Railcars by Michelle Lee


“I wanna cookie.”

Janice presses the brake as the blinking arm goes down in front of the tracks. She is first in line, left lane, gray sedan, waiting for the train.

“I wanna cookie!”

Air Supply is on the radio.  Janice hates Air Supply, but instead of punching the button, she reaches into the passenger seat for her purse, rummages around for a few crumbs of something edible.  She finds a baggie of crushed goldfish crackers.

Her two-year-old son is car-seated in the back, now whining about how the belt is digging into his tummy.  He drops his blue dog on the floormat.  She reaches around her seat, hands him the baggie, and tries to pick up the toy.  Success for a second, until he kicks the back of her ponytail. She drops the dog.  He throws the baggie. It hits her ear and falls to the floormat.

Inwardly, Janice swears so loud that for a second she forgets who she is.   Outwardly, she draws in a hard breath. “We don’t kick or throw things at Mommy.”

“Doggie! Fishies!”

Janice grabs both, delivers them, and sighs back to the steering wheel. A blue car pulls up next to her.  It’s shiny but has a dent in the front fender. The woman wears pink-wire sunglasses, aviators, probably not purchased with coupons. She’s pretty, from the side. But slowly, shoulders to chest, head in hands, she folds behind the wheel.

“Mommy, look at the train!”

“Yes, bubby, I see the train.”

It is an implosion of woman.  The process of disbanding.

“Train, woo-woo!”

There is a moment in crying when a scream belonging to someone else, someone who you used to be and forgot after years of saying, the dishwasher’s busted again and fuck those chronic yeast infections and you need to quit your job, we can’t afford day care for that one and your cholesterol numbers look high and luv-you, too and your father shot himself and the boy needs ear tubes and let me come in your mouth, we have five minutes before breakfast, tunnels through the stomach.

It’s an announcement, a coming, a clear-the-tracks. Railcar after railcar after railcar. Wheels on metal. Names bubbling out in graffiti.

Her son drops the dog again. A fishy sails through the air.

The blinking arm begins to rise. The woman pushes the glasses into her hair. Skids the heels of her hands across both cheeks. Straightens. Janice reaches around her seat for the dog on the floor, clears her throat. Lights stop blinking. She moves through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *