On the second Friday in March I watch the basketball team finish its season with a hard-fought loss. After the buzzer all the kids gather on the floor, anxiously shouting about where they will go next and who is driving.
I slip by them and out the door, to my truck, drive out of town toward home. The house is cold and still. I put on the White Album and tie flies. I have long since filled my boxes for the season opener, four months away. I tie flies I won’t use until August.
I drink two beers. I eat some cheese and crackers. I change CDs.
After midnight I go outside and sit on the back porch to wait for the train. I have a glass of wine and pack a bat that I don’t know if I’ll smoke. I wear jacket, hat, boots, and long underwear under my jeans.
The train is a light on the edge of perception at first, and then long after I first see the light I hear the train. And long after I first hear it it is thundering by 100 feet away. The train is confident of its own immortality and I look on it and understand it is nothing.
The train drowns out all other noise, giving the impression of perfect silence. This is all I want, I think. This is all anyone needs. I close my eyes and open them to see all the way across the field and the train’s red light dwindling down the tracks to my left.
I am a furnace inside my warm clothes and my comfortable chair on the back porch is the perfect place to be at this moment. I have plenty to think on but I ignore it and relax my mind like relaxing a muscle.
An hour later, I am still sitting there. The exposed skin on my face is the same temperature, my mind is as still, as the air. As I stare at the turned-over cornfield in front of me I suddenly see the light of headlights pointing at it from what can only be my driveway.
I jump up and run around the house in a blur. I see that the lights are of a Buick parked in my driveway by the road. Another car is wrapped around my tree, the big oak in my front yard. A woman looks up from the other side of the car, “Oh my God, call 911!â€ She yells at me.
I spin and head back into the house and punch in 9-1-1 and the operator answers and all I tell her that there has been a car accident and then my address.
“When did the accident happen?â€
“I don’t know!â€
“You don’t know?â€
“No! Please send someone, please now.â€
“They’re on the way. What happened?â€
“I don’t know.â€
“How many people are in the car?â€
“I don’t know.â€
“An ambulance will be there in ten minutes. Take a blanket to the car and stay with whoever is in it.â€
I grab a blanket off my couch and sprint back out to the road. The woman crouched by the driver’s door is in tears. “What happened?â€ I ask her.
“I don’t know! I was just driving by. You live here right? Where were you?â€
“What do you mean?â€
“Didn’t you hear anything?â€
I look at the wreckage. The car is wrapped around the oak tree, three feet across, so that the bark is almost in the windshield. The windows are all shattered. All the body panels are folded. The car seems to have almost driven straight down into the earth, with the dirt and sod up to the door panels. I finally look inside. A teenage boy sits broken behind the wheel. Blood is dried on his face. The steering wheel is pressed against his chest, the airbag wrapped around his shoulders.
“I didn’t hear anything.â€
“You were asleep?â€
“No, I was sitting out back.â€
“You must have heard something.â€
I stand up and look out across the field.
“I don’t know. I didn’t hear anything. Did you check his pulse?â€
She says nothing.
A long period of silence follows. The flashing lights of the ambulance emerge from the ether far down the road. The sound comes a little later, high-pitched and from another world.
I watch the ambulance approach and do not notice the Sheriff car show up from the other direction. The two vehicles arrive almost simultaneously. I step away from the car. The woman stays crouched by the driver’s door.
The paramedics run over from the cab and look inside. One puts his two fingers to the boy’s neck and sits quietly. The Sheriff walks over. “Is he alive?â€
The woman answers, “No.â€
“What happened?â€ The Sheriff asks.
“I don’t know,â€ I say.
“I just drove by and saw this car here and this guy came running up and called 9-1-1. He says he didn’t hear anything.â€
“Were you asleep?â€
“No, I was sitting around back.â€
“You must have heard something.â€
“No, I only came up because I saw her headlights,â€ and I gesture out at the field where the woman’s headlights still light up the snow-covered rows of soil.
“He’s dead,â€ the paramedic with his fingers on the boy’s neck says.
The next hour is a smear of agony. The Sheriff calls the boy’s parents and in doing so I realize the boy is a student and though not in any of my classes I know who he is. And I realize that he must have been there a long while and that he must have crashed into the tree while the train was going by.
“Sheriff, I think he must have crashed while the train was going by. A train went by a couple hours ago, it was very loud, and that’s why I didn’t hear anything.â€
“When did you say that was?â€
Morning dawns with me asleep sitting up on the couch. Still wearing jacket, hat, boots, and long underwear under my jeans. I make coffee and the phone rings.
“Yes, that’s me.â€
“This is the Sheriff. I just called down to the railroad company to find out what time that train must have been going by, to get an exact time of when this probably happened and something’s not right.â€
“Railroad says there weren’t any trains on those tracks last night.â€
update 12/20: consider it “fiction friday / revision monday.” i kind of like that story, for reasons i might explain later, but it needed a few edits. i removed a sentence and made a few other minor changes.