The Ghost Out On The Railroad Tracks

Six more hours to go, just to get in state; six more after that, to make it home. I pulled over because my eyes were tired from driving.

I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around. Trains still ran on these tracks, I could tell. There was no one else in sight in the parking lot of the old train depot; no one on duty, no one on the street. The tracks were four deep in two directions.

No one on the street. Not that strange, I thought. College Football season.

I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and passed through a covered area that lead to a locked ticket office. There were several safety posters and two portraits; one of a a very old man who looked like a politician, and another of a standing middle-aged man with his standing wife and seated son and daughter. The kids both appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. I thought the man might have been the same man as the other portrait, just younger. There were no signs or placards to indicate who they were, however. Apparently, around here, everybody knew.

I walked over to the railing beside the tracks. I could hear a faint sound, like an old radio. Straining to hear it better, I realized it was what sounded like a radio program from the mid 1940’s. Big band music live from somewhere, in horrible fidelity. Muffled applause and a scratchy live announcer with an old-time radio voice between songs.

I looked around for the source. There were no houses or other buildings open to the railway tracks. I looked down the tracks instead and saw a girl.

She was walking away from me, down one of the tracks, wearing an oddly old-fashioned dress, and shoes, and hairstyle. She was walking in between the tracks, and music seemed to be coming from her as well, although it was entirely different music than the radio.

Instinctively, I started walking after her, wanting to gain a little ground before speaking so as not to yell. She was singing as she walked, in a sort of plaintiff, Celtic voice:

My love, I’ve waited for him long,
Along this stretch of track —
But it’s been many, many years;
I fear he won’t be back.

My golden youth has turned to age,
The friends I had are gone;
My love, I wish he’d come back soon;
I’ve waited for so long –

I had pulled up close enough to see her face. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen her. On a whim, I called out to her, “Miss –”

She was gone. Vanished.

I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear it. I looked up and down the track: no girl, although the old time distant radio was still playing, somewhere. I walked over to where I thought she last had been. There was a piece of gingham caught up on the track; I grabbed it right before the wind would have blown it away.

As I walked back to the car, I passed through the covered area. Glancing at the larger of the two pictures, I realized that the girl I had just seen – or thought I’d seen – was the daughter in the portrait. I looked up at the picture and studied it. The others were smiling, but she looked sort of distant and sad, wearing a gingham dress. Her smiling father’s hand was on her shoulder, right beneath where the his hand lay, I could tell the sleeve of her dress was torn.

I looked at the piece of gingham in my hand. It would have fit perfectly.

“That’s my family,” a faintly Irish girl’s voice said.

I jumped. She was standing ten feet away from me. I gathered myself, and said, “Why aren’t you with them?”

“They died. Years ago.”

“Did you?” I heard myself ask.

“Yes, but I’m not leaving. He told me he’d be back, you see. I thought maybe you were him, but, I can see up close that you’re not.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where did he go?”

“Ha,” she said, with a laugh. “To war.”

“To war? Then he – he was soldier?”

“A pilot,” she said proudly. “2nd Air Division.”

“So you’re waiting for him to come back from the war?”

“He hasn’t died. I would know if he had. I am waiting for him to come back here. He said he would.”

She turned and jumped back down to the tracks. In spite of myself, I walked after her.

“Miss –” I said, “What did you die from? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Polio,” she said. “Toward the end I was in a wheelchair. I was in one in the portrait. I sent him one picture of me in my wheelchair, but he didn’t write back for a long time after that. In fact, I died, and he still hadn’t written back. Well — goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.

I stood there, the wind blowing softly through the train station, and the old-time radio music still somewhere in the distance, and I thought

“That bastard…”

 


 

Don’t ask me why I would try to write a ghost story: I hate ghost stories, for one thing, and I’m not sure I actually know what they are supposed to be, as evidenced by the above. Oh, sorry, ahem… “For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.”, etc., etc.

The Long-Awaited Rain

It hasn’t rained in quite awhile,
But it is raining now;
The morning’s dark, and ominous,
And full of hate, somehow

There’s so much never written on
The hidden happening –
For justice and injustice are
Two words for the same thing –

But love is like the sacred rain,
And ardor like the wind,
They come when least suspected, and
Upon them hopes are pinned

Of anything like green that grows;
Of just the smallest bud —
For growth is messy,
Made of earth and water, mixed
In mud

Lonelier

When I met the woman who was to become the great love of my life, she was lonelier than I had ever been, even in my worst days.

