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Into Which the Breathing Descends.

He traveled with vagrants, with hobos lacking money and plans, with drunks and crooks, with men driven mad by an endless insatiable need for motion. He crept into boxcars at night while they creaked and groaned and he hid in dark sideouts. He caught trains on the fly, was hauled onto flatcars moving twenty miles an hour, rode grainers and gondolas, rode suicide-style.

He skinned both shins to the bone misjudging a jump. Clung to rusting ladders for hundreds of miles, his shirt ironed to his skin by the slipstream. Had his heart broken by the sun coming up over the Ozarks.

He remembered years of his life by the lines he was running: 1971, Breakwater and Frankford; 1972, Coast Starlight, Bay Line. Spending months sleeping in ditches, in culverts, on dunnage bags. A hot hairy stink of cattle rising from the stock cars.

He saw college students, drunk and stoned and bored out of their minds, jump on and ride for several miles. A trio in bellbottoms and tie-dye once held a picnic on top of a stockcar ambling along the stretch from Lake Charles to Lafayette.

Those kinds of riders were inexplicable to Magellan. They were always running to or from and he was only ever running.

Nights he camped in flat Nebraskan fields with drifters and draft dodgers. Mourning doves nested in the collapsing eaves of abandoned depots and he caught and cooked them and ate them with wild plums and prairie turnips, tinpsila in the Lakota tongue. Stealing sweet corn from farmers' fields and roasting it over a campfire, the juicy kernels popping like blisters between his teeth, washing in dusty rills or not at all--these were the facts of Magellan's life.

He rode every kind of car: coil cars, piggyback cars, grainers, hoppers, quarry tubs. He was thrown off dozens of trains, sometimes while the wheels were still moving. He was arrested in Raleigh and Lansing and Los Alamos, punched and kicked by tramps, robbed at gunpoint. He was propositioned by yardmen and car-knockers; he went about freezing and filthy and starving; he carried a bag with clean shirts, underwear, and a six-inch bowie knife. He was twenty-three years old and he traveled alone.


July found him headed east from Oklahoma, axle-swinging a loaded boxcar on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe toward Topeka. Hour by hour the clay-colored mesas thinned into grasslands, flatness as far as the eye could see. He was traveling to Azimuth, Michigan, a no-use town high up the coast of Lake Huron, and he knew every yard of track in between.

After he crossed the Mississippi, the trains rarely ran at convenient times and he began to travel on foot. He walked through woods thick with ferns and shadows, creeks swollen with silt and salamander. He wandered until he heard the next express coming through town, waited till it slowed for a curve and then jumped onto the hitchings and sat, teeth rattling, consulting the sky.

When he lay down at night he felt himself dissolving into the forest floor. He dreamed he lay forever sucking sap from milkweed pods, living in water and pine. He covered Illinois and Indiana, passed through Portage and Kalamazoo. Exhausted, half-delirious, he crept northward. Two hundred miles to Azimuth.

Morning found him camped beside a weedy culvert near the railroad tracks. In the early light, he brushed off his clothes, rolled up his blanket, and pissed against the metal drainage pipe. It was July, hot, miserable weather that made the air soupy even at dawn.

He felt a tight, hot coil in the center of his chest as he walked toward town. He'd passed through dozens of places like Azimuth and he hated them all, the empty warehouses, the sagging row houses, the crowded storefronts with FOR RENT signs clouding the panes like cataracts. The people who lived in these houses were petty and cruel, their little lives overflowing with spite, and he wanted to spend as little time as possible here.

He walked quickly, his stomach aching with hunger. One block, two blocks, five blocks. Already he missed the rattle of the train, the constant thrumming motion of it. He felt like a sailor back on land after too much time at sea.

A mile outside Azimuth, a junkyard rose like a fortress from the forest. Magellan stood in the road outside the yard and took it in: lumber gate, mountains of scrap, a glimpse of a trailer, chain fence stretching back into the trees. He'd become so accustomed to trees that for a moment that was all he saw, a monstrous rusting woods with bristling wire branches.

He left the road and walked around the edge of the property, through the forest where pine needles made a shifting seafloor under his feet. At a sag in the fence he jumped, feeling the metal links spring and bounce beneath his feet.

