A short story

I wish I had the mental space to dream up stories of how people engage with one another, noiselessly, feeling but not speaking, or speaking just a few words, uttered with severe concentration. I think it is this concentration that enters the mind of a writer which then expands into time and space that has no limits.


A lamppost, A tavern, and The railroad tracks.

It is a dark wintery night. In the middle of the prairie. The railroad tracks drawn from Omaha to Lincolm, are as cold as the ice lying between them. The asphalt road, the pot–holes filled with gravel and snow, runs to the north, towards the lake, where men go fishing on the ice. There is a lamppost: the tin shade reflecting a circular mellow light made translucent by the icy moisture hanging in the air. There is a tavern on this south side with a few parking spaces, all empty, with an old creaky door that swings open into a slightly cheerful room. A pool table is to the right, the bar faces the door, and wooden tables and chairs are scattered close to the window on the left, with a crimson red florescent sign that says just "Coors". The bar, made of polished but scarred mahogany, has a forlorn look of elegance. The edge is rounded and voluptuous, and slightly terraced as it flattens to a landing where glasses of beer and schnapps would be put by the bartender, a woman of about thirty, with eyes as blue as the ocean, but with a faraway look, drawn inwards, but serene. They had moved to the plains from California with her boyfriend, who had found work in the hardware store in town, to try out the familiar surroundings where she had grown. She is new at the tavern, having needed work after her boyfriend left, perhaps not to return, to California. The woman was ambivalent, drawn to the mystery of the prairie, full of memories and daydreams of her childhood, when time had appeared to stand still while the weather moved, winter turned to the flowers of spring, first close to the snow but then growing to majestic forms in the sun, the water and the wind of the prairie, and then turning to the colors of fall before returning to rest in the ground for the winter. In this cycle of life she had felt an energy so sublime that it seemed like a spirit that had entered her body. Now, having returned, those feelings seemed muted but now and then for a fleeting moment they would surface, just as before; that was enough for her, enough to keep her where she felt she belonged.

The dark horizon is pierced by a pair of headlights fluttering and moving, approaching from the north. They get larger slowly and steadily until the old Buick with its waterfall grill emerges and develops like a photograph in a dark room. Its lights reflecting off the steel lying across its path, the car slowly bumps over the tracks and swings to the right into a parking space. It is indeed an old Buick, now old and rusty, but its form retaining a glory of its past.

A man, of about fifty, steps out rather deliberately as if unsure of his mission. He is dressed in jeans with a plaid shirt, in blue and yellow, showing through his denim jacket. He is of medium built, and tall, with the hands of a farmer. His triangular face is bony. His ruffled hair hangs over his intelligent looking eyes. They too have the searching look of the woman across the bar.

He steps into the tavern, as the door behind him closes, beckoning the woman into the bar from the room in the back where she sits and reads with a glass of bourbon. The man is uncertain, he moves slowly, first considering the chair on the left by the wooden table, where he has cut his name, Skip, into the grain with the same knife he uses to clean the fish from the lake. But seeing the woman he hesitates, and takes the stool by the bar. "Can I have a beer?" he asks. The woman pulls a cold glass from the box, draws a beer, with the foam running over the rim. The man takes a sip while sneaking a shy look at the woman. He has not seen her before. He is drawn to her dreamy eyes that seemed to him to have an iridescent blue hue, but keeps to himself. The woman being more secure of her place and time, takes a quick but straight glance at the man's rugged face. But she waits, waits for him so say something, about the weather, the train, his Buick. Then walks back slowly to the room to read her book.

The sound of the train, still far away to the East draws his attention. The bright light of the engine has a long throw, and approaches slowly, carried by the unmistakable sounds of moving steel. It sends a chill down his spine, to watch the lights, the occasional music of the horn, and mostly the slowly rising sound of the train as it comes towards the tavern. The woman too comes back to the bar to see the train. Both, now, not facing each other, but looking at the train through the window. They are now silent in the background of the action of the train, watching the carriages moving one at a time crossing the road from east to west. It lasts a long time, seemingly forever. Secretly they both wish it did. For a moment they felt as if together on a common journey.

But the dream passed. The man had almost finished his beer. The woman looked at him as if to ask, yes or no. He felt as if frozen, unable to say. But their eyes met and spoke. The man, as if to preserve his dignity, rose from the stool, slowly walked to his car and drove over the railroad track towards his cabin by the lake.



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