It was almost dark and spitting drops of a cold rain and I drove too fast over the hills, around the bends, of a road bordered by dry corn stalks and sloping hills.
Almost back to the main highway that leads home and I saw the brake lights, watched the SUV in front shift into park waiting at the edge of the train tracks; a coal train without visible beginning or end moved slowly past, the lonely call of its horn far away already.
I counted 40 cars in the five minutes I waited; I know there were many, many more that had already passed the intersection.
I don’t know how something like that ever starts moving, or ever comes to a stop.
The bar finally rose and the warning light stopped flashing and the SUV in front shifted back into gear and we moved forward.
But I remembered.
We stood on the top of an overpass at dusk, jackets and sweaters pulled tight against the wind, waiting. There were three of us, I think; I couldn’t have been older than four, standing with a sister and a brother — the one who loved trains and wanted so badly to be an engineer — in the stroller, parents just desperate to get out of the house, I guess.
I remember anxiety, looking over the edge, waiting.
And the train whistle blew and the bridge rattled when it passed beneath us, air rushing up into our faces and I was afraid and I was in awe and it kept passing, car after car after car confounding my small mind. The brother cried, and the sound was so loud we could hardly hear him.
It’s one of those snapshot memories, isolated from any context. I don’t know where we lived or where that bridge was or even for sure how many of us there were, whether it was even dark. Maybe my fear colored the picture dusk; maybe it was an overcast afternoon.
That brother outgrew trains as he outgrew that stroller, moved to homemade hot air balloons, then electrical kits and reading encyclopedias. He works in New York now. The sister’s a mother and I’m spending my days writing and we’re scattered down the East Coast; nine others joined us as years passed and we forgot about the trains.
But waiting by tracks for coal cars to rattle past I remembered. And for a minute I was four-years-old, shaken and awed by something so much bigger than myself.