This Is West – Railroad Crossing

Railroad Crossing Pic

Long, candy-cane-striped arms descend across the road in front Andrew, cherry-red lights flashing alternatively on the cautionary railroad crossing sign.

“Damn it. God damn it.”

Andrew will be late for his flight for sure now. He debates trying to beat the train across the tracks, but already knows he won’t do it. A train takes a mile to stop, he’s heard. A car doesn’t come out on top in a train collision, he’s also heard.

A few seconds later the train rumbles into view and cuts across the street. There is no end to the train. Not yet. Just car after car of shipping containers, stacked two high rolling clickity-clack clickity-clack in front of him. I could have beaten the train, Andrew laments. It wouldn’t have even been close.

He continues to wonder, But what if another train had been coming from the opposite direction? Well, he could have looked that way too, but it probably wasn’t worth the risk. He probably would have been late for his flight regardless of this train now running and swaying past him. He was only going on vacation after all. No deadlines, just his own, personal time he would lose waiting for a new flight. “God damn it.”

Still, there are some things not worth risking.

Andrew grew up next to railroad tracks. He remembers one time as a kid when a man approached him next to the railroad tracks as he watched a 10-car train roll slowly by. The man wore a non-descript denim jacket and ball cap with graying hair almost the color of his skin, and he seemed very adamant about keeping children from finding themselves underneath or in front of trains.

“You see those numbers on the side?” the man asked Andrew, pointing at the side of a boxcar. Andrew could see them.

“Those are how much those cars weigh. That one is 65,000 pounds. It would cut your leg right off; it’s that heavy. You hear me son? Don’t play on those tracks. It’s dangerous. You’ll be crushed like a grape.” The man grabbed Andrew’s shoulder to drive home his point; Andrew nodded. “You’ll be squashed flat like a pancake.”

Andrew knew trains were heavy. Sometimes he put pennies on the tracks and the train would flatten them. He wasn’t dumb, but the man continued, heedless of Andrew’s comprehension. He wondered if his parents could see this man talking to him. They would be mad Andrew let a stranger talk to him.

“You’ll be cut in half like you were butter.”

The end of the train comes into sight and soon the barber-pole-striped gates lift, allowing Andrew to continue on his way. He still looks both ways for oncoming trains.

“Damn it.” He sees that he will still be late for his flight. He could speed, but he’d probably get pulled over at some point, and then he’d miss his flight anyway. Probably. Some things are not worth risking.

(Fiction and Photography by Alex Pappalardo)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.