IF I NEVER GET BACK

 

 

Bruce Glassco

 

            Looking out the window of a train at 4 am, it’s easy to get the feeling that you’re the only person alive in the world.  You see your fellow passengers’ sleeping reflections in the black glass like paintings of dolls, and flashes of the backs of occasional homes, and the headlights of late-night cars.  Once in a while, another train appears suddenly in thunder on the tracks beside you, and disappears like the end of the world.  Still, none of it quite reaches you as you lean your head against the cold glass that feels nothing like a pillow, trying to remember what sleep feels like.  Not a single person who knows your name could say exactly where you are right at that moment.  Perhaps no one cares.  Your point of origin and your destination are nothing but dreams, and you know that the rails will stretch on before you forever.

            The year was 1994, and everything was in transit with me: job, relationship, home.  I watched the moon race along beside me for as long as I could stand it, and then I got up and headed for the dining car.  It’s not like there’s a big variety of social hot spots on a train.  If you’re looking for entertainment at 4 a.m., the dining car is pretty much it. 

            The car had its standard assortment of vagabonds.   At one table a young couple was asleep opposite each other, their arms overlapping in the center -- the guy wearing a frayed army jacket, his head shaved down to stubble, the girl with scarlet hair and bracelets tattooed around her wrist.  A man wearing a rumpled business suit and beard shadow a long way past five o’clock had his head thrown back and was snoring gently, and a well-dressed black girl, probably a student, was reading a geology textbook nearby.  The guy perched on a plastic stool behind the concession counter was reading too, the red-bordered sports section of his USA Today shaking with the train’s rhythm.  He put it down and stood up when I approached the counter, his body swaying in perfect balance to the percussive rhythm of wheels on rails. 

            I ordered a hot dog and milk, both of which sometimes help me feel a bit more restful, and watched him as he slipped the hot dog into a bun and poured the milk into its plastic glass.  I was surprised that he seemed over sixty -- too old, you’d think, to want a job that involved being on his feet so much.  He was about six inches shorter than me, his hair gray with a touch of yellow, the color of fog in headlights.  His vein-webbed hands moved precisely in his narrow space as he handed me my food and counted out my change. 

            Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to talk.  My eye fell on the paper, so I asked him if he thought the strike was going to kill off baseball.  I wasn’t a huge baseball fan myself, but in ‘94 even baseball-haters were getting into the scene, either for the cheap, easy nostalgia or else the pleasure of kicking the national pastime when it was down.

            “I’ve been hearing about the death of baseball for fifty years,” said the guy, “and I’ve seen it survive wars and earthquakes and strikes and scandals and free agency and the designated hitter rule.  It’ll take more than a strike to kill off baseball, buddy.”  He sounded the way priests do when you suggest that maybe Mary might have faked the whole Virgin Birth business.  His teeth were cigarette-tar yellow. 

            I kept asking him questions, and he wasn’t very difficult to draw out.  His name was Jamie Miles, and he’d been a baseball fan since the day he was old enough to roll one across his crib.  And he had been everywhere.  I got the impression that he’d never had any roots for the last five decades, just drifted from city to city doing odd jobs and going to ballparks wherever he could.  Of course I had no way of knowing whether or not he was telling the truth, but if he was, he must have had an uncanny instinct for attending the great ones.

            He’d been there, he claimed, the last time Babe Ruth staggered out onto a field for his fans, leaning on a bat while cancer ran the bases around his throat, and twenty-five years later he saw Hank Aaron break the Babe’s record.  He cheered when Jackie Robinson ducked and weaved around six Philadelphia fielders before triumphantly jogging home.  He saw Ted Williams take the last ball that would ever be pitched to him and knock it out of the park, and he saw the young Pete Rose run to first base in 4.1 seconds in an exhibition game on a walk, for Pete’s sake.  He saw Bob Gibson refuse to leave the mound even after a line drive had broken his leg.

            “The reason baseball can’t die is because it’s all about eternity,” he told me in a rush, his liver-spotted knuckles gripping the counter.  “Ryan pitching no-hitters in three different decades.  Ken Griffey father and son hitting home runs back-to-back.  Hell, what about Ray Chapman, beaned with a spitball and going straight from home plate to his maker, eh?  That one was before my time, but man, what a way to go!”

