"Trains don't leave"
There was only one train station in town. On hazy summer afternoons the tracks would weave in and out of the dusty road that led out of town and disappear.
They would later converge on the far side of distillery that had served its purpose during prohibition, but was now a dilapidated heap of faded structures and lost dreams.
I remember the day they found him. It was late August and aunt May had set up her summer "survival" camp on the small porch that served as a reminder of lost southern hospiality.
I preparing myself for the last year in highschool. I could hardly wait to get out of that proverbial hellhole. I had no friends, the teachers hated me, and I had no idea what I was
going to do with the rest of my pathetic life. Aunt May likened it to hiding in a foxhole. My brother Wilbur hadn't made it out of the war. He had been drafted shortly after his eighteenth
birthday. He never made it to nineteen. I would have enlisted, but I had the misfortune of having had scarlet fever as a kid, and as a result of a very high fever lost the hearing in my right ear.
My parents hadn't been able to cope with Wilbur's death. My father was always strong, yet quiet in his ways. My mother had been a delicate creature by birth. She had always leaned on father and Wilbur.
She never liked me much. I remember her as a soft-spoken woman who wanted nothing to do with me. I was a difficult birth, and she never forgave me. I remember when we got the news.
Mom had been in the kitchen making her famous sweetpotato pie. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and the first real frost of the season had painted the windows. My father was in the den fiddling with the brand new radio he had somehow
managed to wrangle from the only radio store in town. There was a knock at the door. It was subtle in its delivery and innocuous in its messenger. I was the one who opened the door that November evening. The two men who stood
there wore their uniforms with unabashed pride and a solemn air. I still can't go back to that night without hearing my mother's scream, and my father's sobs. For all the years I had known him, I had never seen him cry.
The details were just that...details. My brother had fought bravely, had served his country honorably, and so on. I wasn't jealous. In all my dreams, I never imagined Wilbur would go first. He had been the dependable one. The handsome one.
The smart one. Now he was the brave one. He was my hero. My mother had slowly gone mad after that, and father had been forced to make a decision. Her or me. So off I went to the only known member of the immediate family who could stand to be in
"Wake up boy!"
My aunt's voice tore through my aching skull with all the precision of a sledgehammer meeting concrete.
Her bloated face swam before and I recoiled in a state of heat induced hallucination.
"You better not be drunk boy, if you know what's good for ya."
I sighed heavily. Not this again. For some strange reason, my aunt believed me to be in a constant state of
"I'm not drunk. I'm just tired. Lay off, alright?"
She eyed me suspiciously, but noddded and took another sip of her homemade mint tea.
We sat for awhile in the heat, each thinking our own thoughts. That's when I saw them. Sheriff Duncan and his sidekick Moses. Wonder what they want?
Whatever it is, I didn't do it. They opened the wrought-iron gate and sauntered up the brick-lined walkway. Aunt May sat up, but her swollen feet wouldn't
allow for much. I got up and greeted them.
"How's it goin sheriff?"
For some strange reason, he wouldn't look at me. He averted his gaze and went over to my aunt. Moses just stood there as always; silent but there.
I watched them speak. Aunt May kept darting her eyes to and fro. She seemed nervous. I began to feel a chill make its unsteady crawl up my spine. Something was wrong.
He finally straightened and approached me, all the while my aunt's helpless gaze seemed to be warning me. Don't. Don't.
"I'm sorry for this son. But we need you to identify a body."
"Body? Who is it? Mom? Dad?"
"No." He took a deep breath. "Your....brother."
All I remember next was being led down toward the train tracks, where a dirty sheet covered a
heap beside the tracks. I walked on trembling legs toward the heap that covered a stanger I never
knew. I bent and lifted the sheet and saw his face. It was wilbur. Part of his handsome face had been
sheared off as he fell from the train. Later, much later, they would tell me he had been MIA. He
had made it out, he was coming home. He hadn't had much money and hadn't known where to find us.
So he had hopped this train. I couldn't understand that. It was Saturday, and everyone knows that trains
don't leave on Saturday. They just go back and forth. Back and forth.