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Contemporary Fiction People of Color

Jeanna was at peace taking her last train ride. She loved trains, which became her life’s passion. She dedicated much of her life to riding within locomotives. The employees of Lindenstill Municipal Library were sad to see her leave her job after so many years of quiet service. Jeanna was well known for her hard work, along with her presentations about the iron beasts. She had a knack of crafting her events for any level of interest, making new fans of trains in every group.

Today was her day to ride that which she loved so much. Her itinerary was in motion to take her to the end of the rails far from home. She had planned this ride for a year now. A long year in and out of doctor offices. A year in which each of those appointments ended with the doctors saying “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.” Jeanna felt that she was beat. There would be only a few more stops before the Great Conductor would ask her to step off into the unknown.

Train rides were always calming for her nerves. Jeanna decided to ride in First Class where she could enjoy the lavishness of this space for the first time. For so long she thought of this section as pompous, faking the real experience of riding the rails. She had ridden in coach and sleeper cars so many times. She wanted her Grand Ride to be something new. Jeanna realized that being in First Class allowed all the fun of the train ride with some genuine perks. She thought that if a miracle happened, which Jeanna knew it wouldn’t, this felt like the perfect way to ride home.

She imagined closing her eyes that last time and being transported onto a shiny, platinum, behemoth locomotive ten stories tall. Every car would be grander than the last one. Her favorite plants would hang everywhere. All the passengers would be happy to see her. Jeanna imagined the sights from the top floor. She would be greeted by those she left behind in Africa. Unicorns running free and a large, a golden moon in the background reflecting on a lake of diamonds, riding four rails into eternity. She smiled as tears rolled down her mocha cheeks.

Jeanna knew there would be no future train excursions in this life. She thought about how when the engineer applied the brake coming into their final station of the schedule, that too would become her final station forever. Jeanna savored every clack clack clack along the tracks. She took in all the smells and sounds from within the metal cylinder traveling across the countryside. Her lone bag stayed close on the seat next to her. She had paid for both seats to keep anyone from soiling her final experience with idle conversation of which she didn’t have the interest to care about. The people in the seats around her filled the cabin with random discussions to pass their time. Jeanna was happy to have the tranquility of no one next to her.  

Jeanna made her way to the meal car. Train food always tasted more exquisite for her. There was something about going over a hundred miles an hour while eating a perfectly grilled cheese and hot tomato soup that made the challenges in her life melt away. Today’s meal of a warm, roast beef sandwich was just as amazing. She even treated herself to what her mother had once referred to as a “foo foo drink that ladies stay away from.” The drink looked like cotton candy in a martini glass and tasted twice as sweet. Those failed doctors had once warned her from consuming these “foo foo drinks” or any other drinks. Those same doctors now seemed to think that a drink or a thousand of them weren’t going to change the direction of her situation.

Time slipped by like the scenery that crossed her window view. Jeanna wanted a way to slow it down or pause these beautiful moments. She hated that fact that Mr. Death was about to separate her from what she loved so much. She first caught sight of a train pulling up as she left the slums of Senegal. Jeanna immediately became hooked about everything they stood for. When the doors shut on her train first ride, she immediately felt safe from the poverty and abuse that chased her to the station. Jeanna relished the serenity of a majestic machine that took her to freedom.

African trains were just the beginning before she made her way to her beloved American rails. Without a husband or children, she was able to live her vacations and long weekends exploring the a land she fell in love with. Jeanna was the happiest when she looked out the window as the countryside moved behind her. She spent much of her time off the rails dreaming up new plans to explore more of the nation. Jeanna’s past life across the ocean had given her enough education to be street smart traveling alone, making the trips with little fear.

Her last day at work was filled with the expected heartfelt good-byes bathed in the lie that she was moving to Seattle to assist an ailing family member. Jeanna didn’t need the pity of those she worked around to be another emotional obstacle. Fruitless medical appointments had been enough for her to overcome. Her coworkers would wonder how she was, thinking that a family member was being cared for. This was the polite narrative that would keep people from asking intrusive questions she didn’t want to answer. Jeanna sat in the soft, First Class chair feeling a greater peace with her decisions.

The trip’s four hour route was about to come to a close. A thin, elongated video screen on the cabin wall had moved an animated train from Denver closer to Seattle on cute, little tracks with every passing minute. She never felt a moment of sadness as the happy train steamed ahead with tiny puffs of digital smoke trailing behind. Jeanna caught herself smiling. This had been a good life. While not a perfect one, she learned as a girl that life was not perfect, especially for women. She watched her female family members being treated worse than servants and cattle. Her memories were filled of them having been physically reprimanded for any complaints. “Know your place, woman,” the men would bark. Jeanna knew early on that being trapped in such degradation was not the life for her. The train’s lumbering speed offered refuge when so many friends and family wouldn’t.

