Breakout

2 Mar

My hands are cold. It is 2021. The President is white again. Snooki retains a modicum of fame and no one has seen “The Situation” in years. People are eating carbs unapologetically. No one gives a shit about high fructose corn because now all corn is high fructose corn, so ingredients lists just say “Corn Syrup,” which isn’t nearly as scary.

I am grizzled. My chin-beard, which for most of my life has resembled that of a 13 year-old boy’s, now has more black hairs than blonde hairs and from a distance you might really think I have hair on my face, or you might think I fell down and my face got rolled around in soot. The skin under my eyes is puffy. Even on my best days, I look like horribly sleep deprived.

I walk into the train yard. Across the yard there is a group of bums circled around a metal barrel, an orange glow flickering from its belly. I am hungry. I consider approaching the bums, but as I get closer, I see that one of the bums is Benji Madden, former member of Good Charlotte. He is attempting to trade songs for food. I hear a snippet of one of his sample songs and recognize it as a Boxcar Racer song. One of the bums calls him out on this, saying that it isn’t his song. Benji says that sure it is, that he’s Tom Delong and this breaks my heart.

I continue past them, pulling up my collar and avoiding eye contact. None of them speak to me. That’s fine.

Behind the train depot is a large hangar where the old cars are stored. There is a set of tracks that run up to massive doors. I pull at the doors, but they won’t move. I pull again, really meaning it this time, really trying to show the doors that I’m serious, but they don’t buy it.

I walk around the corner and find a door propped open by a cinder block. I pull the door back and instead of moving the block, step over it, in case the unstopped door would lock me in. A long plank of light from the cracked door lays across the vast, open building. The walls are covered in small holes. They resemble the night sky. I see a raccoon rummaging through an overturned trash can.

“Toilet cat,” I say. This is the name I invented for raccoons. They hate it.

The raccoon looks up at me. His black, beady eyes of indeterminate emotion or focus. He is like, if in Kitty School, he is the retarded kitty. He is the kitty that you only see from time to time walking down the hall with other kitties of similar appearance, some of which using little kitty wheel chairs and walkers. The animal looks at me and I stare back, sure that to him (or her), I appear equally as strange.

I turn away from the animal and continue walking to where the old engines are stored. I see them in the distance. From far away, they resemble upturned refrigerator boxes or a trailer park at night. The air is dank and stale and makes me feel old. I exhale sharply and walk toward the rusted boxes.

“Thomas?” I call out. I’m walking between two of the rusting hulks and I can smell their metal and there’s another smell, something more sickly sweet, and I know that this is the smell of humans.

“Thomas!” I call out again. There is scurrying in several of the boxes and I can only assume there’s some absentee father named “Thomas” in one of these cars. I remind myself to come back later, find this man, and say “You Thomas?” And when he says yes, say “She’s dead, Thomas,” then walk off without saying another word.

Before I call out again, I see him. Sitting in a faded blue, rust clumping around his axles as if he was sinking into the floor. He is not facing me, but I know he is aware of me. I pass along his left side and then I’m standing in front of him. He’s looking away from me, abject.

“Thomas. Why didn’t you answer me?” I ask.

“I didn’t want you to see me this way.”

“What way?” I ask. I place my hand lightly on his cheek. I’m surprised by how cold it is.

“Old.”

“You’re not old, Thomas,” I say. “You just need a paint job. You just need some rust removed.”

Thomas cranes his neck to view as much of his body as possible. He cannot. Trains do not have necks. Instead, he looks to a plate of glass standing against a rusted fuel drum and seems unsurprised by his ragged appearance. I follow his gaze, walk to the plate of glass, and toss it across the room. It shatters and there’s a scurrying of more vagrants.

“Lots of vagrants in here,” I say.

“There are like six in me right now,” Thomas says. I get a broom, walk into Thomas’s cabin, and scare the vagrants away. They scatter like cockroaches under a light. I come back out and stand in front of Thomas.

“We’re getting you out of here,” I say. “I loved you as a boy and I love you now. You meant too much to my generation to just sit here and rot.”

“But how?” Thomas asks. He shrugs a bit and I can’t help but cringe as his rusted joints creak into the echo chamber of the depot. “I’m too rusted.”

“Oh, I think I know a way to get you out.” I take off my shirt, throw the lid off of the old fuel drum, dip it in and drop it to the ground. It falls in a wet plop. I then walk to a shelf of tools, find a book of matches and return to the scene. I drop to my knees, light the shirt ablaze and begin chanting low. After a few repetitions, my voice no longer sounds like my own. My face turns up to the sky and all that can be seen are the whites of my eyes as all the light in the room vanishes, as if my eyes have absorbed it all.

Suddenly Thomas’s whistle blows and the sound is as if it is coming from everywhere. His eyes and mouth burst open and a brilliant light escapes them. The light warms me and the air smells sweet.

“Thomas!” I call. “Thomas!”

From the conductor’s booth I hear the voices of George Carlin, Billy Mays and Richard Karn. They leap from the booth and bend to rub their beards all over the rusted axles and wheels.

When the three of us explode from the depot, the vagrants outside are gone, the trash and wreckage are gone. They might have all died, I don’t know. I don’t know what happens to vagrants. I’m so happy, I’m moved to tears, but we’re moving so fast, the wind whips them away before they hit my cheeks.

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