannot be borne.
Tomorrow there will be headlines; then newspapers fit for wrapping fish. Nobody to care except the surly workman assigned to clean away the pieces, to hose them along crusted runnels, into drains and down into the aquifer.
That night the workman will stop for beer and a woman—his prey—another woman too afraid to speak, one who will wander the tracks to nowhere.
The couple do not fulfill their dreams. The attorney will hate her husband until the end. At least they can afford a therapist for their son. The stock broker will leave his wife and marry a secretary with long hair and nails that clack on keyboards. They will be unhappy. He will cheat. She will drink.
From time to time, they will each remember the jolt of the train and how they flew into each other’s arms. They will remember the conductor pressing through the car announcing that there has been an obstruction on the tracks. Nothing to worry about. Soon to be cleared.
He does not have to wash away the blood.
A crow picks at bits along the track. Others gather. A murder, a suicide, just the way it goes.
The engineer’s wife says he cries out in the haze of sleep. She is the only one who complains.
Psychologist by education and broody New Englander by upbringing, Kenneth Weene, PhD, is best known for his novels, the latest of which, Red and White, explores race in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Also recently published, Ashes, a play set in modern Nigeria. Ken’s website http://www.kennethweene.com