Inside the junkyard, he stood very still. He had traveled fifteen hundred miles and if he tried hard enough he could still see it the way it had been described to him on those hot lonesome nights in the city.

Here, the dusty green trailer.

Here, the place where rain collected after storms.

There, and there, and everywhere, the mountains of junk: spavined bicycle frames, rusted fifty-five-gallon drums, refrigerators gone leprous with rust, snaggletoothed hay rakes, combine blades, baby carriages.

None of it was as he'd pictured and still he could see Jackie in every inch of it.

It was nearly ten minutes before Jackie emerged from the trailer. He looked old, older even than the twenty years that separated them, and there was a greasy grayness in the wrinkles around his eyes. He had shaved his head and from a distance his scalp looked oddly sallow, the color of old hominy.

Magellan was perched on the side of a twenty-foot pile of junk, balanced between a carburetor and a rusted boxspring. A dog, a bluetick with a chunk missing from its ear, barked and panted on the ground beneath him. When he was still a good ways away, Jackie stopped and looked up at him.

You bastard, he said. You faithless fucking bastard.

Magellan said nothing. He began to climb down from the pile slowly,

his feet avalanching small discs and shards of metal. The dog whined but stayed where it was.

Jackie did not come closer.

I told you to stay put, he said. I told you not to leave the trainyard.

Magellan scrambled down the last slope, his legs mixing and tangling in the metal.

I know, he said. I'm sorry.

Sorry. Jackie looked up at the sky. He's sorry. It's been what, four months? Four months I haven't heard one word from you. You son of a bitch.

You were hard to track down, Magellan said. There's a goddamn lot of junkyards in this country, did you know that?

Of his long nights on the rattletrap expresses, of his three months spent searching the yards--first the Pacific, calm and enormous, then the Atlantic, scrappier, bitter, and in between them the plains, the dark pine forests, the still shallow reservoirs reflecting every sky, him straining his eyes to see the first of the Rockies or the slow comfortable curve of the earth, the familiar sideouts and the favorite trestle bridges--of all this, Magellan said nothing.

Instead he gestured to the heaps of metal, the crushed fenders and chassis, the ugly awkward girders.

You're like a king out here, he said. Living in your compound and everything. Guarding your land from invaders.

Jackie snorted.

The king of nothing. The king of fuck-all.

They stood face to face among the metal flotsam, the flaking bits of iron, smell of rust and blood. Jackie's arms--had they always been so thin?--were crossed over his chest.

I ought to run you off the property. I ought to set the dog on you.

Magellan waited. The day was hot and rancid and Jackie was fixing him with a hard, flat look. The dog was still whining low in its throat.

Finally Jackie sighed.

Fine. Come inside.

Fall 1970

He'd met Jackie exactly three times in his travels. The first, October 1970, he was eighteen, new to freighthopping and newly brokenhearted. He was dozing on a Union Pacific with a half dozen strangers when the train stopped outside Kenosha. After a few minutes, word traveled back to their boxcar. Something on the tracks. Crew coming to move it. Be on our way soon.

After another half hour of waiting, the boxcar door slid back and a face appeared: dirty, lined, crackling with energy. Magellan ducked instinctively, still skittish about bulls and yard bosses, but the man just laughed and swung himself up into the car and sat on the floor beside them. He produced a joint and the group of them sat smoking and drinking Old Turkey until they started moving again.

Magellan didn't think much of him until later that night, when he woke up from a sound sleep and saw the man staring out at the black sky. He'd opened the boxcar door and the land was streaming by, too dark to see in any detail. He was talking, saying something to the spilling air, and it was a minute before Magellan realized the man was asking him a question.

I said, why do you do it?

He was talking about freighthopping, Magellan knew, and he had no answer that did not include what he was running from and who he did not want to be.

Let me guess, the man continued. You can't stand still. You're not at home in your own skin. You got your first taste by accident and now you can't go back. Am I right? You've quit your job and you'll be calling your parents and telling them you're staying with a friend, telling them you'll be home soon, and you're on a westbound to the coast. There's no staying away.

Promptly Magellan forgot everything he'd been learning from the seasoned tramps: be wary, trust no one, don't talk too much.

