Chris and Kate’s train was scheduled to arrive at the Centralia station at 10:17 AM. We arrived there to meet them at about 10:10. It was a beautiful hot day, and the train station was old-fashioned and kinda neat. We wandered through the empty waiting room and out the door to the platform to wait for the train.

There were only two other people waiting on the platform for the train. They both wandered over to us as soon as we came through the door. One was a teenage boy in a stocking cap, camoflage shorts and a T-shirt.

The other was a woman … or a man dressed as a woman. She/he (I’ll refer to “her” as “she”, because that’s what she obviously wanted to be, or at least wanted to look like). She was 65 years old, she told us, about 6’2" tall, and thin. She wore a bright red plaid wool blazer over a somewhat low-cut spaghetti-strap leather dress, and there were wiry gray chest hairs peeking out where cleavage should be. She had stilleto heels, nylons, ropes of big red beads with matching earrings, thick glasses that magnified her eye make-up, bright red lipstick, long red fingernails, several rings and bracelets, and she was topped off with a big frosted blonde wig, fashioned into a pony-tail of sorts. She smoked long cigarettes in a cigarette holder.
When she spoke, it was with a very masculine voice and a thick New York accent, and with no attempt to sound feminine. If you closed your eyes, you could envision a bald, fat hairy guy who watches football in his sleeveless undershirt, drinking beer and belching. It was incongruous; the voice clashed with the visual.

Coming from the little small-town world we live in, one rarely encounters cross-dressing or transvestites, so when you do, it’s seems odd and noteworthy, somehow.

She asked us what train we were going to take or going to meet. We told her, and she said, “It’s gonna be awhile.”

About that time we walked out of the breezeway onto the platform, where we saw an Amtrack train stopped a very short distance from the station, about 50 feet away. There were cop cars everywhere, hanging around the intersection at the corner of the train station parking lot. There was a yellow tarp-like thing hanging from the side of the first passenger car right behind the engine, making a little tent between the bottom of the car and the tracks.

“What’s going on?” I asked the lady.

“Somebody got hit by that train. The person just walked across the tracks right in front of the train, even though the gate was down, the warning bell was clanging, and the train was blowing it’s horn like crazy. It was going less than 10 miles per hour, but couldn’t stop before it ran over the person”

Tim and I were horrified. “Was the person hurt bad?”

“Killed,” was the solemn reply.

This seemed unbelievable. “Oh my god!! When did this happen?”

“About 20 or 25 minutes ago,” said the kid with the hat. “I saw the whole thing. It was really gross.”

They went on to tell us that the yellow tarp was covering where the body was. The train had hit the person, knocked him or her down, then ran over the person until it stopped, about 25 feet later.

We stood there, all four of us, wondering what had happened, speculating. Did this person wander across the tracks in front of a train because he/she was messed up – drunk or drugged? Homeless crazy person? Perhaps a wandering Alzheimer’s patient? Suicide?

Another weird thing was that there wasn’t a big crowd of onlookers at the scene – just a couple of folks, and a few kids on bikes pedaling lazily around the road barracades and the yellow tape cordoning off the immediate area. The cops and other men were standing around with clipboards talking to each other, not doing much.

After about 45 minutes, they finally took the yellow tarp down and wrapped the body in it, which they then put in what we assumed was the coroner’s wagon. Then the measuring began. I don’t know what they measure when they investigate a fatality, but they sure do measure a lot.

In the meantime, the passenger train that ran over the poor soul was just sitting there, full of passengers that weren’t allowed to get off. Since there is only one track, two southbound freight trains were backed up behind the Amtrak, waiting. The northbound train that Chris and Kate were on was … somewhere. We didn’t know whether their train stopped at another town after they heard the news and realized it was going to be a long wait, or if that train was stopped around the corner.

Finally they signaled the killer Amtrak to go, which it did. When the wheels rumbled by, there was blood on them. Then began another 45 minutes of measuring.

All the while, our two companions kept up a running dialogue. Our tall friend had had decades of train-riding experience, and wanted to share it all. The kid was a sad case. He grew up in foster homes and told us his life story , which included many fantastic and unbelievable tales. When we moved to the parking lot to take a break from the constant narration, he followed us. He followed us everywhere.

It seems that they both were misfits, lonely, and glad for some attention.

The investigation ended with a man in rubber gloves going out to the tracks with pink plastic bags. He spent about 10 minutes picking up bits of clothing, parts and pieces of the victim and the articles the victim was carrying, filling 4 bags. It was gruesome. Tim turned his head. I couldn’t take my eyes away.

When that was done, all the official vehicles left, and Chris and Kate’s train came in about 2 minutes later. It was now noon. They had been sitting in their train just out of sight from the station.

Chris and Kate got off the train, and we all went out to lunch.

It was surreal. The lack of the typical crowd of onlookers, the people sitting in the train looking out at it all, the engineer sitting at his post in the engine car, our unusual companions. Nobody knew who the person was; there were no frantic family members racing to the scene. It was almost like it just wasn’t a big deal. The sun was brilliant and the sky was intensely blue. Birds were chirping, buses came and went, the shops across the street busily conducted their business. Yet someone, accidentally or on purpose, ended his or her life that day.

Nobody seemed to notice.

That night there wasn’t anything about it in our local newspaper, but this railroad station is our of our area. I went online and hunted and pecked until I found a little article in the Centralia Chronicle. It just said that a “pedestrian” was run over and killed by an Amtrack train, and that it wasn’t clear whether the victim was a man or a woman at that time. The follow-up article the next day said it had been a 77 year old woman.

That’s all I know.


Lee Anne French

Elma, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Essay – Observation of an unexpected event

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