Come on, come on. That frantic thought is sculpted into the crowd’s poses and expressions. Some are sitting, but most pace awkwardly.
Far off, they hear the train rumbling. Visible relief flashes from face to face.
It’s an awkward two-minute ride. No eye contact, rocking back and forth, biting fingernails. Come on!
The doors open and people lurch forth, loping crab-like with thighs clenched, men out the right side, women out the left. A moment later, a hundred stall doors slam. A long, protracted sigh.
“They should put these in houses,” someone says.
“Gross! What is this, the Dark Ages?”
*hwajangshil (화장실) is the Korean word for bathroom. This story does not take place in Korea. You can only imagine the sort of world where it does take place.
copyright Jennifer Pendergast
Big Dumb Snakes
Thirty years ago we released the trains—flipped the switch (God speed!) and forgot about them. They trundled mutely across the country, delivering freight with perfect timing. Cheap too—computers don’t want to get rich.
Then the mistakes started. The book Tammy ordered arrives—along with chemo meds she desperately needs but can’t afford. The company shrugs: “Shipping error; we can’t take them back.”
An engine comes in the mail, unordered. A week later Andrew’s dies. It would’ve cost his monthly salary.
“To err is human but to really screw up . . .” people say, laughing. “Big dumb snakes.”
copyright Renee Heath
I haven’t returned to Tecumseh, Michigan since. That hydrant and its sour-sick memories still haunt me: the night 16-year-old me staggered home from partying and crossed the abandoned tracks.
The sudden rush of a steam engine. The scream of a whistle. Hot, sooty wind.
I cowered behind the hydrant—felt it suddenly twist and grasp at me with steely arms. All I could do was scream.
The police found me, jeans wet and hysterical. No one believed me. “Been drinking?” they asked.
I became “that kid”, the one who pissed himself over ghosts.
Sometimes all you can do is leave.