How can you tell? he asked.

The man looked out over the black and swaying land.

Well, now, I've got a similar problem, he said. I can't stay away from the people who can't stand still.

Right then, Magellan knew he was undone.

Summer 1975

At the table they sat and tried to reacquaint themselves. There was awkwardness between them and to fill the silence Magellan talked about the old northern lines being torn up, a tramp's death he'd witnessed last month, their few mutual acquaintances. He hadn't expected to feel angry, but sitting across from Jackie he felt a slow rage boil up in his throat and when their conversation ran dry he nearly flung the little ceramic ashtray--Visit Kalamazoo!--to the floor.

You shouldn't have left, Magellan said suddenly, causing the dog to jerk its head up. All I wanted was to talk things over. Would that have killed you? I go to get cigarettes before the next freight comes through and you're gone so fast you might as well be a magic trick. Jackie reared back and laughed.

That's great, kid, that's fucking priceless. I shouldn't have left? Remember Baltimore? Who left then?

Jesus, Jackie. I was scared, I was young. What do you want me to say? I'm a jackass. I'm sorry.

Magellan was on his feet, pacing the narrow kitchen.

I want to stay with you, he said. I want us to forgive each other. Now. For good.

Jackie shook his head. His face red and streaked with sweat.

What's the point? I know you. Next good-sounding train whistle, you're outta here.

That's not true. That's--

Honest to God, I'd rather go the months not hearing from you. I'd rather wake up to the empty bed in Baltimore.

Magellan spread his arms wide.

How do I prove it? I'm here for good, I swear to god.

They argued until dinner and then, exhausted, fell into a sort of stupor. When dusk came they were still inside, drinking warm beer at the green card table in the kitchen. The ceiling light threw a glow like aging varnish. Magellan thought he could sleep a week and never say another word as long as he lived. Jackie was staring at his hands.

Shit. What now?

Magellan stood, threw his arms wide.

Tell me I'm awful, he said.


Tell me I'm the worst thing that's happened to you.


Tell me to get the fuck off your property. Tell me to get out of your kitchen.

Jackie was sweating again, his face red and streaked.

Fuck you, he said. Stay the night.

Spring 1970

He began freighthopping more or less by accident, but he fell in love first.

He was eighteen, fleeing his family, fleeing himself. He had hitchhiked a hundred miles from his home and was waiting for something to happen, something to spark or change. He knew he loved men and he knew what it was like not to permit himself that and now he was ready to know something different.

In Coon Rapids he walked into a diner smelling of old grease and exhaustion and ordered the first thing on the menu. When the cook emerged from the kitchen with a plate of eggs and bacon, he felt a hateful scrape of desire. The kid was twenty-one or twenty-two, sullen, hair unwashed, and Magellan wanted him, wanted this uncomplicated person with its body lean and broadboned as a ladder, its cat's eyes and patched jeans.

For half a summer he lost himself in the boy's room, a hot airless box with the bathroom down the hall and a permanent smell of dust and stale cologne. Bent over the kitchen table, and up against the wall, and stumbling down the hall to the unmade bed, their hurts bare and spitting, anger tautening their hands and hips and teeth. There was a need in Magellan five miles wide and daily and nightly he felt the boy coil and uncoil him with one fingertip and knew, knew with his blood and marrow and breath and bones, that this was the end of his life and the rest of it, too.

Afterwards, the cook would talk about all the women he'd been with. This is a one-time thing, he'd say. An experiment. He said everything under the sun, but each afternoon Magellan found himself drawn back to the diner like a slip of iron to a magnet.

He wrote his parents a postcard: Not coming back.

The day he found the cook in bed with someone else, he walked to the trainyard and hopped the first thing he saw, a southbound express that slowed just long enough for him to scramble aboard and skin both knees. For three days straight he rode, an ache in his chest and bruises spilling up his arms, beginning to learn the rails. He didn't stop until the tracks ran out and then he lay down in the swampy yard at the end of the line and let the hot Florida rains nearly drown him.

Summer 1975

Their first night in the trailer, they smoked cigarettes in bed. Magellan ran his lips drowsily across Jackie's chest and along a blurred tattoo on his arm. He pulled away imagining tastes of blackberry, graphite, India ink. Noticing something he hadn't seen before.