            Well, they may have been lies but they were entertaining lies, so I made myself as comfortable as I could on one of the stools.  My ex-girlfriend, I told him, would agree with him.  She always said when I watched a game that it seemed to take an eternity just for the pitcher to make up his mind to throw.

            “No wonder she’s your ex, then,” he said, chuckling.  “Though I’ve known some women who’d get hot just hearing the crack of a ball and a bat.”  Then he paused, looking at me carefully with cloudy blue eyes.  “This girlfriend, does she have anything to do with why you’re on this here train?”

            I looked down at the counter.  “Partly,” I said.  “Partly.”

            Jamie sighed, and seemed to be looking over my shoulder at something out the dark window behind me.  “I knew it,” he said.  “A man always gets the same look when he’s trapped between bases.”

            Well, I didn’t feel much like talking about myself, so I asked him to tell me about the greatest ballgame he ever saw played.  That set him back a bit.  He thought for a while, and then he perched back up on his stool and looked around the car at all the sleeping people.  Then, hands in his lap, he told me this story.   To really get the feeling of it, though, you’d have to hear it the way I did -- in the claustrophobic fluorescent light with the darkness rushing by the window, and everything swaying gently as the rails vanished behind us like the past.

***

            “The girl is what I remember most,” was how he began, leaning back against the drink dispenser.  “Imogene Difazio.  An older woman -- I think she was wearing too much makeup, but it was too dark and I was too young to tell for sure.  And she had this terrible look in her eyes.  I’d seen that look on people in the Philippines...like they’d just realized that they’d spent most of their lives going down the wrong road, and they were trying to turn around, and they weren’t finding any signposts that pointed the way back to where they’d been before.

            “I’d had a bit of a disagreement with a Jap -- sorry, a Japanese machine gunner on Okinawa, so I got a chance to fly home early with my arm all wrapped up like a mummy. You can still see the scar,” and he was rolling up his sleeve, but I shook my head and he rolled it back down.  I had seen scars before. 

            “Well, I heard about V-E day lying flat on my back in a hospital in New York.  Good news and all, but it didn’t amount to a hill of beans to my mates out in the Pacific.  That whole summer of ‘45 kind of felt like waiting for the other shoe to drop for everybody...we was all ready to cut loose, but it was just a bit too soon, ya know?

            “Anyway, I’d managed to make myself a buddy there in the hospital.  Frank Dawkins, small-town kid, always telling me about his old tree fort and kick the can and suchlike.  When he got released he gave me his address in upstate Massachusetts and said I oughta drop by sometime, and I don’t know if he was serious or not, but as it happened I didn’t have anyplace else that I was eager to go back to.  I didn’t know what his folks would say about the invitation, but I’ve always been a ‘what the hell’ kind of guy.  So when the docs were fixing to let me go I had one of the nurses write him a letter saying I was on my way up, and a week later when they signed my papers, I hopped on a bus and up I went. 

            “Getting on the bus with the sling and all was tricky, but when I got off Frank was there to pick me up at the station, and his folks were awfully friendly and going on about how great it was that we’d done our duty and everything.  A nice, all-American family.  Irish Setter on the porch, casseroles in the oven...”  I must have given some kind of sarcastic face about then, and he shook his head.  “Hey, I know you kids these days don’t believe America was ever like that, and God knows it wasn’t all like that, but still...well, things were simpler, you know?  Yeah it’s a cliché, but it’s true. 

            “Those days just wearing a uniform and a cast, people would come up to you right out of the blue on the street and say ‘Thank you.’  One old lady even slipped me a quarter in the bus station!  Can you beat that?  Sheesh.  And at the town picnic the mayor asked Frank and me to say a few words about Independence and I’d never been so tongue-tied in all my life.  Frank said...”

            Well, eventually I got him back to telling me about the girl and the ball game.  After he’d been there for a few days, his friend’s parents took him down to the county fairgrounds for a Fourth of July picnic.   Most of the town was there and he kept getting introduced to people, but mainly what he tried to do was eat.  After the army and the hospital, he said, even potato salad and deviled eggs were manna from the gods.

            “But I noticed something strange,” he said.  “And that was, nobody was playing baseball.  No fireworks, sure, it was a war and all the gunpowder was being used.  But how many Fourths have you ever been to where there isn’t any baseball?  I didn’t ask nobody, but it just seemed strange.

