Chapter 5, Part B

This is a train


Estrelica found a tape and plugged it into her makeshift tape deck hanging by threads in the glove box. They rattled along through the city streets as the weather ebbed and flowed between bright and dark, glare and dinge. Vic started talking about a police officer who had responded to a call of domestic violence by knocking on the door of an apartment, then breaking the door open when the voice inside insisted that he go away. The cop shot and killed a young black factory worker who had just gotten off work, went home to have a joint and unwind, and turned on his television a little bit too loud for his neighbors' patience. What his neighbors heard were the screams of a soap opera, and what the cop saw when he broke into the apartment was a black youth pointing his remote control at the police officer pleading with him to go away.

Estrelica spoke of the work she’d done off and on with unwed mothers and about how typical such an incident is supposed to be, when in fact she’d noticed that the impoverished were able to settle their problems much more realistically, knowing their limits, than those with more money and security who live with a tumorous greed that drives them to destroy what they can’t control.

Vic started to reach for the ether with a few terms of psychology and sociology and Estrelica just let him talk, knowing herself that there are more than 365 different seasons and over 5 billion different forms of psychology and sociology. But she had to say something.

"I just find that every person I meet is so incredibly intricate and out of everyone else’s context that we’re at a point where nothing counts to measure with anymore. This is where we ran away from home ages ago, loneliness set in, and then everyone got suicidal. Chalk it up to divorce or the bomb or drugs or whatever, and now it just seems like everyone agrees that the 20th century, or at least since the industrial revolution, has been an attempt, a very failed attempt, to make everyone huddle together until we find home again. And, of course, everyone has a different vision of home, and all roads lead there."

"Yeah, and don’t you find that when you mention "home" to someone, it’s like you’re invoking healing powers or something all in one word. You can take the most misunderstood person you know, and the most understood person you know, and you can reduce them both to tears with the same word. Like Christmas; Christmas means home, despite what it means or has turned into. And no matter where you happen to be on Christmas Eve, you sure as hell hope it at least feels like home.

"I had a friend who became a hermit on his farm. Didn’t have a telephone. He had a pretty heightened level of sarcasm that most people didn’t know how to deal with. But every Christmas he had his own decorations that he’d made or collected over the years, and he did it up right." Vic explained.

"It’s kind of funny watching people at Christmastime," Estrelica said continuing Vic’s train of thought, "because they finally transcend the static of daily life and actually begin to talk to each other. It’s only for a while, but it’s something at least."

"Every Christmas Eve after dark, no matter where I am, I put on my jacket and my scarf and my boots and I go for a walk among the houses. Just down the middle of the streets I walk, turning this way and that, peering into all of the different houses and taking on the lives of those who are celebrating, imagining how it would be to celebrate with them."

"The infamous them. Who are they, anyway?" Estrelica asked.

"Ahh, they’re all right. They just take things too personally sometimes."

"Yeah, pretty harmless more or less. But as team members they have a lot to learn. Don’t you just want to take them all out for some beer and some food, maybe a little music, then take them back to your place and just have everyone relax?" Estrelica asked.

"Nah, I want to have them be my slaves. Make them all pay for my bad memories." Vic laughed.

"Yeah, maybe you’re right," Estrelica agreed.

Estrelica drove, occasionally looking at herself in her side mirror that she never used for looking at the traffic behind her. Each time she caught herself looking at herself she’d flash herself a big smile for no reason whatsoever except that she knew she was still here. She thought of J. Dove Dixon and whether he had already heard her plea for a soul mate by making her path cross with the mysterious gent she was chauffeuring around town. Too early to consider him a soul mate, though, she thought. Maybe a fellow soldier at this point, at least.

"So, you’re just a wanderer?" Estrelica inquired.

"No, I don’t wander. I know where I’m going. I just get distracted." Vic replied.

"Distracted by what?"

"Chaos, order; most anything," he laughed.

"What have you seen?"

"A few countries, a few cities, a few women, a few men, not enough money, just enough friends...who all hate each other. Too much of myself...," his voice trailed off before continuing. "So, what are you going to do about this pedestal guy?"

"Well, he looks like he’s searching for a substitute and I guess he thought that I’d do. But the pedestal was a pretty lousy smokescreen, I must say."

"And--" He inquired.

"And I’ll probably drop off the letter I wrote at the place where he works as soon as possible. And speaking of possible.... and speaking of possible... and speaking of probable..and speaking of...COME ON, BEATRICE, I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT BEATRICE!!"

"What’s up?" Vic asked.

"Have we used a dollar three already?" Estrelica asked.

"Deny it, it always works."

"No, I don’t think Beatrice is going to fall for that one. Beatrice knows exactly how much a dollar three is."

Her car managed to stretch itself as far as the dip in the road that led to the railroad tracks Vic initially told her about.

"I think this is the end of the line. Do you want to just lock up your side and grab my blaster out of the glove box. And the tapes, too." she asked.

Estrelica did a once over of her car to make sure it was secure and walked away from it looking back to make sure it was well onto the shoulder of the road.

"Back soon, Beatrice. Don’t worry; not for a second!" Estrelica said warmly.

"Yeah, Beatrice; we’ll be back with the beer, just hang on." Vic reassured her.

"Hmmm. Beer sounds good right now." she murmured.


"Do you know a place where we don’t need any money?" She asked.

"I think I might."

"Sounds good."