What the hell is that?

High on Jackie's chest, a small white bandage.


Jackie pulled away, but Magellan persisted in tracing his fingers over the clear surgical tape and the quarter-sized lump beneath. Jackie seized his wrist and wrenched it away.

It's a port, you bastard.

Then everything fell into sharp clarity as in a sudden slant of light.

The chemical taste of Jackie's sweat. The sallow color of his skin. The tiny blood drops pearled on tissues in the bathroom.

Magellan shivered, and Jackie drew the sheets up over them.

Lung cancer, he said.

In the silent bedroom, Magellan's pulse beat loud in his ears. Everything he wanted to say was soldered into the wrong words in his mouth.

In the morning the sky came clear and bright through the trailer window. Piles of junk gleaming wetly from a night rain. Magellan rolled over in the narrow bed and saw Jackie was gone.

He found the note in the kitchen. At the doctor. Be back soon.

That morning he walked the junkyard under a sun pale and flat as a nickel, the bluetick sniffing at his heels. It was a big property, nearly ten acres, but he was drawn to the smallest pieces, the bits of metal that separated and fell to the bottoms of the junk heaps--brass snaps, lifeguard whistles, lengths of thread-thin wire. He pocketed a few of them, a gear with crooked teeth and a handful of loose typewriter keys.

By lunchtime Jackie was still gone and all the old restlessness was flushed to the surface like quail from a bush. Magellan was anxious, was slipping through the cracks in things. He felt his body wrapped in wire, his chest pinned with fierce weights, his limbs fastened with bronze at the wrist and ankle.

Lung cancer. Jesus.

He waited in the trailer until he couldn't stand it anymore and then he went outside. Two miles down the road lay the trainyard. It would be slow this time of day, but come evening the traffic would pick up and he'd be able to swing into a cargo well or an auto carrier no problem. Likely there weren't even any yardmen besides the pair he'd spotted on his way into town yesterday morning.

He would not go. He would not.

Around him in heaps were junked buses and motorcycles and tractor engines. He began sorting purely to give his hands something to do. Pulling pieces of metal aside to see what he might find. But soon the sorting became something else, and then he was searching, although he didn't know for what.

After an hour he had a pile in the middle of the yard: collanders, manifolds, pistons, bent wrenches and padlocks, old bells and chimes. He pried open the door to Jackie's shed, cleared the workbench, brought the scrap inside. With the dog sniffing curiously beneath the door, he ran an extension cord through the window, resurrected an old soldering iron from a high shelf, and began working.

Sweat dripped into his eyes. He had learned the basics of engine repair traveling through the southwest with an old Indian man whose people likened a car to a human body: wheels as legs, distributor cap as a heart, muffler as lungs. He knew how to make something go, but that wasn't what he needed now.

He would make a machine not for traveling but for staying still. He would make it big and messy and unwieldy. He would add in all the hurt and anger and fights and he wouldn't tell Jackie and he would hope to God that something came out in the end.

Spring 1965

He was thirteen the year his father took him camping, thirteen the first time he fell asleep under open sky. Someday he would sleep in irrigation ditches and swamps but right then all he knew was the deep bone-cold of the woods and the subtle torture of damp socks and he hated them, hated them.

He was thirteen too when began to notice mechanisms more interesting than kerosene stoves and binoculars. The stutter of his own heartbeat. The conflicting push-pull of desire. The play of light on delicate hairs along a throat.

We machines.

In five years Magellan and his father would cease to be on speaking terms, but that week he learned how to choose a campsite, build a fire, and stake a guyline. Most of all, he remembers the makeshift compass they constructed. Together they rubbed an iron needle on a magnet, stuck the needle in a bit of cork, and set it in a pan of water. In the cold April air they sat and watched their needle bob around like a minor miracle.

That hair-thin needle, that flick and flimmer--that was how Magellan felt when he thought about the trains running past Azimuth.

Remove the water, he told himself. Just stay.

