Fiction 2014

L'esprit de l'escalier

By: Emily Hunerwadel

Let’s get to what this is really about: three sounds.

One, the eerie church bell’s chime that radiated through the humidity long enough for you to turn to me and say the obvious. Your face, a twisted inquisitive, turning towards the not-yet-autumn sun. Your mouth gave away that you were as lost as me. That there was only the railroad track to follow with dense trees on either side, dripping with Spanish moss and kudzu.

Two, the woosh of cars on a nearby but unseen highway that tricked my ears into thinking the train was coming. You laughed and smiled down at me with happy, squinted eyes as I, paranoid, jumped quickly to the side and slid down the gravel in a barreling clumsy kind of way. I reached out to swat at your arm when I climbed back up to the wooden slats and iron bars. It was a quick mimic of a fight, with my arms and words like a child kicking her way through piles of leaves. Your answer was a “laughing with” that stuck into me the way that railroad bridge stuck into the red earthy clay.

And, finally, in some conclusion, the train noise that filtered through my bedroom window like smoke in those early, isolated hours of the morning. The highs of the whistle coming first, with a pointed and deliberate “ah” sound. Then, the rumbling parallel low that bent in pitch with the front of the train. The haze of that hook—it caused me to squish further into the bowels of my blanket and feel around in the darkness to graze the skin that wasn’t there. Last, the gritty “chicka-click” of the wheels on iron. In my head, I could see the junction—the place that would drive the train further from me and closer to where I was perpetually holding you at arm’s length. The place where that train track ends.