FRESH YARN presents:
I just saw a dead body. I'm from Manhattan. Well, not a dead body, but an arm. I was riding on the Long Island Railroad. My husband wants to date other women. That's what he said. A few months ago he took up photography. He said he was feeling restless and needed a creative outlet. Yesterday, I found this stack of photos on the sofa arm in the living room. There were pictures of squirrels and old people on park benches and then there were three of a woman with really pretty, chocolate eyes looking shy and invaded. He didn't deny anything. My husband Frank has this gift of being brutally honest. So I packed a bag, and headed to Penn Station.
Leaving New York City is a little like coming up for air after your head has been held under water. You take this big breath and get blown away by little things like air, and the sun and the sky. I had to shade my eyes for like the first 20 minutes of Queens. Who knew overcast could be so bright? I picked east because I wanted to go to the water. I wanted to go to the end of the line and be surrounded by water on three sides. I felt that would be good. I figured that I would find a hotel, or a lighthouse run by a lonely old woman who would take me in for the night and make soup.
You want to know about the dead guy. Okay, we were just pulling out of Mineola getting our speed up again when the train suddenly began to brake. But trains take a long time to stop, so we didn't really know anything was wrong at first. But then the engineer came on the intercom. He was like "Jim, Bill, get up here!" and the ticket punchers ran up the aisle to the front of the train. They were banging into elbows and not apologizing or anything. The power was turned off and it got real quiet. I could hear myself breathing. We all just sat there in the dim light for a few minutes until the voice came on again. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to be delayed here for a while as we have hit a person."
Time got real heavy. I started counting every second as it passed. Every minute was a minute longer that this man was dead. I figured it was a man. I figured he was dead. I assumed it was a suicide. I looked out the window but I couldn't see anything. I was thinking: five minutes ago that man was alive. I looked around the train. It was the middle of the afternoon but without the lights on inside you couldn't see people's faces. People were like silhouettes, black shadows everywhere that I couldn't really recognize or relate to at all. And I wanted to connect with someone, you know? But everyone started reaching for their cell phones. One man was walking up and down the aisle calling people.
"Beth, hey it's me. Listen, I'm gonna be late getting in. I am stuck on the train because we ran over some guy. Yeah. They shut the power off and we're not moving for a while. Yeah! Oh yeah, he's dead. Any messages? Nothin'? Okay. My wife call? Well, if she does, tell her I am stuck on this train and I have no idea when I'll be home tonight, okay? So, what else is goin' on? How you doin'? Okay, yeah you should get it. I'll check back in with you later."
I hated him. He reminded me of Frank. He's the kind of guy who just calls people. He doesn't care who he's talking to, he just wants to talk.
I heard sirens
in the distance. It was weird, hearing sirens knowing who they're coming
for. A woman a few rows behind me had managed to crack open a window and
announced to the rest of the car -- "I see an arm!" People started
lining up to take a look like it was some peep show or something. I felt
Then the police and investigators came and were all over the place pointing to each other underneath the train. They were pointing directly underneath me, like that was where his body was. Right under my seat. I had this feeling. Like I could feel him. Like we were connected. Weird. I thought, if his soul went straight up, it might have gone right through me. But they didn't point in one place, they also pointed in front of and behind where I was sitting. Like he was in pieces. I tried to catch the eyes of one of the investigators, to see what he saw, but he did not look up at the passengers. None of the investigators did. I really wanted to connect with someone, you know, and I sure wasn't connecting to these shadows on the train.
"Freddie -- what's up? I'm on the train. We hit some guy and we're stuck here now outside Mineola. They had to turn the power off and it's friggin' hot. Yeah, dead. Hey listen...some -- hey-hey -- this lady opened a window and you can see the guy's arm down on the tracks. I'm not kidding, his fuckin' arm. Of course I looked."
We sat there for most of the afternoon until the voice came on the intercom again: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to move everyone to the rear four cars of the train and get you guys home."
Everyone got their stuff together and started walking, like zombies, in this solemn procession down the aisle. I didn't want to go. I looked out the window and waited for everyone else to leave. I felt more at home, alone in this mess, than in any brightly lit kitchen. All the passengers left, and it was quiet. I watched as the investigators outside got ready to pull him out. But the ticket guy came by again. "Lady, you better get moving, the train's gonna separate in a minute."
I picked up my bag and started walking down the aisle. I thought to myself, I could hop off this train. I wanted to go down there and find his shoes. I'd figure out which way he was facing, if he saw the train coming or it hit him from the back. I'd figure out what he must have been thinking, and if he changed his mind at the last minute. And you know, I wouldn't look up at the people in the train either. Fuck 'em. Let them take the shuttle bus back to their little families. I wanted to be the one to crawl right under that train. I'd chalk mark him. And then I'd pick him up, piece by piece.
As I stepped outside between the two cars, I looked to my left, and right there on the side of the tracks, lying not ten feet from me was an arm, his arm, cut off at the shoulder. I stopped. It looked exactly like Frank's arm. Hairy. Fake. It didn't look gross at all, just a pale bluish-white arm, the soft underside with lots of black hair on it. I could see the follicles even. An arm, away from its home. Who knew dead could look so familiar?
I got to the end of the line much later than I wanted to. It was dark and fucking freezing. The four passengers who got off the train with me found their cars and drove off, and the welcome booth was closed for the season, so I started walking into town. It wasn't much of a town. The stores were all dark, and I was getting nervous about where I was going to sleep. It was so quiet. We don't get quiet like that in the city. I looked up to the sky to find something I could recognize. It was loaded with stars. I hadn't seen stars like that since camping with my father up in Canada. We'd always name the constellations -- find the Big Dipper. I found the Big Dipper and then I followed the spout to the North Star, which was shining right over this bar. I took it as a sign and started running. I'd warmed up a little by the time I got there.
I like this place. I like the music on the jukebox. Merle Haggard.
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