There’s a train that goes through Alanville every morning, and when it does it kicks up so much dust that no one can see or hear or trust each other for at least four hours. By noon our senses are back but the trust stays gone, crushed and dragged away by the screeching wheels along with Aaron Boyd last year. Who did it? What about those Johnsons, something sinister happens behind their closed doors by the look of them. Did anyone do it? The poor dear, he was always a troubled boy, a loner and an outcast. Who cares, I think. It’s all kind of like that town from The Last Picture Show, but at the end of the movie, when the wind is always blowing, and everyone hates each other.
The wind is blowing against the panes right now, and I imagine that the sterile buzz of the lights in the store has a soporific effect on the reluctant wind, preventing it from vanquishing its papery dryness and damning it to the depths of the night. There are many reasons why I like my shift, the main one being that because no one ever comes in this late, or early I suppose, I get to pretend like I’m the only person in existence, like I can do whatever I want without any repercussions. It feels so incredibly limitless, buoyed by an intensity that it seems is only possible with the conscious knowledge that it’ll all amount to nothing anyway, that I’ll end the day in the same bed, the same life, the same fucking mirrored glass bowl I’ve allowed myself to be imprisoned in.
Only now the door swings open and the wind gets in, bringing with it a man in a leather jacket. He’s about ten years older than me, with thick dark hair and a thin face that speaks of inversions, a desire for hunger rather than satiety, glittering eyes and flaccid mouth joined by the specter of countless smiles and frowns and perhaps even roars, a face at war with all the past versions of itself. He’s obviously agitated. He stares at me, and I’m frozen by his glacial gaze until he speaks, with endearing urgency. Somehow his eyes seem to dim when he does it. “Please, you gotta help me,” he says. “You gotta help me get out of here!”
The entreaty doesn’t really catch me off guard because I’ve been dreaming of the same thing for as long as I can remember. But still, some of the people here will try anything to learn your secrets. “Why, “I ask. “I killed her – my wife. I swear it was an accident, I didn’t mean to do it!” Fair enough. Wives, mothers, daughters, women, they die every day. I know this should be a matter of concern but it’s hard to care when they don’t exist in my night-shift world. Only this man does, with his desperate ferocity. “You could hitch a ride on the freight train that goes by every morning. There’s a spot not far from here where it stops for a few minutes.”
He asks me how to get there, and I tell him. He seems to calm down, strangely quickly. “You got a good head on your shoulders,” he says when I’m done, ruffling my hair. A subconscious signal, stirring up a fatalism deep inside me. I can’t hold it in any longer. “Let me come with you,” I say. “I can’t stand it here.” He laughs. It seems that dead wives make for happy husbands. “Why’s that?” Because I’ve only tolerated the blankness and solitude of this place so that the hollow space inside me can be conquered all the more easily by a rough-hewn virility, cut from granite and icy to the touch. “Because it’s boring. Why the fuck does it matter,” I say. He throws his hands up defensively and smiles at me, with all the repugnant charm of a newly confirmed bachelor. “Well, don’t you have any friends or family or something? Won’t anyone miss you?” An image, an old woman who now speaks only through green lines and beeps, controlling my life with her empty, useless ragged breaths. “No, “I say. He looks at me a little like how the alley cats look at the mice behind the house, but I don’t mind. Funny how the instincts of animals devolve into something else entirely in humans, or at least a certain kind of human.
“Then I don’t see why not,” he responds.
I lead him through the dusty woods, pushed on by the pointed embrace of the darkness. We don’t speak much because the overabundance of a thing emphasizes the distinct possibility of its absence, and I can’t afford to let this be another empty dream. I’m faced with an onslaught of sharp stones and branches and hot air, or maybe breath, and other unseen objects that press forcefully into me, but it’s alright because I’ve always imagined that standing at the maw of the mouth of hell, where I’m intimate with the violent fantasies I’ve spent my life trying to avoid, would be far more comfortable than languishing in a garden of virtuosity that is completely divorced from any concept of whatever it is I’m seeking refuge from.
When it’s over I’m in a daze, so much so that I don’t notice that I’ve been following him for a while now instead of the other way around. We reach the edge of the woods where the tracks are, just as the night spends itself and gives way to day. I hear a loud horn, and as the train approaches, I can’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. I’ve conquered this town, but only by having the same thing done to me. Possessed by the maudlin desire of the recently defeated to prove that they are no less ethereal for what has been done to them, I say, “It’s like that song.”
Freight train, freight train, run so fast,
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don't tell what train I'm on
They won't know what route I'm going
He looks at me almost contemptuously, like I’m a speck of dirt on an otherwise gleaming knife, and then leans in and kisses me roughly on the mouth. “Don’t be a fucking idiot,” he says. Before I can respond, the world lurches and screeches and becomes dust.