10 Ways to Watch a Train
by Ysobel Gallo
1. The compressed air horn shatters the air by the waiting traffic. My blind brother leans against the metal fence, holding his sound recorder just over the edge, extended. His whole body is taut, his face lifted, listening. The rattle of rails and the clank of chained cars. The whoosh and tremble as two trains pass each other on opposite tracks. The air horn shatters the day. Silently, my brother begins to dance.
2. The trains assault me in almost every way: loud, smelly, inconceivably large. Lights and bells flash along the barriers at the end of the street: something uncontrollable passes this way. I remember the first trains in the industrial revolution were likened to dragons, roaring down their metal roads. My brother always wants to get that much closer. I am glad for the fence here, to keep him from edging onto the tracks themselves.
3. I am not allowed to talk to my brother during train recording trips. When a train comes I must be dead silent, careful even of my footfalls as I pace to keep warm. In this way, the train takes on reverence.
4. They carry oil tankers and grain cars and boxcars and chemical tanks. Coal cars and cattle cars and refrigerated cars with milk and cheese and meat. All those products in all those containers, and the other containers that fell off into the ocean on the way here. The sheer quantity repulses me. I stand and imagine the countless lifespans of all those products, all the houses they’ll end up in, and how quickly they’ll be thrown away.
5. I sometimes wonder what my brother imagines of this train. What projected size this sound speaks to him. What facets or edges his mind takes hold of. I wonder if he sees only darkness and power, like a tornado passing in the night.
6. Each new thought of trains falls like another card in a growing pattern. fifty minutes in, the cards spiral all around me. I am trying, slowly, to lay them out in a row.
7. An hour in, I decide this isn’t any different from whale watching or safari trips. For my blind brother, hearing these great and powerful sounds, knowing he can optimize his chances of observing them, this too is the Leviathan moving in the deep. The train cars rattle. The ground under our fence trembles with the weight of its passing. This, too, is elemental.
8. I think of trains in the Holocaust and western expansion trains and Industrial Revolution trains and Chinese immigrant train labor and all the other histories trains have come to be connected with. I watch my young brother who thinks of none of these. For him the only thing about the train is the now of it. He is completely present. Again, I try to fathom what is happening inside my brother’s mind. He is smiling. He flutters one hand in front of his sightless eyes.
9. I am so cold. It’s been two hours, and he shows no wish to leave. His hands have turned cold-gray and shake. We are both shivering spasmodically. I have thought every possible thing about trains and can come up with nothing else. He is still leaning forward against the bars, straining for the next sound. I am straining too, for the last train to come so we can finally go home. In this way, the last train becomes a sort of savior, and that is a new thought after all.
10. And now we are going home, the car’s heat cranked so high it smells of chemicals. I am feeling like such a good sister. Self-satisfied and overwhelmingly gracious, I accelerate hard, so he can record this as well, and honk as loudly as possible, twice. I ask him how he enjoyed himself. He sighs loudly. He says: “I wish I could have heard more.” He fake laughs then freezes, head sideways, and I realize this is a question. And I am angry. Does he have any idea how many hours we’ve already dedicated to trains that he should immediately ask for more? No. Of course he doesn’t. “I love train horns,” he says. He says, “Train horns make a beautiful sound, really.”
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