April 27, 2009
By Lauren Nettles BRONZE, Knoxville, Tennessee
Lauren Nettles BRONZE, Knoxville, Tennessee
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Click clack. Click clack. Click clack. The train bumped its way across the tracks stretching off into the horizon and out of sight across the huge open field. Far in the distance, there were the sharp, unforgiving silhouettes of the mountains, but the closer landscape was flat and smooth; it was lonely, but friendly and familiar. Every now and then, the telegraph wire running alongside the train collided with a pole before continuing its journey. Small patches of the bright blue open sky were covered by tufts of white clouds and one imposing blob of coal colored smoke. This was home. The railroad engineer pushed his sweaty cap higher up on his head as he scanned the horizon, searching for any reason to change anything. This was his life. Speed, distance, brakes, directions, stations, handling. It was all he had to know. He did not understand how anyone’s brain could be small enough to only hold that tiny bit of information. He had perfected everything he “needed” and everything he was supposed to know long ago. Slowly, he started gathering new information. He noticed the way the clouds gathered and the cows collected under the trees when rain was coming. He saw the way the grass bent under different forces of wind and how it fluttered when the train whooshed by. He felt the shifting of the joints between the cars from the changing speed of the train and the different amounts of force it took to move the train depending on the type of cargo he was pulling. More than anything, he observed the small, almost unnoticeable weight that his weekly pay added to his pocket. Technically, it was enough. He could live off the small amount of money he had jingling softly in his pocket any time the train rolled over a badly nailed cross tie, but that was all he could do. He could only live this life, sleeping in the train, eating at the station while his cargo was unloaded and the next set of cars was attached and have only a small amount of left over money saved in case an emergency came up, and he needed to repair some part of his train. It wasn’t what he wanted. His life was like the tracks the train was rattling down; it was straight and unchanging and appeared to be so far, far past the horizon line. That was something else he had learned.

A sudden change in the straight yellow grass caught his attention and he turned his head to look out the right window. Old, rusting, black cars lay in pieces, strewn across the landscape for a mile or so, as good as he could guess. He found himself wishing that one of those cars had belonged to him, that he had once had the kind of money that everyone else in America seemed to have. The American Dream was scattered across the dead, dry landscape before him; it had been discarded before he even had a chance to grab a piece of it. He would give anything for a normal life. He imagined a pretty girl with a bright smile and rosy cheeks kissing him on the forehead before raising herself clumsily from her chair and crossing her hands beneath her belly, carefully supporting their son-to-be. Their first child, a little girl, was sitting on the floor, playing with a yarn doll he had helped her make before dinner, which was delicious. His wife was a wonderful cook. Their house was cozy and tidy, full of little objects and collections that made it feel like home, and one of those black cars was parked on the street outside. His day dream slowly faded away as the graveyard of skeleton Fords left his sight. He turned back to the front window, noted a landmark he knew and began the process of slowing the train. A station was approaching. This was his life.

The author's comments:
My essay to the UTC Honors program. I wrote about a picture of an abandoned train track.

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