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Trains to the Provinces

by Jefferson Navicky


You stand on the platform, waiting for the train. It is due to arrive very soon. You stand with many other people, returning from a holiday weekend in the country. It is late in the afternoon and many people eat sandwiches. Many people read newspapers, pausing to peer down the tracks into the vanishing point. You ask the man next to you what time it is. He tells you. Then he asks why you were in the country this weekend. You say, "To see the leaves turn and to escape the city." He says he produces operas. He has a thick German accent. He asks you what you do. You say you are a writer. I thought so, he says, and what do you write about? As you are about to stumble through an answer, someone yells, "The train is coming! The train is coming!" You look down the track, expecting to see the train, but you see nothing. Everyone standing on the platform begins to move hurriedly to the edge, invisibly pushing each other together. Still, you see no approaching train. The overwhelming commotion of passengers drowns out all other sound. Another person yells, "The train is coming!! The train is coming!!" The man with the German accent smiles at you, lifting his bags to board the train. Everyone else moves in a blur, only he is stationary, caught in a momentary snag of time. "I am writing about this!" you shout to the man with the German accent but the throng of people has separated you from him. The passengers begin to forcibly push you forward. You step off the edge of the platform, with all the other waiting passengers. You do not know if the train is in front of you, but you feel relief in knowing you are writing. However, this relief mixes with the delicious, yet irreducible sadness of realizing that your life has also been nothing more than an exercise in archivement.

Trains to the Provinces

He gave me precise but complicated directions in that voice of his, the voice of his novels. I followed the directions without question; instead of getting on a train to Cardiff as I had first supposed, I got on another headed to Lance. Lost somewhere, I called him again to ask for help. He was overcome with laughter, saying, "Now you're really fucked, Robert. You're lost." No matter, I said, I'll turn around and go home. He responded, "But you're never going to be able to go home, Robert. Never." He had no idea where I was or how I could find my way back in order to keep my appointment. His voice reverberated in my ear long after I slammed down the earpiece to the payphone. I had been carrying a tan suitcase whose clasps had broken years ago in Buenos Aires in a dispute over a line from Chateaubriand, but I still hauled it with me on all my appointments because its compartments so well accommodated my books. I checked the suitcase in a locker at the station, and since I had hours before a return train, I set out to walk around the small country town. The cobblestones gave way to redemptive alleys, light posts and large windows sadly open to the street. In one of these windows, I noticed it had become dark, streetlights in constellations. In another, I saw a bookshelf lit softly with track lighting. The spines were dark, titles and authors ghosted, and as I stared at the books, faces flashed before my eyes at vertiginous speeds, the faces I most admired, those I loved, imitated, envied and immolated in my mind's eye, the faces I protected, those I impaled, the faces I hardened myself against and those I sought in vain. And suddenly in the aftermath I remembered my suitcase back in the train station, and knew I had to return for it before my own face disappeared.

Jefferson Navicky teaches writing at Southern Maine Community College. His work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Octopus, Phoebe, Bombay Gin and others. In 2006, Black Lodge Press published his chapbook, Map of the Second Person.