The sound of a train in the distance

I sat on the curb and watched the sun start to dip behind the tree line on the horizon. Its descent more rapid by the minute, succumbing to the weight of having lit the sky. The last of my teammates, Jimmy, had been picked up some time ago. His mom gave me a long look, concern in her eyes. She offered me a ride home but I told her my dad would be there any minute, not to worry. I’m not sure she believed me, but she didn’t press the issue. All alone, on a dying Saturday evening, outside of my junior high school.

I got two hits that day. I always got hits on road games. Home games never went well for me. That vicious cycle, the fear of failure and failure. My father pushed me and pushed me to be the best, but when I played in front of him, it could never go well enough. Anxiety dominated my every action, striking out, over and over. I wanted to quit, but would that be more of an insult to him than failure? Sometimes I wondered if he drank to try to forget all the ways I let him down. I wondered if that’s why mom disappeared.

I got a birthday card addressed from mom after she left, but my sister might have forged it, hoping to cheer me up. I weighed my depression between them, the idea of my mom never sending me a birthday card ever again, or my sister faking her absentee love. I know she meant well, but if mom was truly gone from our lives, I’d rather just know. Dad swore she’d be back. Well, mostly he just swore.

Mom went to the train station with just one bag. No goodbyes. Just gone. For awhile dad tried to convince us that she was away on business, but mom was a substitute teacher. Dad seemed angry that she waited to leave until my sister and I were old enough to understand she was gone. If we had been younger, young enough not to remember her at all, maybe that would have been better. Maybe if we’d been young enough to believe the lies.

I heard a train whistle. I used to play on those tracks, putting coins on the rails. A train would roll through and I’d find them afterward, smashed flat. Once I thought about putting something bigger on the tracks but I chickened out. In my mind, the train would fly off the rails and crash into a million flaming fragments. My mom would have been on that train, coming home, and I would have killed her. I stopped going near the tracks.

My sister pulled up in my dad’s car. Only fifteen but she’d been driving for a couple of years out of necessity. I knew that dad was drunk at home again. Probably forgot I was even gone to a game, even though he’d dropped me off that morning. My sister apologized for being late, she was stuck babysitting for the neighbors. No big deal, I was just happy to be remembered at all. I didn’t take much for granted anymore. A ride home was something to be thankful for.

We started the drive home and on the way we crossed over the train tracks. My sister slowed as we passed, looking down the way to try to catch a view of any trains. I knew she was looking for what I was looking for. Neither of us ever saw her again.