Switch


from Wikipedia It first occurred to me one morning, while Mama was washing clothes. Eric was shooting rubber bands at the neighbor kid, the one who cried over everything. Eric was older – twelve, thirteen. He already had a beard and bad posture. I didn’t know until years later that he was some kind of hormone case. Bully by chemistry, not really his fault. I guess. 

Anyway, I sat in front of the TV, watching Felix the Cat in black and white. Eric shot rubber bands at Charlie next door. Mama said I could have ballet lessons as soon as Eric was done with summer school. Dad called me princess; I pretended I was taking dance classes already whenever he came back from selling cook books, selling vacuums, selling insurance, selling road maps, selling tool sets for husbands, selling fix-it guides for ladies whose husbands were always away, selling how to be a millionaire packs that eventually took him out to the coast, where he spent his savings on conventions that proved to him the power of positive thinking and taught him to win through intimidation.

The tracks ran along the back fence line of our house. All day, all night, trains screaming on their way to somewhere else. Eric tied me to the fence not six feet from the train and left me there for hours. Little rocks stinging my legs and my face. Not so bad, but the screaming made my head funny. Kept on screaming for two days after, inside my head, and then I didn’t want to be a princess anymore or take dance lessons either. I could hear it, the train on the track, feel it in my chest, feel it through the metal slats on my bed. The baby dolls changed too, and the ballerina dolls and the little stuffed animals. All of them marching two by two to the arcing spark on the railroad tracks. All of them sitting waiting for the train to come by, waiting for the screaming to fill their little stuffed heads. Doppler by Doppler, the toys and I came to wait for the train and nothing else made a sound, so far as I recall.

Eric left home at 14. Hopped a freight car and came back when he was 16 then 21 then 27, to sit in the overgrown yard, drinking iced tea with mama, bringing me toys to add to my collection, bringing me postcards from train stations and truck stops, until eventually he stopped, and that was that. No sound at all since then, so far as I recall. And it occurred to me one morning, just like back then, that I could take that train too, if that’s what I wanted.

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