            “Look, you’ve got to understand: for me, that war was baseball.  Or it was about baseball, anyway.  We was supposed to be fightin’ for Mom, baseball, and apple pie, right?  Well, my mom ran out on me when I was a kid, passed me off to aunts who passed me off to cousins till I couldn’t tell you whose family I was supposed to be a part of.  And apple pie was OK, but it wasn’t worth getting your head shot off for.  Baseball was the only thing I could think of that actually felt like America. 

            ‘The Japs even helped out.  One night we was yelling out cracks about their Emperor, ya know, getting frustrated about how much blood we was spending for every foot we went forward, and ya know what one of ‘em yelled back?  ‘Fuck Babe Ruth!’   Honest to god true story.

            “Anyway, a little while later everybody went to a pavilion for a dance.  The band started playing “Stardust,” and Lord, I was getting so sick of that song, on the radio morning and night.  So I went for a little walk outside to get away from everybody, and that’s where I met Imogene.”

            It was clear that she’d made a big impression on him, this long-ago girl, and equally clear that he still couldn’t figure out why she had.  Apparently he never did see her in daylight.  “She was short,” he said, “a small woman, small features, and older than me, somewhere in her thirties.  She looked old-fashioned, somehow.  Somewhere else I might not have looked twice, but I was feeling a long way from anywhere that night, and she just looked like the kind of person I needed to talk to.  D’you know how that is?”

            I looked around at the sleeping dining car and the backs of empty factories out the window, and I nodded.  Yes, I knew how that was.

            “Well, she asked me questions about myself that I didn’t particularly feel like answering, and I asked the same questions back at her and got even less out of her than she got out of me.  I got the impression that she was divorced, which of course was a lot bigger thing in a small town back then than it is these days.  Never did find out anything about who she was divorced from.

            “Finally, though, I got around to asking the question that had been bugging me all day.  ‘Doesn’t anybody play baseball in this town?’

            “She looked at me kind of funny when I asked that.  ‘There are some bad memories about baseball around here,’ she said.  ‘We were kind of a laughingstock in these parts for a while.  Sort of soured this town on the game.  Me, I remember the way it was, though.  You a baseball fan?”

            “So I told her how I felt about baseball.  I told her that, yeah, I’d had a pretty mean arm on me, back in my high school days.  I’d kinda been thinking of trying out for the minors, although after my arm got shot up I knew that idea was blown straight to hell.  Maybe I could be an umpire, I told her.  I’d done that too.  I did a bunch of things, back between when I dropped out of school and the war, but umpire was one of the ones I’d like the best.

            “Now she’d never once asked me about the war, which was just as well because I didn’t much feel like talking about it.  But when I told her I’d been an umpire, she looked at me like I was some kind of conquering hero.  That’s the kind of look women throw at men when they want to get them to do something, but I was too young to know any better back then.  And then she said that she had something to show me.  My what-the-hell sense kicked in, so the two of us turned away from that pavilion and I let her lead me through the trees and into the darkness.

            “We came out of the trees not far from third base of a baseball diamond overgrown with high grass and weeds.  So I was trying to think what I was going to do about this divorcée taking me out into this lonely field in the middle of the night, what she had in mind for me and whether I was up for it, especially with the sling and all, plus I was still pretty young in a lot of ways back then.  She climbed over a rusty little chain-link fence and then helped me across, which was tricky with the cast, of course.  But eventually I made it to the other side.” 

***

            The train was passing through a forest.  Through the dining car window I could see the shadows of the trunks of trees, sliding past in the darkness like the rungs of a giant’s ladder.  The girl with the geology text had put her head down on her book and closed her eyes.  The close-shaved guy turned his head, trying to get comfortable on the hard table, and his girlfriend stirred too and shifted and sank back into sleep.  The guy in the suit had his head slumping sideways on the back of his seat.  As far as I knew, the two of us and the engineers were the only ones awake on the whole train as it leapt through the night.

            I was thinking about all the different kinds of empty.  Take a big field in the middle of the night, crickets chirping and the moon overhead, and it would be no big deal.  That was the way fields were supposed to be.  Put bleachers on the sides of it, white lines in a diamond with no men to run them, big dark outdoor lights, maybe a concession stand with shutters drawn tight, and it was a different picture.  A lot more empty, somehow.  The crickets would seem louder.

