by Joseph Love
The train was taking forever to pass, and my hands were freezing. My ears were overwhelmed by the crushing clack of freight cars. Barely lit by the splotched red from the signal lights, the bubbly graffiti passed. I could see the last train car fifty yards away, still a dull white smear that could have been a part of bridge or sky. The pocked-white grain carâ€”the last oneâ€”shuddered by, and I read the prophecy written in bright red, a single curly line: "spit." I spat.
The red and white bars lifted; cars crossed. I twisted the plastic bag around my wrist, letting the heat from the box of chicken slide up my sleeve. A bald man, wearing cut-off shorts and fumbling with a soda in one hand, rode up to the tracks on a bicycle. He rolled slowly over one track but caught his tire in the second. I watched as he stupidly hit his thigh with the handlebar and slowly fell between the rails. Something fell out of his hand with the soda. It was flat and shiny. I ran to him, wrapping the plastic bag more tightly around my wrist, feeling the heat of the cardboard against my arm.
When I got to him, he was digging with his fingers in the tracks; his soda was stuck in the rail. I picked up the flat, shiny thing and pocketed it without looking, without the man noticing.
"You never rode a bike before today, Mister?" I asked.
He didn't look up, just kept gouging at his bottle. "Just bought the damn thing today," he said.
Artie stepped into the yellow light from the house; his breath hung between me and Ma. I could hear his soda swish in his pocket.
"Skoke, who's that with you. In the shorts?"
"Artie. He rode me here on his bicycle."
Artie's bicycle fell over behind us into the mud.
"Artie, you wanna eat with us?" Ma asked.
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
Ma opened the door all the way so Artie could see into the kitchen and den and bathroom and part of Ma's bedroom. "Come on," she told us. "It's freezing out and that boy's wearing shorts."
"And my brain's about to get frostbit," Artie said.
Ma looked at me to see if that was supposed to be funny. She couldn't see the staples. I smiled at her. She shook her head.
Mamma kept the wood eye in the felt bag that hung over the back of her lift chair. I reached into the bag and fished through her kerchiefs until I found the change purse Da had bought her when people still listened to Harry James. She unsnapped the brass clasp and held out the shellacked wooden eye.
"See how yellow this thing's gotten?" she asked.
"Yes'm," I said.
"It ain't really yellow, I don't reckon. Not that it matters." She flicked up the eyepiece of her headset, tilted her head up towards the ceiling light, and pried open her eyelid. I saw the wedding ring she hid in the dry pink cave; she took it out and pushed in the eye.
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"Freight" is roughly 4200 words.
Joseph Love has dropped out of three colleges, urinated on Faulkner's grave, and stalked J.D. Salinger. He is not particularly proud of any of these. He now drives a short bus around the country. He is twenty-one.