Summer 1975

If July in Azimuth was hot, August was unbearable. Grasshoppers plagued the county, and the air swarmed with their sharp wings. Fat brown spiders crawled slowly from shadow to shadow. In town, no one moved unless they had to. The air was thick and sour as wet wool.

All that summer, Jackie drove himself to and from appointments. He would come home and sit for the rest of the morning holding himself together at the kitchen table. Every movement shooting white lances through his marrow. Afternoons, while he locked himself in the bathroom and was wretchedly sick, Magellan went to the shed and worked.

With dampness creeping down his back, he cobbled together bits and pieces of metal, melted a bezel ring to a hinge, soldered the strikeplates and deadlatches and skittery innards of doorknobs into one tumorous mass. When the shed got too hot he went back to the yard and combed it for loose springs, cribbed clock hands, and miscellaneous dials. He threaded reluctant gears into a limping synchrony, strung wire through bullet casings, worked, worked, worked.

Most days Jackie's bones and blood and lungs screamed in pain so he could hardly talk, but sometimes he walked the yard with Magellan. Then they spoke like the old days, things they'd seen, lines they'd travel, hot air and memory. Nights, Jackie dragged his uncomfortable body back and forth through the trailer while Magellan dreamed of finding planetary gears in his pillow, rusty saw blades under the table, fork tines in the freezer and tuning pegs and strings in his shoes.

One night he got into bed and found Jackie staring at the ceiling.

Talked to the doctor yesterday, he said. She said that's it, I'm done.

I can stop going in for treatments.

Magellan felt a breathless leap in his pulse.

Really? You're in remission?

Yeah, Jackie said, in a way that didn't mean yeah at all.

In the glow of the hall light Magellan looked down at his own arms, the arteries mapped across the skin, all that clean, healthy blood. There were billions of lives underway outside these bare walls and sour sheets and he couldn't understand a single one of them.

Jackie rolled over to face the wall.

People throw away everything, he said. They treat everything like shit.

Summer 1973

In Maryland he met Jackie for the second time. For weeks he'd been riding the small lines and the bobtails, Breakwater and Frankford, Cape Charles and Eastern Shore, crisscrossing the Delmarva three times a day. He had no idea why he was doing it, only that he was tired of the vast unyielding west and the lines that went on without end. He'd spent the last year traveling Arizona and New Mexico, waking every day to stark angles of light and rock, to stifling immensities. In Maryland, Magellan felt penned-in and liked it. That was the beauty of freighthopping, the freedom to go anywhere without cause. When there was nowhere you were trying to end up, no place that had to meet any expectations, you were never disappointed.

It had been nearly three years since the night on the Union Pacific outside Kenosha, but when he frisked a drag and saw the familiar face peering over the top of a boxcar he knew immediately. His pulse skipped a beat.

Join you? he called up.

Then the face disappeared and an arm extended and Jackie was hauling him up onto the corrugated roof.

That day they rode all the way from Pocomoke to Baltimore sharing a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, legs dangling off the boxcar, talking about their coldest nights and closest escapes. While the train passed through thin forests and around bays and spidery inlets, Magellan felt something in him quiet and still. Like a giant top had just ceased spinning in his chest.

By the time the train pulled into the yard, a light rain was falling. They spotted uniforms through the gray drizzle and had to jump from the boxcar and run for it, dodging grainers on a drag line, stumbling over tie plates and rails. Three blocks from the yard, they ducked into an alley and stood, hands on their knees, wheezing, laughing their asses off.

From there it was nothing to the moment when Jackie turned and invited Magellan for a drink. They walked up the road, hips swinging lightly, and Magellan felt himself on the brink of a perfect unfolding.

Overnight they became immersed in the cool gritty jazz of the city, blue crabs eaten at long tables spread with newspaper, a shared room with walls smelling of old grease, baseball games roaring out from the Old Grey Lady on 33rd and a long dying wail of sirens along the bay, through the alleys off Read and Charles where even the shadows were hot and dangerous, and dives where two beers went for a dollar and the dancing didn't end till the streetlights went out, till the secretaries boarded the buses in their bright skirts, till they staggered home shirtless and fell into bed. Everything was perfect and bound to come apart.

He woke in a cold sweat. Panicked.