            “There were men out there,” Jamie was saying.

***

            “Imogene was already walking up to the bleachers, so of course I had no choice but to follow her.  The first thing I noticed was the silence.  Even the crickets sounded like they were coming from a long ways away.  I heard what sounded like an owl from the woods, and that was it.  The men weren’t making any more noise than a shadow.

            “The second thing was that these men didn’t have any color to them, like men in the movies back then.  There was a pretty good moon -- enough to for you to at least tell what the colors were supposed to be in the trees and the grass, even if you couldn’t tell them apart.  But the men were all in shades of gray.

            “The third thing I noticed was that, when the pitcher raised his arm, I could see right through it to the trees on the other side of the diamond. 

            “Actually, it was hard to see any of them if I looked straight at them.  They faded.  I had to look away a bit, off to the side.  When I reached the bleachers I saw that that’s what Imogene was doing.  I sat down next to her, and we both looked off to the side, and I tried to watch the game.  I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t think of where to start, so I just watched.  I watched Imogene, too.  Her eyes kept going all over the place, and she was chewing on her knuckles like she was furious at something.

            “Just as we sat down, a batter was hitting a grounder to the shortstop and getting thrown out at first.  ‘That’s Cooney,’ she said without looking at me.  Her voice was a bit shocking in all that silence.  I still couldn’t think of anything to say, so I kept my yap shut.

            “The next batter hit it right down the line to the first baseman, another easy out.  ‘Barrows,’ she said, and I thought of graves and burials and I shuddered, though the night was very warm.

            “I knew my Americana, and I was starting to get a sneaking suspicion.  I looked up at the scoreboard, and it read ‘Home 2, Visitors 4.’  Of course it was the bottom of the ninth; it always is.  I glanced at the home team’s bench, and there, as advertised, he sat.  The Slugger.  He was holding a pair of bats in one big hand, casually resting them over his big shoulder, a shoulder so huge that the fungo sticks looked like pipe cleaners.  No real sign of a neck from behind -- it just looked like his head kept getting wider as it went down.  None of the illustrations I’ve seen before or since do him justice.  Like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, you could tell that he was destined for folklore or ignominy, or, the way the story ended up getting told, for both.

            “I turned to look at Imogene, and she anticipated my question.  ‘Yeah,’ she said, not looking at me or the field or at anything else other than maybe the moon, ‘yeah, I bet a lot of those old stories have more truth to them than most people suspect.  And yeah, like you’ve probably guessed, this town used to have a different name.’

            “I told her what the name had to have been, and she nodded.

            “‘That’s right,’ she said.  ‘But what the damned poem doesn’t say is that a month after the game, the place lived up to its title.  There was a big rainstorm on the fourth of July, and on the way home from a game up in Lakeland the team bus just .... slid .... off the road into the river.  So if the poem hadn’t already made the town fathers want to change the name, that would have put the finish to it.’

            “I went back to watching off to the side of the game with even more interest than before.  An overweight fellow with a droopy mustache, probably in his late thirties or early forties, was advancing to the plate.  I wanted to look at him more closely, but of course, as soon as I looked at him full on, he more or less faded.

            “‘Flynn,’ I said, and she turned and flashed a smile at me.  It was a nice smile, but over awfully quickly.  Then she went back to looking down the foul lines again.

            “Were there ghosts in the bleachers around us, too?  I could imagine that there were, but I couldn’t see them or feel them.  When Flynn hit a floopy little popup fly to center field and the fielder muffed the catch, the silence was like five thousand ghosts leaning forward and holding their breaths.  I asked her if there really had been five thousand people in the stadium, but she just said ‘Hush’ and watched the field.

            “Jimmy Blake was little better than a teenager, an obvious hayseed rube who’d probably been recruited because his father donated the gloves or his family owned the practice field, or anything aside from actual coordination.  He seemed just as surprised as the men on the field when the ball went mounting away over the left fielder’s head.  He stared after it in slack-jawed surprise, and I was calling out, ‘Run, you fool,’ without realizing what I was doing.  As if I could actually change something in a game that had happened...what, twenty years earlier?  Thirty?  Fifty?  Imogene looked at me and smiled her best smile again, and I gave her a hangdog grin.  ‘Sorry,’ I said.  ‘That was stupid of me.’

