The tracks

Phoebe balanced on the rail of the train track, still panting from her wild climb up the hill. The rail felt smooth and warm on her battered feet. She lifted one foot and glanced at the sole – it was torn, scratched and bleeding. Typical of her to be so stupid as to come here with bare feet.

She intended to kill herself but she hadn’t intended to do herself so much damage on the way.

She reviewed her decision. She thought about the kid from her school who’d been killed on the tracks last year. Phil. Phil Evans from Year 10, just a year ahead of her. Nobody knew if he’d done it on purpose or not, but the accepted wisdom was that it had been quick and painless. Well, painless? – who knew, but quick, anyway. Quick was the important thing.

The 11:35 freight would be along in a few minutes and that would be that.

She stepped on a tie between the two tracks, then bent to put a hand to the steel. Did she feel a faint murmur in the rail? She rested an ear against the silver track, as she’d done many times near here in the past. Yes, the familiar hum was definitely stirring the rail. In a few moments, the train would around the bend a half mile away.

So, this was it. She straightened, standing tall between the rails. She closed her eyes and stilled her breathing, just as she had when she’d imagined this happening. For an instant, she could feel the summer sun drying the grasses around her, then she put her senses away so that the sound of the train racing toward her dissolved into her own heartbeat.

Suddenly the wail of the train’s whistle rent the air. Get off! it shouted.

Phoebe’s eyes flew open. Get off the tracks. Get off NOW, the whistle screamed at her with ferocious intensity. From somewhere, she collided back into her body. Her muscles clenched beneath her and she flew off the tracks, coiling into a rolling ball almost exactly as the train sliced through the space where she had been. Where she not quite still was.

She landed against a clump of grass at the foot of the little gravelled incline. She lay there, curled into a cocoon. The earth beneath her shook as the mighty engines and heavy boxcars flew by. The whistle sounded its furious reprimand over and over, Don’t ever do that again! Never EVER do that again. Never ever EVER.

For some unimaginable amount of time the train pounded by. Phoebe lay unmoving, palms pressed into the jagged gravel. Finally the last car passed. Her heart slowly resumed its regular rhythm as she heard the train disappear into the distance.

She pushed herself up with trembling arms til she was sitting. She lifted her head and inhaled, allowing her senses to begin talking with her again. She could smell barnyard smells from the livestock cars that had so recently passed through. The trees soughed behind her; a little brown bird flickered by. The sun beat down on her with its summer intensity.

She looked at her arms and legs stretched in front of her.

They could have been broken, but they weren’t. She thought about the baby taking shape inside her. It could have been broken, but it wasn’t.

She could have been dead, but she wasn’t.

She got up, scrambled up the little incline and carefully crossed the tracks. No, she wasn’t dead at all.

Phoebe set off down the hill.

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