Even with three daughters she adored.

She is (and was) an exceptionally beautiful woman by any objective standard. But beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In can, rather, be a guarantee of unwanted attention.

When I first saw her, my honest thoughts were, “Wow. She’s beautiful. Way out of my league.” And that would have been that, except…

… She was attracted to me.

Even now, I have to pause to let that sink in. She was attracted to me.

I was a single father raising a son (and, during the summers, my stepson). I had dated three women since my divorce; a woman who was way too young, a woman from work who just couldn’t relate to someone who had a child, and a third whose only interest in me was money related. Dating her (my future wife) seemed an extreme improbability.

What did I have going for me? I’m not exactly handsome; I certainly wasn’t her male equivalent in looks. She had frequently dated, and had even been married once, to that type of person.

I had a job, so check there… I was raising a child, so, whatever type of check that merits, I guess I had that…

[digression]

I had emerged from my first marriage and my dating years with a series of weird ideas about women, one of which was: women are every bit (if not more) appearance-conscious than men are reputed to be. They act like men are these shallow, appearance-driven creatures, and they’re half right.

We are shallow.

There was a post earlier this month among my fellow peppers where a woman was recommending a single guy she knew to any girls out there who were single.

Let’s just say I don’t (and never did) look anything like this guy. I know (or thought I knew) that this is what women want.

Some of this attitude goes back to my early teens, and my observation of what might be called mass, groupie-like behavior on the part of my female classmates.

They all wanted the same guys: the hot guys, the cool guys (which oddly enough, in English, are not opposites).

In other words, the not-me guys.

At one point in my life, I reasoned that humans had evolved in such a way that men were supposed to die off in war and the few survivors have multiple wives; this explained things like the fact that a higher percent of women have ever been married than men, meaning, all the women marry the same few guys.

Who, once again, were not me.

[/digression]

So I found this beautiful woman, who I was attracted to, attracted to me.

What’s more, it wasn’t the way she looked that got me. I actually fell in love with her when we started talking on the phone every night.

Remember: we each had kids to get to bed. My son was only four years old at the time; his half-brother was thirteen. Her girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. We worked our jobs, got our kids to bed, then we would talk on the phone.

For hours.

She was smart. She was creative. She was strong. She had lived a fascinating life.

She had actually been a professional model in her younger days, but she had a degree in sociology, and had worked at least fifty different jobs, by my count, including having taught a variety of subjects at college.

She had dark things in her past, though.

An alcoholic father.

Date rape.

An alcoholic husband.

She was lonelier, I came to realize, than I had ever been; mostly because, to the world, she was a beautiful person, and beautiful people (as we all know) don’t have problems.

The high school pageant winner doesn’t have father who steals money to buy alcohol. If she doesn’t socialize, it’s because she’s stuck-up, not because she’s virtually a prisoner in her own home.

The professional model has her pick of all the best guys. If she got raped, it’s probably her fault. Besides, I doubt she can keep track of how many guys she’s been with.

Look at her, with her good looks and her handsome husband, and now, three beautiful daughters. Certainly, neither she nor her girls could be afraid at night when he comes home drunk.

I came to see something I’ve seen repeatedly since: when you think someone else’s life is easy, it’s because you don’t know that person well enough.

Still, she had overcome these things, and I had fallen in love like I’d never thought possible. She encouraged me. She looked out for me.

She loved me.

She didn’t just say it, she actually did it.


When we decided to get married, our kids seemed excited about the idea. Mixed step-families do have problems they don’t tell you about in books, though, like her twelve year old daughter having a crush on my thirteen year old stepson.

And him breaking her heart.

Our first year of marriage was tough, as we struggled to integrate ourselves into each other’s lives.  She had learned to be conflict-avoidant. I had learned the opposite.

But we worked through it.

To me, in a relationship, respect is more fundamental than attraction, or even affection. I was attracted to her, and I loved her, but I respected her, and that meant more when times got tough than anything else, largely because respect prevents you from, ultimately, indulging in the type of corrosive criticism that destroys relationships from within.

When you are attracted to her, you want to sleep with her;
When you love her, you want her to be happy;
But when you respect her, you want to listen to and learn from her.

