I laugh at railroad crossing PSAs when bad actors gasp at oncoming trains, are too immersed in headphones, or think climbing on boxcars is dope. I guffaw at YIELD TO ALL TRAINS signs.
And I roar at the footage itself, the footage some railfan with cat-eye glasses caught by sheer, dark chance. No 90s quality footage and actors who could have been kidnapped from a family sitcom. Just a car, my sister’s Toyota Corolla, actually striking a train. Not being struck by a train. Striking a train. Ramming a boxcar, as though her Corolla were a Panzer rolling down the streets of some occupied European power, and not being dragged and spun around.
Talk about trainwrecks. Talk about the train swerving first.
Rewind, rewind, rewind, the car goes backwards. But my hand always slips on the play button and sends it forward again. Damn hands. They slip so easily these days, even though I’m twenty-six and you’re thirty-two. Were thirty-two.
At least, with PSAs, you can rewind time so easily. They’re actors. But just imagine. Just imagine you could pull back, Nan. Imagine going back, saying something, saying you’re sad to your little brother, if no one else. The little brother you used to play detective with. You used to conquer garbage cans full of explosives and mysterious swarthy men in alleyways. And you used to go to my parent teacher conferences, make up excuses when Mom, aka Penelope, was too busy with something or another. Another house to close, another dollar bill before her eyes.
You can say that one word. Help. Say that instead of calling yourself a burden to your high-achieving family, sleeping at three in the afternoon, running into buildings and apologizing for not finishing the job.
Your brother wouldn’t talk pills or psychiatrists. Your brother would have fucking listened.
So I keep watching, whispering I love you, I love you, until a tear threatens to slide. And you hate, hate, hate tears. Hated, that is.
So back to the footage from that railfan. At least when you get run over, it’s like a really long, complicated dance. And you hated to dance. I guess you could call this a train waltz. One two three, slam, one two three, spin. Another boxcar, another boxcar, the car is being dragged a mile, spinning, spinning, until there’s nothing at all, but a stopped train. Figures rushing. And then the things I know and can’t talk about still.
Hitting a train is so damned funny. You’d agree with that.
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories have been nominated for Pushcarts, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfiction. His work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Ariel Chart, among others.