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A train rocks and hums along endless steel rails, singing a hypnotic chorus into the night. Every passenger in rail car 15 rests peacefully on this leg from Nashville down to New Orleans. All but Macy, her twenty-something, glass-half-empty heart, officially tipped upside down.
So Chad sent flowers. Three voice messages, two emails, and one stricken status update. So what? In her dorm room back at university, Macy had shoved that fistful of roses so deep into the trash her hand came back pricked, a line of thorny gashes speckling her palm.
It’s probably the slight angle of riding downhill, Macy thinks, that keeps her mind in a fray on this long ride home. 400 feet above sea level scrolling down to a groundless, inconsequential zero. How is it possible to park a train on the ocean? To roll into the depot as if 50,000 tons of steel settled atop soggy swamp grass is just a lackluster anomaly? It’s impossible and Macy, still sleepless in rail car 15, now believes that’s all Chad will ever be, too.
They say some parts of the city are more than six feet below, old coffins churning up like clumps in the cake batter. It’s no longer front-page news when a child finds a half-sunken rib cage in the backyard, toenails floating like bubbles on the surface of the water, skulls bobbing like buoys against a ruby sunset.
Wouldn’t it be better if we just kept going? Rolled into the swamp with a whistle-blowing splash shouting, “Hey, New Orleans! We’re calling your bluff!”
Those rail cars would sink into Lake Pontchartrain as though they’d been swallowed and she could join the others down there in their twisted immortality.
“She didn’t really drown,” people might say. “She died of a broken heart.”
Her story would grow over the years, teenagers drinking Southern Comfort on the bayou, whispering about the day that train went under. Sometimes, if they got drunk enough, they’d call Macy’s name into the night then shush each other, waiting for her reply. Her snoring would be heard in the sawgrass, her steady breathing in the sound of the wind. But never once would she speak. She’d like it better down below, fast asleep in the bottom of the brine.
Katey Schultz is author of the two-time award-winning collection of short stories, Flashes of War, which features characters in and around the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Her flash fiction has won half a dozen awards, been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and published on three continents. Learn more by visiting www.kateyschultz.com.