Train Wreck: Final Stop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man entertains thoughts of his own suicide. (approx. 1600 words)

 

TRAIN WRECK

 

 

 

“Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
and he never came back
they found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track

 

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
You can get out of the rain
In a New York Minute”

 

“New York Minute” – Don Henley

 

 

 

Train tracks can take on a whole new meaning when you’ve grown older.

 

As kids, they are a source of wonderful, intriguing mystery. Huge, fast moving iron giants would roll by on the very same tracks that only a moment ago, we were walking on. Where did they come from? Where were they going? Could we ride on them someday?

 

Yet there is something forlorn about a solitary set of train tracks carved into the landscape, snaking through a desolate part of America, seemingly a waste of materials and effort. Only until the next great train came along. Then it all made sense.

 

I am perched right in the middle of just such a desolate stretch of land, between just such a solitary set of tracks. I am only 10 minutes outside of town, but I may as well be in a deserted West Texas prairie, dodging tumble weeds and wondering big thoughts.

 

What brings me here today is the prospect of ending my life.

 

Not an earth shattering idea for me. I’ve been here before. Maybe not this close, but I sure have danced more than once with this concept.

 

What brings me here today is a simple, declarative phrase that stitched itself across my brain this morning at the same moment I gave birth to my first conscious thought of the day.

 

“Why not?”

 

Answering ‘why’ to the suicide question is easy. The resume that trails from my neck like a storm-tattered, wind-worn Superman Cape is chock full of disappointment. Divorce. Dead mother. Dead sister. Dead brother. Dead best friend.

 

Why not? A much more complex conundrum, indeed.

 

Joining that group in the ballroom of eternity, or wherever the hell it is we go, would not be a bad thing. Might even be fun. Hell, it’s got to be better than the current dance floor I’m on, where my every step is out of synch and both of my feet are left.

 

Despair is not new to me. What burbled to the surface almost immediately upon waking this morning, after pretending I couldn’t figure out what those two words portended, was my father, who at this very moment was probably on his third martini while placidly watching a ballgame. He had many more reasons to grab fate by the chicken neck, shake it violently, and then take his own life.

 

This man had endured real hardship. He’d lost an eye and his left leg in Korea, on his third tour of duty, as he carried a fallen soldier to safety. He’d survived colon cancer, and then watched as his wife of 35 years, and my mother, had been whittled to almost nothing before succumbing to the very cancer he’d beaten.

 

My dad saw his best friend and Army buddy, a man sentenced to a wheel chair by his own heroic act on the Mekong Delta, saving five of his comrades by falling on a grenade, die suddenly of a heart attack, right in front of all of us, as we were about to watch my mother lowered into the earth.

 

The man literally toppled out of his chair, landed heavily, and rolled once and into my mom’s freshly dug grave. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would have been hilarious. None of us laughed.

 

There’s more, of course. My dad is 79 years old, and he’s seen it all, heard most of it, and guessed pretty accurately the rest of it. You live an examined life like my old man, you see way too much, and unfortunately, there is no ‘consumption’ arbiter for the soul. No ‘full’ or ‘empty’ needle on a gauge that warns you. No cosmic dip stick telling you when to add, or more importantly, stop adding. There was no gatekeeper, and when things filled up and began to spill over, you mopped it up as fast as you could. At least that was the old man’s metaphor. I kind of liked it.

 

The images that stalk your night dreams, he told me once, those early morning howls that force an awakening to a sweat-bathed, shivering reality and a shuddering acceptance that the day was about to begin, had become commonplace for him. He said that those initial moments when it happened, he often longed to float right back to his pillow and return to the horrificness of his dream. At least it was familiar. Each day, consciousness seemed to promise him only one thing: Surprise. He hated surprises.

 

My death will surprise him. Probably.

 

I called him this morning. The conversation was speckled with the flotsam and jetsam of two men who would have nothing fresh to say to one another for the rest of their lives. It was our tacit acknowledgment that the sameness of our relationship would never improve; never get a burst of interesting, compelling insight on either of our parts. It simply was. Not unlike most marriages, if you ask me. The desultory acceptance of banality is what keeps many people married well past the autumn years.

