Thursday, August 19, 2010

Crossing the Tracks

I finished tennis while the sun was brightest.  After two hours on the court, I had sweated through my shirt and was dehydrated.  Here I suffered.  Forgot to bring water and suffered for forgetfulness. I tried the water fountain nearby but the water was warm and did not have a fresh taste. I suppose the warmth was tolerable but the taste was not. I took but a quick suckle anyway, which I thought would sustain me on the walk back to my apartment.  I live less than a block away from the tennis courts.  In fact, I live across the street from them. 

I live on a busy but beautiful street in a suburb of Boston.  This street has a set of railroad tracks running down the middle of it that are used by the “T” train.  The tracks are the most dangerous obstacle between my apartment and the tennis courts. However, since at this particular length of track there is no fence separating the inbound from the outbound like you find at other lengths of track, this obstacle can be easily negotiated. I can cross the street and the tracks wherever I please rather than be detoured to where the official crossing lay.  Of course, these unofficial crossings often come with the minor hazard of a broken, uneven walk over the tracks. But I am not one to mind.

I crossed the street towards my apartment at my usual crossing spot for tennis days.  Today as I crossed I walked into a woman.  She was older than me, but not by much.  She appeared to be crossing in the opposite direction.  She was a plain-faced woman with dark tanned skin, dark brown eyes and medium brown hair.  She was mildly attractive. And from my first glance, of all that I noted, what struck me most was her expression. She seemed uncomfortable, almost in pain.

The woman confirmed my observations during the course of a short, unsolicited conversation which she initiated as I attempted to cross her by. She accosted me with,

"Goddamn these T-tracks, y'know?"  She spoke in such a tone I could not snub her, so I replied honestly,

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Why?"

She made a guttural noise as if I instantly annoyed her with my naivete,

"Because they are in the way—"

"Oh," I said, prematurely.

"And I hate walking over them. I am scared I will hurt myself somehow."

My facial expression became austere and I shook my head as if I suddenly understood everything and said,

"Well sure, this doesn't make for a nice crossing but you can do it if you watch your step. Here. Avoid the rails, if you can, they'll just break up your rhythm. If you know what I mean. Just time your steps so you avoid them.  See."

She shook her head. She did not trust my advice,

"But then I may still twist my ankles when I step over them.  The rails.  Look.  See all that broken ground and roots and clumps of grass and rocks.  I could twist my ankles, fall and smack my mouth on the rail, just because I was trying to avoid it.  And I'd probably lose some teeth too, or worse.  My teeth could go through my lips or I could break my nose, too."

Her imagination was so malevolent I shrank back and thought to myself, 'Gawdamn!' but I shook my head and tried for the conciliatory,

"Well, that's why you aim for the wood.  See.  Here, this wood – or planks, rather – that hold the tracks together.  If you aim for them, with each step, then you won't stand on the broken ground.  And you won't have to worry about twisting an ankle or falling. Look.  Easy, right?"

Her face contorted, like a snarl, and frightened me even more. She said,

"No.  No, you are silly.  Look here.  And there. See all those rocks.  See how those rocks from between the planks are kicked up onto the planks?  Yeah, those little devils will trip me, or twist my ankles and send me forward.  I could smash my kneecaps on the railings because I aimed for your stupid planks.  Or worse, I could stagger and slip, and my shins could fall on some jagged rocks.  How painful that would be—"

I tried to get a word in but she cut me off with further musing,

"And my groceries or what-nots would go flying everywhere.  And I'd probably lie there helpless on the tracks while a train came to get me.  And even if I could manage to crawl or roll to safety, like some small rodent, all my stuff would still be smashed and crushed by the train.  That goddamn Train.  And these goddamn T-tracks.  I tell ya.  Boy do I tell ya."

At this point I was silent. Maybe it was my thirst, maybe it was my rising mischief, but something in my eyes held the women silent, too, and she waited for my next comment, almost patiently.  While she stood there, just before the tracks on the same side of the street as my apartment building, she stood in my way. In the way, was how I considered her at this point. Presently, I stood in the outbound tracks, having stayed there to illustrate how easy the crossing could be.  But now the outbound train was at the nearby cross street, held a moment by a red light.  I licked my dried lips, took a step closer to the women, a step that carried me off the tracks. I pointed my finger to the official crossing and spoke,

"Look. That way.  See down there, where that lady is pushing her baby carriage across the tracks.  And that other man is walking with his little dog?  You see that, right there?"

She meowed her response,


"Go over there and cross.  All-ways go over there to cross.  Never come here to cross, okay?  Never.  These tracks are dangerous.  You are absolutely right. God, Damn them for being here. And God, damn Them for putting them here. But God will bless us both if you do not come here to cross.  Ever again. Okay?  So go.  And have a nice day."

I stomped off, crossed the street to my apartment, and wagged my tennis racket in timing with my steps.  I never once looked back. But as I reached the steps to my building, I heard the women cursing the tracks again.  She cursed the train that just passed by.  And then she returned to cursing the tracks.  I walked into the stifling vestibule, got the mail and climbed four flights of stairs to the stagnant atmosphere of my apartment where I drank lots of cool, fresh water.

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