They left Beatrice behind, Estrelica with her bag in one hand and her blaster in the other, and Vic hanging onto her tapes, looking back every so often at the weariness of Beatrice’s eyes. They took the railroad tracks that skirted the bay and began their pilgrimage. Vic had the floor.

"This morning I was laying on the grass in front of my house writing a letter when a little blonde girl, all of two, came up to the plum tree I was next to and pointed to it proudly and said "Chair." And I looked at it and I must say, she was right. She didn’t sit in it, though. She just looked at her achievement and skipped away. Her father was working on his Vauxhall and he told me that the day before she had stolen a plum from the very same tree after her mother told her not to. They took a picture, though, so the police can identify her if she ever tries it again."

"They start off so young, don’t they? What did her mother say?"

"Well, her mother has troubles of her own. She was going to marry the father in six weeks but the bridal shop where she ordered her dress went bankrupt last Saturday, so all these future brides gathered around the shop and finally everyone was told to go and see the sheriff, who now has to deal with 30 dresses for 700 women."

"Is she just going to make her own or is she..." Estrelica wondered.

"Don’t know. I think they’re going to go to his father’s rabbit farm. There’s a huge meadow right next to it, and exchange their vows on the longest day, regardless of what they happen to be wearing that day. She has got a beautiful crimson pleated dress I told her would be perfect, with birds of paradise all over it. Really nice. She said she’d think about it."

"I think if I were to get married it would be on the way to a fete. I’d leave my father’s house with my lover and my family and friends behind me and the vicar in front, walking backward so he could face us and read the ceremony on the way, all the time stepping around the potholes and the mud. And I’d want my brother behind me playing his guitar: Some old song; I don’t know what. We’d be going on our way to see my sisters dance at the fete and it’s about a country mile from my father’s house to the hall. That would be enough time for a ceremony wouldn’t it?"

"More than enough," Vic replied.

"And I think I’ll wear black and orange. Orange for the way it rhymes with all of the other colors of the last harvest, and black because it was my mother’s favorite color; but she’s not with me any more. But on the way to the hall we’ll pass by her gazebo and stop and rest a minute so she could see me on my day. and a whole cascade of faces will be at the dance. My Gran will be playing the piano as we stroll in, then she’ll get up and do the Cakewalk, this old drunken song she loves and...I don’t think we’ll have champagne. I think we’ll have top and bottoms. And my sisters will dance. Zeda will take up the dance of the macabre, Dionne will join in with her veils, and Si will make it complete with her ceili dancing. She has the most gorgeous steps she perfected when she was a flagman for the road crew. She’d stand there holding the Stop/Slow sign all day in the blistering sun holding up all the honking traffic with her steps. She used to think that they all hated her for not turning the damn sign around, but I told her they were applauding, "They’re applauding, Si. THEY’RE APPLAUDING!!

"They never really keep in touch, my sisters. All they have in common anymore is their dancing. They meet every fortnight to dance, and the fetes keep them busy, but apart from that it’s as if they never know what to do with the night."

"My brother decided he’d had enough just when I needed him most," Vic began. "He was always a few books and a few bottles ahead of me and he just sped. He cut ice in Antarctica and blazed trails from Rangoon up to Karachi. He saw the world as his body and he wanted to learn every square inch of it. Sometimes you couldn’t even touch him because you’d look at his face and you’d be watching the most fierce battle you’ve ever seen. He could swallow operas whole and spit out the melodies on a little penny whistle he kept in his pants. Where most people follow their heart, he followed his soul and made leaps you’d never understand for years. He was given the brilliance of a mind he himself couldn’t understand. So many people try to go up the god-forsaken mountain, and he spent his life trying to get back down and explain what he’d seen. He could work out a problem in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette and he could wear a belt like Samson. He was only 5 foot 8, but he always stood like a giant. and when he told you what he was going to do, you’d swear that he’d already done it and was retracing his steps. When he was by himself he was gigantic, but when he was with anyone else he found the height they wanted him to be and shrank accordingly.

"He’d chart out his life with lists that said, uh...for example, they’d say CHRISTMASES: Oslo, Vermont, Jerusalem, Darwin. SUMMERS: Ipanema, Barcelona, Austin. Stuff like that.

"One time he was in Calcutta rereading The Biggest Bear. Remember The Biggest Bear from third grade? He’d read that book every week on Library Day in third grade, then he sent for his copy when he was in Calcutta doing road work. He sent me a letter and all it said was, "Don’t ever look for the biggest bear." They sent his body home the same week I was engulfing myself in self-pity after a pretty horrendous breakup with someone. We had his dog put to sleep and buried with him and I felt him step into my shoes when I was cleaning out his room a few days after the funeral. One time he caught me reading something he’d written that was stashed away in his room and he came up behind me and said ‘Never let them get you from behind.’

"He loved honey, and so many summers we’d sit in the weeds by the river and I’d watch him pour honey all over his tongue."

"Do you have any other brothers?" Estrelica asked.

"No. I was only given one." Vic replied.

He motioned to her "Come over here. I’ll show you something."

He took her down from the tracks to the rocks by the waterline and stopped by a piece of anonymous rock that jutted out with the remains of something carved on it in full relief. It was the figure of Calypso with her face worn away.

"There’s no record of this anywhere in town. Not in any of the historical books about the area or anything." Vic said.

Estrelica whispered. "Who are you?"

"Just someone who likes to walk. Let’s keep walking."


Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 5, Part C

This is a train