The Railway Crossing

Thomas and I usually sat astride our bikes at the railway crossing.  Because it was near enough to town, it had those red and white striped boom gates that lowered at the approach of a train and the metallic warning bells, tink-tink, tink-tink, an arrhythmic metronome.  The day’s silence would be broken by the repeated admonition of the bells and the gates would lower like a parental warning.

It was our boundary marker.  This was as far as we were allowed to go.  Our house was at the edge of town but close enough to taste the wheat and cow manure of the outlying farms.

We waited for the freight trains to pass by, feeling the cadence of the wheels through the earth after the asthmatic growl of the diesel engines.  When we were younger, we counted carriages: one, two, three, four… fifty-five, fifty-six.  The dull brown coal trucks smeared in the mineral intestines of earth’s darkened guts; the varied boxes of shipping containers arranged like children’s building blocks in random colours and shapes.  They came and went as a procession.  We would wave to the driver who replied with a blast of the air horn.

As we grew older we would lie with our ears to the track to hear the thrum of the approaching engines vibrate down the length of the track.

Thomas, four years older than me, dared to ride his bike across the track and wait on the other side for the train to pass through.  I still felt the sting of shame at defying my parents.

He would pick at the loose gravel and attempt to throw it between the passing carriages at me on the other side.  More often than not he would simply hit the side of the coal car, but he soon developed an eye that could chuck a stone through the gap, skittering away at my feet.  More than once he hit me in the head.

The railway was my boundary.  For Thomas it was a pathway.  With each train that passed, I watched my brother move further and further away.

The night of the argument, Thomas threw words like stones.  He had seen too many trains pass through in the day, heard their passage in the night, to be bound to a small country town.

Thomas drove away in anger.  I chased him on my bike.  He crossed the railway line and the bells began their warning.  I watched his tail lights strobe between the carriages.  The flashing red signals of the level crossing stopped and the tink-tink of the bells ceased, replaced by the fading red taillights of my brother’s car and the cloud of dust raised as a curtain between us.

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15 responses to “The Railway Crossing

  1. I wonder what the argument was about?

    You write such beautiful descriptions, Adam. Genuinely a wonderful piece.

  2. Absolutely lovely. Love this: “The night of the argument, Thomas threw words like stones.”

  3. Excellent story. Quite a sad ending, and I’d also be interested to know what the argument was that would drive him away.

  4. I was also left wondering what the argument was about. It definitely feels like a gap in the story, because you build up a sense of setting and relationship, then just say a thing ended it. Was that on purpose?

    Caught a little typo in paragraph 5: “Thomas, fours* years older”

    • Fixed. Thanks for the spot.
      As for the argument, it was left out on purpose, but there is a slight hint in terms of living in a small town. In hindsight I can see the argument needs more context; it should have been between Thomas and his parents. I edited this out. Should have left it in.
      Think I’ll go back and edit this piece a little later.

  5. I loved your build up of tension within the brother. Coming from a small, small town, I relate to that rising frustration – beautifully crafted work Adam!!

  6. I like the contrast between the dutiful son and the rebellious one. I can see the narrator spending his whole life on this side of the tracks, where things were safe and known. I bet his brother will lead a more interesting life beyond the tracks.

  7. Such a rich story history with incredible metaphors. Wonderful.

  8. Having grown up in a small town, this one rang true for me, Adam. And the subtle – or not so subtle – competition between the brothers is lovely. Very compelling story and I, too, would love to have just a bit more context around the situation. So sad to watch his taillights going down the road.

  9. Great atmosphere in this. It suggests a lot more than it says. I see you said you’d edited out that the argument was between the brother and the parents. I’m not sure if that was necessary or not, but the way it is it’s like a snapshot of something bigger, and it works.

  10. Some truly poetic descriptions in this piece. Funny, as much as I agree with the others that a bit more could clarify, I also got to the end and started rewording it for a six sentence story. That would be stark, but powerful too.

    You’ve said several times in the above comments that you want to return to this one. I think you’ve got the bones for a novel here.

  11. The descriptive language here is vivid and meaningful on many levels. I took the argument to be not necessarily between the brothers. Was the argument between Thomas and their parents? Lovely piece that reveals a lot but allows space for the reader to inhabit and interpret the story.

  12. I’m way behind on my reading and was going through the list of last week’s stories — the title of this one intrigued me. So glad I decided to read it. Excellent piece here, Adam. The imagery is vivid, the emotional impact terrific. Well done.
    ~jon

  13. I tend to shoot first and read others comments later (so I give my own reactions). As to the argument, I think you did right to edit out it being between Thomas and his parents. I think the reader understands that without it being stated explicitly. I also think it leaves room for further development. I agree with Peggy. I can easily envision this developing into a novel.
    ~jon

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