While Jackie slept he stood at the window looking out at the white morning. They had been living in Baltimore for six weeks and he felt an urge to hop a train to some wild place, northern Montana or the Dakotas, to ride with the tramps until he died and his bones became part of the rails. There were unspoken things in the room, things Jackie was confirming for him. That he would grow to depend on someone for his happiness. That love was a noose. He saw his freedom complicated and compromised. He saw a stasis that would break him.

He stayed in Baltimore three more days, counting each train whistle as it passed, and on the fourth morning he left sick and soundless on a westbound express. No itinerary. No note.

When he reached the opposite end of the country it was night. He walked two miles from Rockaway Beach to the coast of Oregon and looked out at the great black ocean. Free.

Summer 1975

Days passed and August expired. Jackie stayed inside most days, wheezing on the couch and sleeping intermittently. The dog slept at his feet.

Out in the shed, the machine was progressing. It had grown to the size of a beer cooler,-it had levers and keys and knobs; it had no utility and it looked insane. Every day Magellan went out to the shed without knowing what he was doing, and every day he hammered and melted and strung until he heard Jackie calling to him from the trailer. He found himself chanting in time with his breaths: more time more time please more time. His body itched with the stillness of the place and there was a sharp steel wool agitation to all his thoughts.

In September, a hospice nurse showed up at the door.

I'm here to talk about end-of-life plans, she said. She looked surprised to see Magellan, more surprised when Jackie sent her away and locked the gate after her. From then on, they were closed for business.

He'd thought Jackie dying would bring them closer, deepen their understanding of each other, but nothing changed. The prognosis stayed the same and the way they kissed stayed the same and who changed the toilet paper roll stayed the same and at the end of the day they were fucked, he was fucked, the whole world was fucking fucked.

And Jackie wouldn't tell him what it felt like to be dying, and Magellan didn't want to know, and then he was ashamed for not wanting to know. So this was what he'd learned to stand still for.

Night. Toads sang in the forest and a smell of motor oil hung in the air. Jackie and Magellan were taking a walk.

They passed around the perimeter of the junkyard slowly, clumsily. Jackie leaned on Magellan's arm and they did not speak and they did not compare the ways each had been cheated by the other. The dog followed a few yards behind.

When they reached the far side of the property, Jackie stopped. Look, kid, he said. I don't know any more than you. I don't know if it's going to be days or weeks or months, but I know it's not going to get any easier.

What are you talking about?

I'm just saying. It's not like you need to stick around and watch it happen.

Magellan shook his head.

Don't be ridiculous, he said. I'm not going anywhere.

You might as well. I don't need your help. Hit the road, get outta here. Go find another life somewhere.

Magellan was still shaking his head. Not meeting Jackie's eyes. You're dying you're dying you're dying.

You'll be fine, Jackie, he said. We're both going to be fine.

Spring 1975

The third and final time they met, four months before the junkyard, Magellan was riding an empty X6o headed from El Paso to Chicago. It was a year and a half since Baltimore and he had been wasting away all that hot gray Texas spring, only now making a run for the north where he thought he might pick up some work and try settling down for a summer or two.

The train was rattling along at forty miles an hour when he heard someone walking on the top of the boxcar. He slid open the roof hatch and there was Jackie, strolling the tops of the cars like some freighthopping prophet.

When Jackie saw him, the expression slid off his face.

You're shitting me, he said.

For hours they sat in near silence, letting the clatter of the wheels eat up their words. Finally, half an hour north of Amarillo, Jackie shrugged and said it is what it is, kid, and punched him square in the mouth.

And now it's even, he said.

After that they rode nearly nine hundred miles in a sort of blissful reunion they knew couldn't last. Outside Tulsa, Jackie told Magellan that his old man had died and he'd inherited his junkyard. He was going to move up there and see if he could fix it up enough to sell.

You might stop up and take a look around with me, he said.

Magellan nodded, but that night--after he watched the sun sink bloodily over the hills, after Jackie ran a dangerous finger down his spine, after they reopened his split lip--he woke terrified. The sliding doors were closed and the boxcar smelled of musty burlap and all along its darkened walls he read the inevitability of being trapped.

He shifted out from under Jackie's arm, got up and paced. Restless, restless. He was hungry and cold and there was blood in his mouth and dried semen on his belly.

