These train tracks by my house catch my eye every time I drive over them. They have this look about them, like they are out of a movie or book cover or something.
And so my writer mind wanders. And the other day, I walked by them and was hit with an image. So I wrote a short story, just a flash fiction piece. And I wanted to share it. I hope you like it.
Here is the picture and my story.
By Megan Erickson
I can’t pass over the train tracks without feeling his lips on mine.
That junior high first-kiss fumbling with tongues tangling and teeth clicking and spit swapping.
It was the best kiss of my life.
Every time my engine idles at the stop sign on Arlington, every time my car shocks squeak as the tires pass over the rails, I remember his shy smile. It was newly white and straight, his braces removed the week before. I remember the way his clammy fingers gripped my wrist, his thumb caressing my denim-covered hips.
I remember the breeze rustling the leaves and a squirrel chattering at us for disturbing his peace.
But that moment was our peace. The moment we realized we weren’t attracted to our female classmates with their budding breasts and flirty smiles and inexperienced makeup application.
Instead our hormones alerted us to sleek muscles, boyish grins and masculine voices.
So for that one summer afternoon, we held onto that peace on the train tracks. We balanced on the iron with scuffed sneakers and lay along the tracks, sweat-damp heads propped on our fists, foreheads touching.
With shaking fingers, I mapped his chest, so like mine and yet so different. His shoulders were broader, his nipples darker, his torso longer. I’d known him since I was four. A lot changed in ten years.
He told me I was beautiful, and I told him his smile made me dizzy.
That day didn’t define everything we were, but it shaped a large part of who we would become.
A month later, before the start of ninth grade, his family moved out of state. We kept in touch sporadically, but soon I was experiencing kisses and under-the-clothes fondling with other boys
But none of them were Jake Hanvelt.
My husband touches my arm and I turn my head, losing sight of the tracks in the passenger side mirror.
His lips tilt into a smile, but he doesn’t say a word because he knows. He’s the only one who knows about that stolen summer afternoon.
He takes a right turn at the next stop sign, rather than a left toward the library, his hands overlapping each other on the steering wheel.
“I thought you wanted that new Stephen King?” I ask.
He gives me that smile of his, the placating one.
I narrow my eyes. “Don’t look at me like that. Where are we going?”
Now he laughs. I huff and cross my arms over my chest, turning my head to look out the window, but I have to bite the inside of my cheek to hide my own smile. His laugh always makes me happy.
But I don’t like admitting that so I have to sell my discontent. “I really wanted a cinnamon scone and latte,” I grumble, picturing the library’s homey coffee shop. “Wherever we are going better make up for that deliciousness.”
He takes a couple more turns until he pulls into Pleasant Oak Park. I can’t remember the last time I’d been there. It had changed, the way public parks do. More soccer fields, an extra pavilion, a fenced off dog corral.
“What are we doing here?”
That smile again.
“Do I need a password to unlock your vocal chords?”
He pulls into a space and throws the gear into park, then grabs the back of my neck tugging my face toward his. He chuckles as his lips brush my forehead. “How about if I unlock mine, you lock up yours, Mr. Chatty.”
He gets out of our sedan, popping the trunk with a button on the dashboard. I follow as he pulls a large fabric cooler out of the trunk. It’s the one I ordered from one of my sister’s home parties. It’s got this obnoxious print with purple and yellow paisley. I bought it to embarrass him, but instead he carries it like it was made for him. I swear he puts a little extra effort into his strut as he heads toward an empty picnic table, cooler slung over his shoulder.
Purple really is his color.
He reaches the bench and sits down while I perch myself across from him. One by one, he pulls plastic food containers out of the cooler. Chicken salad with almonds and grapes. Orzo pasta with black olives and plump grape tomatoes. Juicy chunks of watermelon and honeydew. Perfectly square brownies oozing with caramel.
My mouth waters.
He shakes his head, a grin tugging his lips
“You even cut the grapes in half.” I say. “You know how much I hate chomping into a full grape in my sandwich. It ruins my whole chicken salad experience.”
“I know, babe.” He plops a heaping spoonful of chicken salad onto a flaky croissant, tops it with a slice of provolone and a layer of leafy romaine and hands it to me.
I immediately dive in, knowing I’m smearing mayonnaise all over my face and not caring. It’s delicious. I finish it and move on to the rest of the food. The pasta is al dente and the fruit fresh.
He watches me eat, those brown eyes of his liquid. I want to swim in them, like an almond in a big pool of melted chocolate. Instead, I bite into a gooey brownie, and it’s still warm from the oven.
I freeze mid-chew. “What did you do?”
He raises an eyebrow. Yes, just one. He can do that. I can’t even rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time.
“What are you on about, Matty?” he says.
I wave my hand in a flourish at the spread on the picnic table, and hold my brownie up in my other hand as evidence. “Who does stuff like this unless they are apologizing for something?”
He licks his lips, and I follow his tongue as it laps some errant watermelon juice at the side of his mouth. When I raise my eyes back to his, he’s smirking.
He loses his smirk and sighs, then places the bowl of fruit on the table, crossing his arms on the table. “I do, Matty. I do.”
His voice is sincere. He wants me to hear him. So I do. I lose the attitude and take another bite of brownie. When I finish chewing, I say, “Well, this is really nice. Thank you.”
He nods, satisfied. “You’re welcome.”
We finish eating and gather all our containers, checking to be sure we don’t leave any trash behind.
He carries our food cooler to the car, stows it back in our trunk and takes my hand. “Let’s go for a walk.”
We set off down a tree-lined path. A little girl careens by us on a bike, the plastic beads on her spokes rattling. Her mother runs behind her, and I can’t help but think those beads are like a bell on a cat’s neck. A way for the mom to keep track of her daredevil, pink-helmeted daughter.
I focus on the birds chirping and the distinct smell of summer, all sun and dirt and flowers. His hand in mine squeezes, his callouses from his job as a carpenter rasp along my palm. I love those callouses.
I look down, dragging my feet along the gravel path, leaving deep scrapes among the stones. He squeezes my hand again and when I look up, we’re here.
On the train tracks.
I look behind me. “How did we get here, I thought we were at the park–”
He cuts me off. “The park runs along the tracks. Didn’t you know that?”
I shake my head and stare at the parallel lines, leading into the horizon like an iron symbol of infinity.
He turns to me and cups my cheek. He’s a good five inches taller than me, so I crane back my neck as he bends down his. And now I am that almond, drowning in his chocolate eyes. A happy little almond. Nice and warm in my sweet bath.
“You remember every time you drive past these tracks, don’t you?” he whispers.
I nod. Almonds don’t talk. And if they could, this almond would be beyond speech. Because he’s smiling that smile.
The one that makes me dizzy. The same one from that one summer afternoon. The same one I noticed across a crowded university campus on the way to class, now on a gorgeous man’s face rather than a cute teenage boy’s.
The same one I married and now see every morning on the pillow next to mine.
He dips his head and his lips brush mine. The leaves rustle and a squirrel chatters. But this is our peace. This is our moment.
“I love you, Matty.”
“I love you, Jake.”
Thanks for reading! If you like it and feel inclined, I’d love if you shared the link to my story on Twitter or on your own blog/Facebook.
And if you are inspired, feel free to take my photo and write your own story, less than 5,000 words, about the train tracks.