by Paul Lennon
First of a few Letters from Brickstown.
|A lot of people have stories to tell; most are glad for the opportunity. They'll ramble for hours about their golden days as the football captain, or the day where every cast brought in a bass as big as your forearm. Maybe they'll get real quiet like, somber up and tell you about their mother passing , or their tour through Vietnam. Whatever the packaging, most are telling you about themselves to relive that bit of them they can never recapture. The old timer down at the dollar general will never throw that game-winning pass again... he may no longer even be able to throw a football... but for that brief moment he's regaling you with the story, he's back in his prime, recapturing the past. Folks from Brickstown, I think you're going to find, are a different side of the coin. Everyone here has a story, oh yes, but no one clambers about trying to remember their yesterdays... the present is well and good enough for them. It is a curious habit about our people... we don't talk much, and when we do its to the point. If you've come to hear a story though, well, you'll find them. Tucked underneath a greying, dust-mongering pile of old books and notes in every attic in this town, there's sure to be a sepia folder filled with those letters that weighed too much to speak aloud. Here's your letters from Brickstown: unaswered, unsent, and if you care to leave how you came in... unread.
- Cold Steel Portrait -
Jacob Cross, September 3rd, 1993
Trains used to come through Brickstown regularly when I was a boy... sometimes four, five freights a week of lumber or coal... whatever the big men in New York or Chicago decided they needed at the moment. We all had a special respect for the trains, but mostly for the conductors: men of the iron roadway, with their side-saddling caps and devil-may-care grins; all of us boys wanted to be a railman when we grew up. Pennies became blistering tokens of wealth when a train came by, and finding an upturned railroad spike was tantamount to being king for a day. As we grew, the trains began coming less and less frequently, sometimes at intervals of two or three weeks. The railman were more haggard everytime we saw them, pushing their engines to the limit to prove they weren't outdated, that they were still efficient and effective enough to stick around. Someone must have done something right, because the trains never fully died out; they just began carrying the load of three freights... faster.
Well I was no longer a boy, and being so I was off to the office bright and early on that morning... same as any other. After toast and a quick scan of the paper Victoria gave me a tired smile telling me she was ready to head out. We'd had it a bit rough since we got married... one car, three, sometimes four jobs between us... still we were happy and not starving. She was looking a bit peaked, but the last night had been a restless one for her... she slept so poorly during the hot summer nights... so I thought little of it. Victoria dropped me off at work, gave me a kiss and told me to be a good boy, and then headed home. She should have headed home.
We often drove down to a lake near the old train yards at nights to swim, but I had never known her to go alone before. Stripping off her clothes, she walked into the water and let go. I'm told its almost impossible to drown yourself, the instinct to breathe is too strong. Victoria hoped to find her release there, in the cool waters where we had shared so many happy nights. It just wasn't to be though. As one of those endangered lumbering hulks of steel bellowed its approach somewhere off in the distance, she reluctantly left the water and sighed back into the car, heading south, home.
Another loud blast, like a fog horn on steroids, shook Victoria out of her daze in time to see the backup; a train was coming through. I'd like to think somewhere along the line a group of young boys placed their moms' pennies on the tracks and crossed their fingers for a popped spike, I'd like to think they smiled and waved at the conductor as he blew past them, racing against the '90s businessman telling him he was too slow, too expensive, too old fashioned. What I don't like to think about is the reports of a lone sedan pulling out from behind the backup of cars; gunning it up to 60 or so, maybe more. I don't like to think of the consoling hands of people I've never met, the meaningless words of regret. I don't like to think of how terribly, terribly lonesome Victoria must have felt inside for her to have embraced 40 tons of blazing steel that day.
Miles down the rail the train stopped... it wasn't the conductors fault, it wasn't anyone's fault. The car resembled very little of anything I had ever seen before. Victoria... she still looked beautiful. She was so beautiful, and so full of hurt, but she never told anyone... she just bore it with grace and dignity until it was too much. Too much for one person to take, too much for one person to heal.
The call was horrible. A squad car came to pick me up... to identify the body. Most of the time I spent silently in the back, my eyes clenched shut, my hands gripping each other just to feel something solid. I did my duty as her husband, arranged all the proper details. A Greyhound to Baltimore and a soda emptied my wallet... stepping onto that bus felt like losing her all over again.
I didn't go to the wake. I didn't go to the funeral. I never said goodbye.
Something made you hurt Victoria... something made you hurt so much that you couldn't share it with me, because you would die before I hurt the same way.
Well I hurt now.