When you have nothing left to learn from the person you love, your relationship is probably in trouble.


So here we are.

We’ve been married now quite a while; we’ve seen all three of our daughters get married, and one of those get divorced.

I’m upwards of fifty years old; she’s a few months older than I am. We have grandchildren.

She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. “Beautiful” and “young” are different words for a reason.

We have challenges ahead, I’m sure. I’m also sure I have no idea what they will be. But we’ve both been through the valley.

We also know what is to lie out on the grass, and bathe in the sunlight, and know we are loved.

For love is not just the best thing, it’s the only thing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Closest Moments

Sometimes, the closest moments are almost throwaways: times when, without planning it, we stumble into an interval, a place, and an activity where we are each totally present.

She remembers reading a book with her father, out on the beach; I remember reading poetry with my mother, sitting there on our old living room furniture.

Moments like these are so good, they always lose something in the telling; however, they are also so good, we should always tell them anyway.

Recurrent Dream

Beside a home we used to know,
There glows a magic tree:
Aurora borealis, high
Above a snow white sea

As love flows warm between our hands,
And joy floats down like snow –
I joined you there again last night,
But don’t know why it’s so.

The air was wintry, cold, and still.
The stars were clear and bright,
It was a home we never knew,
But seemed as though we might

Have lived there in a childhood
We never really shared:
With two hands that have never touched,
And never could – or dared.

There’s people pay psychiatrists
To figure out such things:
Why northern lights are witness to
Such wild imaginings –

I wish I understood myself,
Just why I see things so —
And why, when I imagine us,
The whole world is
Aglow

Admissions

Like many of you, I struggle at times with how much of myself I should reveal here.

Should I tell people that every time I read the words “Nano Poblano” I think of them sung to the chorus of “Viva Las Vegas”?

Probably not.

Should I talk about how much I still love my wife after all these years, or how grateful I am for all the little things she does for me? No, because, number 1, it would seem uxorious, and number 2, nobody wants to hear about good things.

In fact, people seem to positively resent other people’s good things. How dare I, or anyone else, have good things to say about anything?

So that’s out.

Should I talk about how unpopular I was as a child? That, in elementary school, I once had a valentine returned to me, unopened?

That might be okay. People can relate to being unpopular. Oddly enough, even very popular people can relate to it.

You popular people know who you are. Popularity is a thing you would never admit to, of course.

Those type of admissions are very unseemly.

Given that much of my writing this month has been about dating and many of the relationships I’ve had along the way, I might want to write about why it took me so long to find that type of love, and about all the things I did to sabotage my own relationships. I could dress it up like it was some sort of sociological study…

… How about “no”. That style of writing is irritating: “Thirteen Things Men Do Because They’re Afraid of Love,” written by A. Nonymous:

“… I realized, for all my talk of equality, that I wanted to be in control in my relationships. So, I let one after another slip away, to feed my ego… People want more freedom in their lives, not less: love should promote that; but, for years, I couldn’t see it.”

Well. That has the merit of being true, I suppose. Judging from readership on the Internet, people hate truth: they prefer politics, just to mention one of the many more popular choices. Erotica would be another.

I have told a couple of stories here that involve sex, although the predominant theme in each was my general cluelessness. General cluelessness, and my knack for finding women who had a point to prove to their ex.

Speaking of being clueless, my wife is out of town for a few days, so I’m having hot dogs for breakfast. Should I admit to that?

I’m pretty sure I just did.

I also started working on a song. I stopped writing songs because inspiration only ever seem to hit while she was sleeping. I wasn’t going to wake her up trying to work out a song at the piano.

I write poetry instead, typing is less noisy. And less grating than my voice.

I hate my voice. I could write about that. People can certainly relate to that – you most likely hate yours too.

Even though they’re the only voices we have.

And we’d have a hard time admitting to anything without them.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

To My Daughter

I wish that I could give you back your life;
But that is something that I cannot give you —
And so, instead, I’ll offer you my arm,
For you to lean upon as I grieve with you.
 
There are no magic words to cancel pain;
There is no over it, there’s only through it —
And if you need to cry, or hit, or scream,
Then I can be a one with whom you do it.
 
For life is full of laughing, yes – and crying –
And I can’t say why good things just keep dying –
But I would lay my own life down, today,
If doing it would take the pain
Away