            “And she said, ‘You’re wrong.  Maybe this time you can make a difference.  Do you have any idea how many Fourths they’ve been doing this?  But maybe just this once, if the two of us try hard enough, maybe we can help them.  I can’t do it alone, and I’ve never found anybody else willing to help, anybody even willing to come out here with me and watch.  But you, you’ve had people shooting at you and you aren’t from around here and you love the game, so won’t you please go down there and try to give it a different ending from the one in that awful poem?  Please?’  She was looking me dead in the eyes now with those sweet peepers of hers, even though I couldn’t quite see the blue in the dark.  I wondered if she’d ever been interested in me at all, or if all along she’d just wanted to use me and my old umpire’s shirt, but somehow, if that was true, I didn’t mind.  Maybe it was because I was a soldier, and we’d had training on being used.

            “Then she was up and running down the steps of the bleachers and out onto the field, so I had to follow her again.  It was sort of like jumping off a boat and wading up a beach with people in bunkers shooting at you -- not exactly the first place you’d choose for yourself to go, quite probably the last place in fact, and yet that’s where you end up finding yourself with a surprised expression on your face, and you’re getting a bullet or a phantom baseball aimed at you and there never seems to be a damn thing you can do about it. 

            “She was standing right by the plate, beside the crouching gray catcher.  When I stepped onto the field I had to turn around and look back, because that’s when I could finally hear the noise.

            “The bleachers were still empty when I looked back, but somehow I could hear a faint distant roar swelling from them like the sea.  I could see the cause of it, too.  Behind me, the Slugger was standing, his big shoulders towering above the field, waving to all his invisible fans with the pride that we always love most when we know it’s coming before a fall. 

            “I noticed something else then, too.  There was the Slugger, and six men on the bench.  There was two men on base, and nine fielders.  Eigheen men in all, which meant one man was missing.  There was no umpire.  And then I saw what it was that she wanted me to do.

            “‘Come on,’ she was whispering to me as I came up to the plate, feeling the Slugger rolling slowly up behind me like a tank.  ‘Stand behind the plate and make a different call.  You can do it.  Try it!  They won’t listen to me, but maybe they’ll listen to you.  Please, please, won’t you try it for me?’

            “The Slugger was almost up to us by now, and I was thinking what the hell, what the hell, and I was never sure if that was a justification or a question.  But before I took my place I whispered back to Imogene, ‘What’s it to you?  I mean, why do you care if that ox gets what he deserves once a year?  Does he mean something special to you, or what?’

            “She looked at me kind of confused, and then she shook her head.  ‘No, it’s not him,’ she said.  ‘I couldn’t care less what happens to him.  It’s the one out there on third base.  His one chance at a little glory, even reflected, even after all these years, even though his run won’t be the one that wins or even ties, even though no one else besides us will ever know.  Eddie Flynn, stuck through all time a-hugging third.  He’s my father.’

            “And then the Slugger was right behind me, and I stepped out of his way and found myself falling into the umpire’s spot, and then I felt like I was locked into it by a power that was a lot older than I was.  I crouched and watched the Slugger going into his stance, and the pitcher was out there winding up and getting set for the big showdown.”

***

            The train gave a little jolt as if it was passing over a joint in the tracks, and I started.  The sleeping couple shifted and slept again.

            “Wait a second,” I said.  “Flynn, was he the one that the poem called a pudding, or was he the fake?”

            “The pudding,” said Jamie.  “With the size of his spare tire you could see where that came from.  In some versions he was a hoodoo, whatever that means.  A lulu.  Never a name that anybody would want to be called for all eternity, you’ll have to agree.” 

                        “But...” I began, thinking already of some of the wild implausibilities that this story was built on, but he shushed me and I subsided.

***

            “The slugger stood exactly the way he’s described in the poem while the ball went by him the first time.  ‘Haughty grandeur’ -- that just about fits.  I couldn’t see the ball well, but I could see its shadow as it flew past him, and as it disappeared silently into the catcher’s glove I felt the words overtaking me like a train out of a tunnel.  I wasn’t expecting it, the strength of those words, and they rushed out of me with my will or against it.  ‘Strike one,’ I said.

