On the Train

The train seemed to be moving slowly, though more likely, it was cruising smoothly along somewhere between 60 and 70 miles per hour. The smell of alcohol wafted her way from the seat behind, while the train blew its whistle in the hot desert air. Below, through the window, men sat underneath trees, talking in the dense brush alongside the tracks. It would be a long ride home and she hoped whoever was going to sit beside her would spend their time in the lounge car instead. Huge electric plants and open land sprawled from her window- industrial buildings right next to farm land, where the pickers sat on their knees in the fierce sun, hats protecting their already weathered faces so they too could feed their families. Plastic greenhouses sheltered trees standing acres and acres wide and a lone house sat on a hill, watching the train go by. It would be so nice, she thought, to live in different places and get to know the land.

Christmas trees destined for destruction after their single day of fame. Tract housing looked so out of place, the ugly town homes, like Stepford Wives, in row after row, no trees to shelter them from that same sun. A spent mattress lay haphazard in the dirt, tagged with black spray paint, and yet another billboard read, “You’ll be back” to her, and she knew she would. The train didn’t have to follow the same 50 mph rules of the road and Oxnard meant the desert would move towards the ocean. A little girl in her pink train hat was cute as she and her father walked through the door. Cars waited at stop lights until the last of the trains cars had passed. Another industrial site sat yet again within an arms length of a farm, black and white together, killing and feeding simultaneously. No wind moved the blades in the windmills. Aahh, the Eucalyptus trees, always shedding in long, sinuous strands. If the window were open, their intoxicating scent would surely breathe in new life to her.

As a bright yellow and blue helicopter flew past, the train stopped to collect and spit out passengers but the stop would be short. She thought of Oregon, its rivers and creeks nestled in the deep green of ferns and huge trees. It was a different world but one which brought her a sense of peace. A wooden cross had been pounded into the dirt and though she knew what it meant, she chose not to consider the scenario which had brought it to rest there. She wouldn’t miss the hundreds of malls in L.A., the useless shops that were sprawled across vast pieces of land. The cement river only had trickles of water in it as the train passed over a dry, natural river bed. How did all those car lots stay in business? Thousands of them, like cockroaches, refusing to die. Did they multiply during the night? Under the freeway, back into orange groves with Eucalyptus as wind breaks. The sky was overcast above another long row of plastic, covering crops. She heard behind her the ticket lady saying to someone, “Patience and understanding, open mind, willingness.”

Heading towards Santa Barbara. Obviously where the rich lived with their blue and orange cement tennis courts. The train yowled loudly and there was the ocean. It was blue green today with small white tufts. Her butt was already sore, a whole night lay ahead of her still. Pelicans sat on rocks by the water and people walked on hidden trails she could not see from her seat. A teepee stick hut sat on the shore as she passed by, boys body surfing. Green, sticks and logs, rocks, RV’s, jeeps, pink helmets and women taking pictures, the American flag waving, seaweed floating, women jogging and a bird flew hovering over the water waiting for a meal. The ocean looked clean. They came into Emma Wood as the lunch captain announced they were taking reservations. Funny black duck bird on a wire. Snooty houses alongside shingled, weathered ones. She was making her way back to her husband. Fennel grew wild on the sides, their yellow flowers almost in full bloom, while a single white Jimson weed flowered toxically alone.

She had been on this train before, 4 years ago, just after her son had died in the prime of his life, three months away from starting college. She had seen dolphins then, but they hadn’t excited her like they would have before he had died. How had she changed over those years? It was still a struggle and difficult to remember what joy felt like. It didn’t bubble and make her burst, yet, she had gone down to welcome her new granddaughter into the world. Love bloomed holding her tiny body in her arms, kissing her rosebud lips, barely able to keep from chewing her bubblegum skin.

So much land. She got up with her pillow and a book and made her way to the view car. All the seats on the ocean side had been taken, so she walked down the narrow stairs to where the snack bar was. A half dozen giggling girls in bright yellow t-shirts from San Diego sat at a table and one said hello, then immediately apologized as if she’d had no right to talk to her. She used to be a giggling girl once, alive with the fragrance of the future, wondering where her true love would come from and what he would look like. Succulents grew on the hill outside, every one bursting with a flower in oranges and pinks. Closer. The train went so fast that sometimes her heart would flutter, imagining the fateful crash, cutting her body in two. Better thoughts, better thoughts.

A German man was speaking to another discussing China. He said there were too many hippies in China. The other commented “Like the Beatles said, all you need is love.” But the German man said, “I don’t want to love everybody. Sometimes the negative, destruction, can bring something out positive.” “I’m getting interested in Buddhism these days,” said the other. Religion. Organized. To her they were all, as her husband said, “bunk.” True and false at the same time. She wished she could collect plant life from each place she traveled. There were treasures everywhere. Workers in the field stopped to wave. People still love a train. Harry’s Radiator Service had a good sign, but all it faced were the tracks. “People need to go back to their country,” a woman from California was saying behind her to the German guy. Wise old Eucalyptus trees. They don’t fight. They shed their skin to grow taller.

Goats grazing in a tree. One jumped down from a low branch while another stood watching him. Yack, yack, yack. Blah, blah, blah. Look out the window lady and shut up. Most people on welfare are immigrants? The German man stood up, having gathered his things, “In YOUR opinion, they should shut it off. Don’t let anybody in.” He left and that shut her crocheting ass up. The moon floated in the sky at 3:30 p.m… She thought of her son, how he loved to travel, how adventurous he was. The stink of microwaved hot dogs floated across the aisle in her direction. Bread and microwaves didn’t belong together. And neither did pink penis hot dogs.

The hills were beautiful. How does one begin to change their life? What did she want to do and how to break the poverty wave? She watched the train swerve like a snake, slowly winding up a mountain. The brown hills looked like mammoth feet. Into the tunnel, then out again. The brakes squeaked and the smell of diesel entered the compartment. The small plastic bottle of wine didn’t taste half bad and the book she was reading dealt out equal doses of humor, hope and horror. An old man in a leisure suit was talking to a young girl as he popped open a beer can, saying that he hadn’t had a drink in years. Marijuana and guns were two of the words that sifted through the air from their table. Oak trees now replaced the Eucalyptus and the horn sounded as they passed an intersection. The straw looked even more golden and bright as the suns light hit the field and the train sped by. Dry flowers were sometimes just as beautiful as the live ones. Death and life. Color and the lack thereof. Wow, someone had a pond for their backyard with a big inner tube waiting patiently in the middle. Laughter was coming from ahead of her. She mistook the sound of the trains squeak for the squeak of her 2 week old today granddaughter. A deer ran below. She waved to people swimming in their pool. A junkyard, old cars rusting back into the ground. A fake pond in a fairly new residential area. Lots of pools. Past the gated community. Plenty of land. Rolling hills. Dry grass. She knew she was loved. It was good to be loved. It was a good thing to love. A shopping cart was turned on its side in a stagnant creek, its shopping days over. Couldn’t the train stop so she could jump out and sit under that huge old oak? Another dry riverbed was just beyond the tracks. The moon was waiting for the night and an old barn was being called back to the earth, while a silo sat silently in the dry grass.

Last call to her husband before retiring. Those singing teenagers would probably keep her up all night. How interesting the woman who came to sit opposite her was an herbalist and they had much in common, talking about the land and death and where the world was going and was it possible to live without expectations? Her name was Karen too.

It’s dark outside and a guitarist is singing, “It’s alright, it’s alright mama….

On the Train

Karen Hazelwood

Florence, United States

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