Pick Me Up

            Another train is coming. All day at work I can't concentrate, and at night I have trouble falling asleep. My sister will arrive after midnight. She travels by train because air travel is too fast, or too extravagant, or too much of a hassle—I can't recall what the excuse was the last time. She'll never admit it, but I think the truth is that a jet travels too far from the ground—the place she feels most at home. But this time, when she greets me, talks to me, I'll have to listen carefully, and try to be patient.

            By the time I get to sleep, the terminal is dark and silent. The clocks that adorn the walls have their hands raised heavenward like warnings: 11:57. I've printed her itinerary, but in the rush I've left it in the car. I don't need it really, but when she arrives she'll ask whether I received it. She notices little details. What I'm wearing will tell her something about how I'm feeling, or what I have been doing. This time, I'm wearing a polo shirt and jeans, a new pair of glasses, and the same pair of aged white Reeboks I can never manage to throw away. To her that will mean I'm in a rut.

I make my way toward the platforms; gape at the still trains as I walk beside each giant wheel. I locate the correct platform, and take out my copy of The Road. It's been worn thick, the way good paperbacks get when they've been drunk from repeatedly. I sit on one of the withered benches, but instead of opening my book, I find myself unable to keep from staring at the people.

Gloom has settled over the travelers' loved ones as they wait. Cacophonous conversations swell and recede as the tourists come and go, as if the terminal itself is alive and breathing. A sort of insanity has overtaken the travelers. The ones who are late hustle from the door to the platform and onto their trains, almost too quickly. The early ones sit in a state resembling catatonia—like patients with an appointment, and time.

I get comfortable, even though there's not much time before she will arrive. Midnight. I rise, walk to the edge of the platform and peek down the dark tunnel. The rusted tracks parallax into forever—all the arteries feeding into this one place, this terminal. A shrill whistle emerges from the darkness. The noise of wheels grinding along on the steel tracks shakes the platform and makes us all tiny. Then a great searchlight illuminates the smooth walls of the passageway, and the engine surges through, as if the black void has given birth to a snakelike procession. A hundred pairs of eyes scan the monstrous blur, until the windows of the train stop sliding by, and the behemoth brakes, exhales, and is then still.

12:01. This time I wait patiently for the travelers to disembark. They descend from the train cars, stepping carefully onto a metal step stool, then out onto the platform to meet their relatives. They carry worn luggage made of brown or black leather, battered and blistered with scars from many such journeys.

My sister usually packs this massive valise. It's the size of an ancient steamer trunk, with clasps that no longer clasp, and handles you can't grasp. I imagine she will hobble off the train and limp toward me on her new titanium hip, her frame immersed in the smoke and steam always present when I dream of train stations. She'll look up to me, and despite the tiny broken blood vessels in her brain, or what we said to each other last time we were together, she will speak to me. She'll tell me what she's been doing since the surgery, where she's been, all the new trials she's had to endure. She won't ask me about me, or my family, or my work.

But, that's okay this time.

It is 12:12 when she appears in the doorway of the first passenger car, no worse for the journey, no baggage. Before I can return her smile, the look on her face has changed to an impatient sneer. It doesn't matter. She's arrived. And this time, things will be different between us. This time, I will be a better man. This time, when she tells me where she's been and what she's done, I will listen carefully. This time, it will be important that I stay asleep, because this time, she has seen heaven.