The Ad Said (conclusion)
The Ad Said
“No, they’ll have chairs at the station. We’ll have to move careful, soon as we get into town, see if we spot anything in the gutter.”
“Yeah…I wish we had just a dollar, so we could get coffee and a snack someplace.”
That was how the sisters shorthanded their mother’s saying.
Along the rails was a place to go by foot, a narrow depression, not clearly intended…or clearly not intended…for public use. A wrong step would scrape your heel, maybe lose you a shoe—more rotten luck if it happened.
“Look out you don’t lose a shoe!”
Hermie said this aloud. You could thwart mischance by letting it know you were on to it. Course it would skulk off disappointed and lunge at you some other time.
Hettie wasn’t moving; she was leaning on a beam. Hermie stopped, took her own tight hold, and looked down. True, the river was kind of horrible. You didn’t see it from this angle, the current in the moonlight, wrinkling and frothing at the pylons, dark middle of it sliding under the bridge…and a cold, sorrowing smell.
Then, there was a sort of fish.
Or something pontoon shaped, glowing from its belly, faint and phosphorescent. Big for a fish. Moving start-stop, like a buoyant sack.
It snagged, and rolled.
“It’s a man, isn’t it?”
It was shaped like one—it had arms and legs. It had a head with earholes and no ears, a flabby gash dividing the hair, that matter-of-factly exposed the skull and did not bleed.
It was under the bridge…
And they heard the train whistle. Neither spoke. Both looked wildly to the right and left. They were at center, with no better answer. Hermie, leading the way, took off, making for the Regisville side.
She did call out, “Hettie, come on!”
She thought also, hurtling herself in leaps, landing teetering, gathering into the next, that a train would slow down, it ought to, going where there were houses. But which end was it coming from? That, she couldn’t make out.
Her final landing knocked one shoe off—but by the strap, it held. The whistle so close at her back, heaved Hermie’s shoulders and raced her heart, but she was down the embankment, tripping, tumbling to a sit. She put a finger inside her heel and dragged the shoe back on.
This task was enough to think about. Maybe stupid accidents always happened like that…
You got your routine out of kilter, and you didn’t have time, when it…the train…
But what about that man in the paper the other day, the gas explosion, just from switching on a light in his kitchen?
He wasn’t expected home. His wife had put her head in the oven.
Their mother had said, the three of them drinking tea around the table, “You girls! Stop that! Giggling…what’s funny?”
Or the woman, it must have been in the summer, who had sat back against a window screen, at her own party…
You didn’t have time, Hermie told herself, to think of what you should do.
The train thundered onwards, and when the red lights of the last car were tiny, the whistling gone prolonged and slow, the creak of metal now ticking muted and sedate, she stood. She looked, through the dark, at the bridge…and it was only a silhouette over the river.
The Ad Said
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(2018, Stephanie Foster)