This Way Up

Sarah D. Kritzman

 

1530 hours
The phone rings, and I have to go. They will be expecting me. Papers to sign, decisions to make, a lifetime’s worth of possessions to ponder. And a house. A blue house with rusty siding, if I recall, which I’m certain I do, unless someone has repaired it, which I’m certain no one has.
           

Five shirts, three pants, one dress just in case, because I don’t know who I will see or how long I will stay. Small decisions so I can go make the big ones.
           

My neighbor, nice enough lady, brings me a plate of cookies, checks the train schedule for me, checks me for tears every few minutes and seems frustrated when there are none. She will feed the cat, bring in the mail, snoop through my belongings while I’m gone. Makes me wish I were a more interesting person.

 

1904 hours
I lean my head against the window and pray the cityscape moon will not miss me. I tell the moon to look after the pigeons while I am gone, and not let Morton, the little boy downstairs, kick them while I am not around. She will watch over my city until I return. She doesn’t know I don’t know when I will be back. She winks. I blink. The train rounds a corner, and she flies away.
           

The train rocks me and sings in my ear, a song I remember, about cigarettes and magazines, ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo. It is not the train, it is Paul Simon, and I bat him away. Wrong song. Not today.

 

2213 hours
The train station has changed. Red paint is chipping off the long wooden benches that stretch from the front door to the abandon ticket counter. I remember brown paint chipping off those benches. I remember the door of the first stall in the women’s room having any empty hole where the lock should be, but it seems the lock has been fixed, and now the toilet seat is missing from the second stall toilet. I see that in keeping with the times, someone was clever enough to have added a tampon machine. It is full of condoms.
          

It takes the entire weight of my body to push open the wooden door, and I step outside and walk down to the street.

 

2227 hours
Hitchhikers are easily confused for prostitutes here, apparently.

 

2339 hours
Chuck is balding, and he is thin, though the passenger seat is littered with Little Debbie wrappers when I climb in. He does not ask for money, it is enough that he has company, apart from the chickens, whom he jokes he rarely lets ride up front.

 

The wretched stench of animals kept in insufficient space, food and feces, and no room to spread their wings, and I roll my window down. Chuck asks me to lend him my abundant hair, so his can blow in the breeze again, and I feel he is laughing at me. He says he can tell I am a country girl at heart. I do not tell him I am a vegetarian.

 

0200 hours
I wake up with the red light of the Arby’s sign with the burnt out B in my eyes. Chuck has foolishly left the truck running with me in it, not foolish in these parts. The chickens are quiet, and I’m glad they’re sleeping through this proximity to a preview of their eventual fate.

 

Chuck returns with two sodas and a bag of cookies. I suspect Chuck has a granddaughter. I suspect she must be about ten.

 

0510 hours
I lean my head against the window and bless the telephone poles, tall and somber, for standing guard all night over the fields of corn and soy. Sparrows have lined up along the wires, in hopes of catching a glimpse of me, in case the rumors are true, and I have indeed returned.

 

The sickening stench of the chickens has given way to cow. And they stand about, blocking the intersection, like teenage Mormons, in their fine black and white, imploring me to stop and speak to them, for the message they wish to give me will save my life, bring me home.

 

A nod to Chuck, and wink to the cows, and I walk along the yellow line, where I am neither here nor there, left nor right, and would be in quite a predicament should a car come over the hill, but I know none will come, and I will arrive at the blue house with rusty siding without seeing another soul.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790