He told himself he'd changed since Baltimore. He told himself he wouldn't make the same mistake twice. But then the cold iron part of his mind was reared up and laughed. He would walk away from anything he couldn't fit into a rucksack and sling into a coal car.

He bent and shook Jackie awake.

What is it? he mumbled. Are we there?

No, not yet, Magellan said. I just--

But he couldn't say what he had woken Jackie up to ask. And where was there, exactly? A place where he felt differently? A stillness that didn't stifle him?

The car rattled around a bend, and he hesitated, and Jackie saw, and in the morning when the train stopped he was gone.

Summer 1975

The machine inside the shed. The machine among the junk. The machine of changing plans. Of cut-and-run. Of holding still. The machine with metal dangling from chains. The machine of foil and magnets and mirrors and baling wire, of roofing nails, caved-in teapots, trowel heads, spoon.

The machine starry and insane, lacking form, lacking function. The machine waiting to begin.

This time he woke to an empty bed. It was the first cool night of September and he had had a horrible premonition, all iron nails and cold pits and shadows. What would remain when he was gone.

Across the junkyard, a rectangle of light shone from the shed.

When Magellan reached the door, he found Jackie standing in front of the machine, running a chain through his fingers. He didn't turn toward Magellan.

This is crazy shit, kid. This is fucking insane.

God, don't touch it. I just--it's not done yet, okay?

Not done? What in the hell is it supposed to be?

Jackie had picked up a bevel and fulcrum, was hefting them in his hand.

I mean it, Magellan said, stepping forward and snatching them back. Don't touch anything.

Jackie's mouth was twisted up into an ugly little knot. He pulled a washer off the side of the machine and pitched it out the door. It landed in the dirt.

I know what this is, he said. You're not happy here. You want to leave.

Jesus, Jackie, that has nothing to do with it. I wanted to make you something nice, I don't even know what it's supposed to be.

Then suddenly he saw the machine as Jackie did: elegy, protest, monument to all their lost time. And he saw Jackie seeing it and it was the same as when he left him in Baltimore, the same as when he hesitated on that northbound X6o. It was every time he'd wanted to run. It was how many times he could destroy the same person.

Jackie was pulling at the machine, gouging away a ball bearing, the handle of a ladle.

I told you before, I don't give a shit, he said. Go on and leave. His voice rose and cracked. Just leave, all right? I don't want you anymore. Can't you understand that?

Then he was sweeping pieces off the workbench, sending rivets and thimbles flying. A tiny model propeller blade went daisy-petaling across the shed. Magellan grabbed Jackie's arm and pulled him away.

Jackie paused.

Go away now, he said. Breathing hard now, his pupils glassy.

A sparkplug went flying.

Get out of here.

A hinge.

Don't come back.

He was gasping, leaning against the workbench. Magellan was expecting bolts, pulleys, springs, and when Jackie closed his eyes he thought he was acting. Then he saw something pass across his face, ragged and inarguable. A gear slipped to the floor.




Morning, and the man waits. He stands in the switching yard with movement in his mind, unmoving. In the early sun he sees everything made clean and new as if it were sanctified in light.

He waits beneath the catenary lines, the sky a humming net of wires. Their grace. The yard is empty, although soon it will be loud with engines and men and motion. He can feel the approaching whistle in his bones, the lonesome wail of once and future dreams.

A train pulls slowly into the yard, the cowcatcher kicking up bits of trash and dead leaves. At the right moment the man swings himself onto the back of a grainer at a slow, practiced lope. Later tonight he will unroll his sleeping bag and curl up inside the well. He will walk across the tops of boxcars and he will pass deep forests and cross a hundred rivers. But for now he's content to let his feet dangle and watch the yard inch past.

When he considers how the trains have changed him, he knows he has acquired permanence. How to stay still as breath. How everything is suspended while the wheels roll. He will think of quiet places, of descent. He will say he still has so many places to see.

Several lines over, the man sees a familiar person walking the tracks. Their eyes meet. Then his train pulls ahead and he's gone.
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Author:Hovendon, Gabrielle
Publication:Southwest Review
Article Type:Short story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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