Jeanna understood that upon leaving that she would never see her country, her neighborhood or her family again. Jeanna’s sister had tried to flee as she had. The men caught her and made an example of such insubordination so others would take note. Her aunt would relay this story long after the event. Today, none of that mattered to Jeanna. Every second seemed that much sweeter. She thought about the only chocolate bar she had as a child. Each bite was sweeter than the last, especially those bites that were at the end of the wrapper. Jeanna felt that she was at the end of life’s chocolate bar.

Jeanna watched the electronic train begin to chug its way under the word Seattle. She knew this was the last stretch of her Grand Ride. The conductor made his walk around the car as the voice on the intercom called attention to the passengers of the arriving station. Jeanna gathered her lone bag. She recalled getting the bag years ago before her symptoms began to fully manifest. The royal blue leather around the exquisite stitching was everything regal to her. This was her most prized possession. One of the important items that would be with her at the end.

She melted into the seat as the brakes squealed below her. Jeanna promised herself that she would remember the smell of the cabin when she made her last acts. The soft cloth fabric felt perfect against her body. She secretly wanted to take the seat with her. The multitudes of fellow passengers began to disembark from the cabin, going on with their lives as Jeanna soaked up every second. A conductor approached and asked if she needed assistance. Jeanna smiled kindly and remarked that there would be no other ride like this in her life. She stood up with her bag and took a final look around. 

The last steps from the train onto the concrete platform were the hardest for her, both literally and figuratively. A kind conductor cautiously helped her down off the train skid with a smile. Jeanna knew that this kind of emotional generosity was meant for the old and feeble. The man could see the age in her body that wasn’t etched on her skin. She humbly thanked the worker, her bag reflecting the dawn’s yawning light.

Jeanna found one of the taxi’s that circumvented the parking lot, hoping for a fare to justify their time. She clearly told the driver where she wanted to go. The car went into gear, easing out of its space. Jeanna found cars repugnant and crude, like local vernacular or profanity. She compared her current transportation against the polished prose she recently disembarked from. The ride was filled with local radio music mixed with occasional dispatching communication. She had researched to see if a bus would have been able to take her closer to where she needed to go, even if the stop meant walking. No buses were close to where she needed to disembark. Jeanna worked her best mental gymnastics to think of herself back aboard the train as she sat inside the combustion abomination.

The cab pulled up to the Eastmont Forest Preserve as the sun pulled farther above the treeline. Jeanna paid the cab fee plus a most generous tip, privately acknowledging that the cabbie could use what was left in her purse more than she would need. The fresh air was warm against her skin, making a perfect day to become one with the universe. As we come from the stars, so shall we return, she thought. Jeanna crossed the empty parking lot onto the dirt walking path. She knew that an overlook was hidden in the distance adjacent to a sparkling lake. This secret was revealed from pictures her coworker had shown her a year ago. This was the place that she decided to take the long sleep. Jeanna made her way deep into the woods with its chirping inhabitants. She thought of this as her farewell ovation.

Jeanna found the overlook after a refreshing walk. The sun had pulled higher into the sky, casting long shadows. She enjoyed the orchestra of sounds emanating from within the green that surrounded her. Every color blossomed into her eyes. She was happier than any time outside of a train. Here, she would cure the progression of her sickness once and for all. Jeanna took a seat on a bench that had been installed to overlook the lake. Birds took flight into the cloudless sky. A deer with her young drank from the water below. Jeanna felt that all was right with the world.

She removed a small, orange bottle with its one occupant that she knew would offer a permanent ticket onto the celestial train. Jeanna placed her bag on the gently worn wood planks alongside of her skirt. A single green pill rolled out into her hand. She looked at it with kindness. A year ago she named the pill Mercy. Her only friend had given it to Jeanna on her own deathbed. The single dose had done its job. Her friend was a testament to its effectiveness. She put Mercy on her tongue. The pill’s outer coating began to melt where it rested. The taste was that of medicinal marshmallow. She closed her eyes. Her memories were let free to go as they needed. Jeanna thought about her youth and her life. Old age would never be a friend to the other memories. The world began to become more subdued as the pill lost its shape in her mouth. Sounds muted in her ears. Her mind began to relax. The sun’s rays felt less warm. Her vision clouded over. Jeanna’s chest rose and fell one last time.

A ten story high, platinum train riding on four rails pulled up in front of the bench. Two shiny doors opened. A conductor who looked much like her sister was waiting within the entrance. She extended a reach and called out, All Aboard. Jeanna took her soft, ebony hand. She made her way to a reserved seat on the top section in Special Class with her bag along for the ride. Her favorite plants hung around the train car filling the cabin with radiating beauty. She settled into her cushioned seat and looked out the pristine window. Jeanna smiled as she saw unicorns run free in the countryside while a golden moon shone upon a diamond lake. The train gave a whistle that sounded like real freedom to her. Its wheels began to move along the tracks, forward into eternity.

April 21, 2021 12:17

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