The beginnings of snow filled the old train car with a soft thick blanket of mid night wishes. The old man, not so much in years but in trade, shuffled through a rusted and drenched sliding door while kicking over a tin can of stale meat. Thursdays were always the hardest of the days to catch a train but that felt like eons ago. The only trains that moved around here anymore were the ones up above carting people to and from things. Things like work, school, home, the hospital, the therapist, the food line… Or to no where in particular. Isn’t that the preferred destination anyway? No where…. Just the journey… Begging to anything or anyone to please let time stand still for awhile. The walking, the hustle, the trains, the madness, the pain, the tears of it all. Hurry… Hurry… scuttle butt to nothing.
Ah, but this old man liked these worn out, grizzled and decayed rail cars. The two of them had many things in common. The cold crisp touch of the car and the loud crash of the door sent visceral gut memories crashing through his shaggy head. The memories of sharing rides with other poets, writers, artists looking to shake a dull life. That part the old man didn’t understand and would often preach to the passengers whether it be man, woman, rodent or roach; “A dull life led is a dull person at the helm.” These words still echoed through the night as if the ghosts danced and dreamed while speaking aloud to the ones that welcomed them. And these dreams and stories were also found splattered ceremoniously across the walls of these old trains. Inside and out you could find stories and fables sprayed with elaborate colors soaked into the steel never to be removed. Some were pictures others were words etched in dark.
It was cold this night. The ground crunched underneath each hobbled foot step and sprinkles of grey and crimson colored ash melted within the dirty snow from the cigar ashes and spilt wine. A trail for the lost and well wished memories if you like. He could still smell the gasoline, now stale, and the smoked now ached into the sides of the cars as if they were shadows of the spirits alone in the night. The old man struggled to climb in and out of each of the cars. The leg wasn’t being kind tonight thanks to a brief but violent encounter years before. He could still go to that place in his mind and relive it. Each day now it seemed the pain was getting worse as the ravages of age engulfed his youth. That one night in particular, which was like most others, he found himself sneaking into a rail yard thinking everyone and thing had abandoned the night. While climbing into a rail car a sharp searing pain shot through his calf and achilles. When he turned to look, he was met with gnashed teeth snarling and black fur standing at full attention. The old man blacked out from the pain. The guard dog on duty had severed his achilles, sliced open the bottom part of his calf and left him to awake in the hospital to receive rabies shots and 3 nights in jail for trespassing. At least it was not a dull night and he took it all in stride. After a few weeks the wounds healed to scars and he had bite marks tattooed over them and a “Beware of Dog” sign place proudly on the calf. But with years of drink and improper nutrition the limp became worse.
Shuffling back and forth through this particular car he began searching feverishly. He remembered this car. This car was the only reason he wandered down this way. While out for his midnight stroll, sipping on wine and smoking his cigar, he had gazed over the bridge and saw the abandoned rail cars. He hoped he’d found the one. And as he began wiping down some of the walls he was sure of it. Decades ago The Old Man and a few of his friends would mark the cars with tales and hellos to each other when their paths were separated. This was how they stayed in contact. But there was one favorite the old man was looking for. Her. It’s always a woman isn’t it? She was his favorite. They would lay out watching the stars all night telling stories and ranting about nothing and loving each other with child like passion. There was no animosity, no trying to be better then the other, no ulterior motives. Just love. But the night of the dog attack had separated them. Not only was there the guard dog but the Keeper of the rail yard was still there as well. He had shot two of their friends and she was arrested; then transported to another town where she had an existing warrant for trespassing. From then on they would leave messages of paintings and poems for each other with the dates written on the walls of this one car. Often just missing each other by just a few days. As the years passed and the rail cars fell way to other modes of travel due to violence and paper turned to computers the trail ran cold. The old man now had a job as a writer for a small newspaper and also wrote for a few magazines . These gigs allowed him to have a steady apartment by the water front and a steady income for… his nothing. Still, he missed her. Hard. With each breath and each passing night he hoped for her. Knowing that there was a good chance she wasn’t with the living anymore brought a few more pangs to his rotted gut.
As the decades of decaying dust began to settle from the Old mans rabbled fist’s banging the walls he found the murals. The years of passengers had been kind and never painted over it. It wasn’t a picture of anything per se but a collage of colors with poems and messages to each other. They called it “Their Collage of Nothing.” Apparently others found it to be heart warming as there were notes left written off to the side asking if they had found each other and other notes like it. It brought a sad smile to the old man as he understood the sentiment but it hurt. Hard. The old man bent down and saw that the last entry was from 4 years before and a poem/note;
You are my nothing
I love you.
Underneath was a phone number. The old man now shaking reaches in his coat pocket for his cell phone. His swollen fingers find the numbers and he awaits the rings fighting the agony. The hounds of hell baying in his head trying to gnash his heart. Finally a soft voice answers,
“I found you.”
© Carlson 2013