 

I told him I loved him as we signed off, which was rare. I wonder if he red-flagged the comment and sank back into his recliner, propped his prosthetic leg up onto the age old  ottoman, laced his hands behind his head, and thought about why I would tell him that. Today. It’s the kind of curious statement that might prompt him to mull and ruminate. To mold in his mind like hamburger, balling it up, making sure the mental spices were mixed in well, then flattening it out to make it ready for the grill.

 

I don’t think even he is capable of making the intellectual leap to my declaration being a thinly veiled goodbye. We occasionally tell each other those three words, usually on holidays and birthdays. Today was neither.

 

Today, February 17, is the day before my 55th birthday. A non-descript Tuesday. Non-descript, that is, until I do what I’m about to do. From this day forward, my birthday will be inevitably linked with sorrow and regret and pain, tied tragically to the day before. I am about to ruin these two days for my father. Forever.

 

I hear a distant train whistle. I look down the track, but can’t see it. About a mile and half down, the track veers to the left and out of sight behind some rolling hills.

 

I don’t move. I’m comfortable. Maybe even resigned. I’ve never been this close. I’d thought often about what would go through my mind, if it still worked, during the final moments of my life. Many of the scenarios I’d entertained were flights of fancy, some macabre, but none of them involved the serenity I feel coursing threw me now as I watch the train appear around the last hill and straighten out on the tracks, heading straight for me.

 

I had taken a cab from my condo to my location. About thirty yards away, there was a small concrete turnaround where a tiny shelter used to be, back when such a minuscule structure could be pressed into service as a train station. Only some scattered bricks and prongs of rebar jutting up through the cement remained. And weeds.

 

Layered underneath the slow steady roar of the train engine I heard what sounded like a car engine. I turned back to where the kiosk had been and watched as a cab, maybe even the same cab, as there were only three in town, drove up to the turnaround.

 

The first of what would become continuous blasts from the train resounded as apparently the conductor spotted me.

 

The train breaks began to screech. The squealing nails on chalkboard sound is eerily apropos, the sort of disconcerting, grating noise one might expect to hear as the final audible salute of their time on earth.

 

I am sitting Indian style, centered exactly between the tracks. I watch as under the opened rear door of the taxi I see the narrow end of a cane extend out and onto the ground. Then a brown-shoed foot, and another. Rising above the rolled up window of the door is the obvious silhouette of my father, the anxious look on his face obvious even from the distance.

 

I glance back at the train, its cacophonous trumpeting like that of a charging steel elephant. My calmness is disconcerting. I pinch my arm, searching for any sense of dread, whether manifested physically or emotionally.

 

Nothing.

 

My father leans on the door frame, watching me. Helpless.

 

I have a crazy, almost inexplicable thought ping across my mind, like a very slow, almost cumbersome shooting star.

 

Can dad tell how far away I am with only one eye and no depth perception?

 

The cab driver is now out of the car and sitting on the hood, one foot on the ground, the other resting on the bumper, his arms crossed as if watching the filming of a movie. His turban and impassive Arab face battling my father’s pained expression for the right to be my final image.

 

The train’s brakes are now fully applied, but the futile effort means the ear-splitting screeching will be my final sounds. I am unsure as to which is nobler: looking at my father or facing the iron beast poised to remove me from my sadness.

 

For once, my father wins.

 


Submitted: April 07, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.

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Comments

OurNameIsOurVirtue

Just wow! This is simply amazing, the depth of description and emotion in this story is just beautiful. I absolutely loved it, it's unlike anything I've read before. Most suicide stories are very similar, but this was just magnificent. Excellent work, you really have a talent! :)

Tue, April 24th, 2012 7:17am

Author
Reply

Thank you. It's a subject I've had to deal with, twice, in my life. Not like in this story, but that's what writing is about, taking your experiences and expanding them so they might interest others.

I really liked my injection of the Arab cab driver at the end....it made the scene seem even more real. Also, I avoided sappy sentimentality, for the most part. There is very little sentimentality in the act of taking your life. Thanks again for reading and for your comments.

Tue, April 24th, 2012 6:37am

Chris Gerard

I came to look after seeing the time you took over commenting on someone else's work, and am I glad I did. Whatever else you've done, whatever else you do, this is superb. Absolutely gripping, absolutely convincing. Beautifully written. I'd say 90% of the stuff on Booksie is in the right place, another 9% has some promise: this is is easily in the top 1%.

Wed, May 2nd, 2012 9:27am

Author
Reply

I am flattered.

Thank you.

Bill

Sat, May 5th, 2012 9:36pm

Wilbur

Booksie threw me out after I'd whatdya call it? Tried to cut words I didn't want too many times. So now I have to start afresh.
I agree with Chris. This is compelling. But the taste it leaves with me is that this is compelling because it has readers drinking of intentions much too close to the bone. You know too well and too much about this last performance phase. So there is no gap between the narrator and the writer. Watch yourself, dearie. It's safer this way, but don't lean too close in to those mesmerizing headlights. Or applaud too much the touch of the brown shoes, come to late but to witness, and catch a last glimpse of Truth.
A bit worrisome sunshine. That's why it resonates so clearly. Watch you don't blur the lines. I'd miss you.
Kindest and even warmest regards, Connie

Sun, May 6th, 2012 6:14am

Author
Reply

If I am interpreting you correctly, Connie, then I will respectfully say, 'au contraire'. It is my close to the bone, scrape-the-marrow-with-my-tongue approach that makes my prose come alive (irony?).

Those headlights shine on me only initially, then through me, and as the light makes passage, with it comes the bird droppings of my mind and soul, and then to paper they go.

It is my blurring of the lines that brings me to the edge...no, not THAT edge...my oldest brother, my father...both suicides. The title of my work in progress novel/memoir, "Deadly Dominoes", is my daily reminder to stop the ivory from falling over on the Rayburn game board...

One point I left out of this story at the end, and I can't let go of it, even if it's trivial...but it would have meant something to point out that the cab driver for my dad was the same one who'd taken me out there.....and then his indifference as a spectator would have been even more powerful....

thanks for reading and commenting....have no idea why, but I have this compunction to be smart and revealing to you, like Redford said about being with Paul.....Bill

Sun, May 6th, 2012 7:16am

moonphish

that was fraught with suspense to be sure....great piece of writing....you are very talented

Tue, May 22nd, 2012 5:11am

Author
Reply

thank you...I lead most of my submissions to publishers/contests/agents with this one...

I have a short story collection ready for publication, but that is a long shot....short story collections seem to be anathema to them, however, especially for someone who has not yet published a book.

The impassive cab driver at the end gives this a powerful finish, I think.

Mon, May 21st, 2012 11:09pm

girly1986

Wow! you are great. I really admire your talent on writing Bill.

Wow... I could imagine how the father felt seeing his son in that situation. It must be very painful for him.

Tue, June 5th, 2012 8:23am

Author
Reply

I treat this as one of my best short stories. I've sent it to many, many contests, etc. It is powerful.

I'm glad you liked it...you write about these dark subjects as well, which is fascinating to me, because you present yourself so cheerfully and Pollyanna -like.

Thanks, Girl.

Sat, June 9th, 2012 4:22pm

Dozy

Whew! Moonphish is correct: you've got the suspense down to a fine art. And, if it's not too spurious to say so, you have a lovely gift for imagery.

Fri, June 22nd, 2012 5:13am

Author
Reply

Thanks for taking the time and effort to read and respond.

I think this is one of my most compelling pieces.

Thu, June 21st, 2012 11:25pm

Enheduanna

The second time I come across the word "resignation" before suicide, as Bogey when speaking of Brian. Metaphor is your forte. My favourite work of yours so far; beside it being a captivating work, I must what I like the most was the inversion of reality. It is now the son who claimed his life, and the grief-stricken father.

Fri, June 22nd, 2012 3:49pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, and thanks for taking the time and effort to read and respond.....

Bill

Fri, June 22nd, 2012 11:39am

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