The Train

The lights all go out, one by one.

He flips a switch and there’s a pop and a blue spark and then nothing.

The lights are going out, he tells Robert over the phone.

“Like flickering?”

“No. Like out.”

“Did you pay the bill, dad?”

His son sighs on the other end of the phone.

“I pay the goddamn bill. It’s just the lights are going out.”

“You change the bulbs?”

Bulbs, Raymond mutters to himself. He hangs up on his son and thinks about the new thing that lives in his apartment. Hidden. All the things he had to locate after Rosemary lost her mind. The checkbook. The vacuum for the building. He was supposed to vacuum the hallways since she couldn’t. He couldn’t find the key. And then when he found the key he couldn’t find the utility closet. What floor was it on? Was he supposed to try every goddamn door in the building until he found one with a vacuum in it? They can vacuum up their own damn hallways, he told her. Even though she wasn’t there. Even though she had been in the hospital three weeks. He said it to her anyway. Her in a hospital bed. Him on the fifth floor, his key in the last door. He was angrier later on, the anxiety of something undone hanging over his head. Was it just those hallways? What about the hallways inside the apartments? Was he supposed to vacuum those too?

When he looks for the bulbs he doesn’t find them.

He finds the picture though, with his wife and the girl he doesn’t know, the man he might know.

He sits on the floor in the living room, in front of the TV, covers bodies with his right thumb, so that just his wife is there in the picture. In the background is the curve of Lake Harriet, the peaks of the band-shell to the east just visible through the gauzy trees. She’s not smiling. She looks worried, her gaze aimed beyond the picture. He knows this look: the first time he lost a job, the time she told him she was pregnant.

Robert shifts his thumbs so that Rosemary is covered and the man and the girl remain. They are around now, people like them, in the building. Some upstairs. Some downstairs. He won’t call them the bad word, but it’s fair to say they’re both black, right? He hears that word all the time. The girl is skinny, stick legs and a yellow coat. Her hair straw colored, almost blonde. She’s young. Maybe eight. The man is slender, too. He stares into the camera, his hand on the girl’s shoulder. His eyes take up the picture, shamelessly, and Robert’s face reddens a bit, scrutinizing the man, while the man scrutinizes him, too.

In the background is the curve of Lake Harriet, the peaks of the band-shell to the east just visible through the gauzy trees. She’s not smiling. She looks worried, her gaze aimed beyond the picture.

It’s the vest that’s familiar, then the face, or the inside of the vest at least. Rosemary wore one for years, just like it. You wore one whether you were a box boy or stacked fruit or ran one of the registers. A vest from Kucharski’s turned inside out. But Robert can still make out the green and white stripes that extend to the interior stitching as if Saint Patrick ’s Day were exploding at the edges of the man’s chest, under his arms, around his neck.

This man stood at his door once, years and years ago, begged his pardon for interrupting dinner. Robert leans back against the living room wall and looks for the black man in front of him, the visitor projected faintly against the inside of eyelids. Black pants, shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Robert’s eyes swing over the bottom of the name tag, searching for the stitched lettering, but the name isn’t there. Who needed the name when the man had apologized, when the vest was the right color, the demeanor acceptable. You pay attention to one thing and then it turns out the next is important, that the first thing wasn’t important at all. His eyes “shimmied” over people. She had accused him of this once as she washed dishes. Some forgotten detail, something about someone. “You’re just getting worked up,” he told her. “Like this,” she said, “shimmy,” and she pulled her soapy hand from the sink and let it flash across the back of his. He’d tried to grab it but it was gone, thrust back into the oily lemon water. She remembered everything. Where the light bulbs were.

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