            “I think I felt a wave of hatred directed against me when I said the words, just like the poem says.  Umpires get that all the time, and I shrugged it off.  But I looked over at Imogene, and her eyes were shining like stars.

            “‘I didn’t make it that far,’ she said.  ‘It wouldn’t let me in.’

            “And then the ghost ball was coming noiselessly towards me again, the Slugger still standing in front of me like a big shadow, and I knew what I had to do.  The ball hit the glove and I felt the words rising up inside me, and I fought them, I fought them as hard as I’d ever fought on Okinawa or anywhere else.

            “Ball one,” I said triumphantly, and I watched the ghosts stop.  They stopped where they were, all of them, and all eighteen black-and-white transparent figures kind of shuddered like an old movie where the film was spliced. The first new thing they’d seen in decades, I was thinking. The Slugger actually half turned and stared at me, and I saw his big meaty fingers rearrange their grip on his bat.   But finally the catcher threw the ball out to the mound again, and the pitcher wound up again, and we got ready for the third pitch.

            “And somehow, that call did it.  I think maybe it drained a bit of that air of confidence, of inevitability out of the scene.  Maybe the pitcher didn’t throw the next pitch quite as hard, maybe the big man concentrated just a bit more on the ball instead of his adoring fans.  He swung, he connected.  The shadow of the ball headed toward the outfield. 

            “Imogene was running along the third baseline now, calling, pleading.  The big guy with the goofy mustache was plodding forward, the Slugger was dropping his bat with a surprised expression and breaking into a jog towards first, the outfielders were running around like madmen, and the invisible crowd was screaming like souls in hell just given a glimpse of paradise.  The only thing I could really see, though, was that big guy lumbering toward home plate, and his grown-up daughter running along beside him, crying, pleading.

            “‘Come home, papa,’ she cried, and I could hear her tears from where I stood.  ‘Come home, papa, oh please, please, daddy, please come home.’ 

            “I could see his face as he approached the plate.  There was wonder on it, and joy, like he’d been standing for decades on the banks of a river and the ferryboat had finally shown up after he’d quit hoping. Off in the distance I saw an outfielder scrambling for the ball but it would be too late, too late, and then as Flynn’s foot touched the plate in front of me all eighteen of them started to fade out like a movie going to credits.  I swear, though, I truly believe, that before he disappeared Flynn turned around and looked at his daughter, and I think he waved at her before he left us alone on the field with the night and the crickets and the stars.”

***

            The guy in the suit suddenly woke up with a snort, pulled himself upright, and lurched unsteadily down the corridor towards the john.  Jamie was leaning back against the drink dispenser again, and I couldn’t read his expression.  If he’d been pulling my leg I would have expected him to watch my face to see if I’d bought his story, but he seemed to have forgotten I was there.

            “That bus,” I said.  “If it was the team bus that slid into a river, then how come there were eighteen men on the field?  Where did the visitors come from?” 

            “Yeah,” he said, “I thought of that afterwards.  Have you ever wondered whether ghosts have ghosts?”  He shook his head.  “And something else.  Any idea when that poem was written?”

            I shrugged.  “No idea.” 

            “1888, that’s when.  I looked it up later.  Which means if she’d already been born by then, she would have been old enough...”

            “Old enough to be your grandmother,” I finished his sentence for him.  He nodded, and I still couldn’t make out his expression.  “So what happened to her afterwards?”

            He turned and poured himself a cup of coffee, then stirred in a cloud of cream.  “She said thank you like she really meant it, and I thought maybe she was going to kiss me but she didn’t.  She showed me the way back to the pavilion and waved goodbye, and I never saw her again.  I thought of asking Frank’s parents about the whole thing, but I decided not to.  I wish now that I had.”

            He blew across the coffee and sipped it, then shook his head.  “I thought about sticking around and trying to look her up, maybe going to the library to check out some of what she’d told me, but somehow ... well, I was getting the feeling that my welcome with Frank’s parents was wearing thin.  Besides, thinking about that empty field gave me the creeps, you know?  Anyway, the next day I hitched a ride out of town.  Guess I’ve been on the move one way or the other ever since.  You could say I’ve never managed to find my own way home.” 

            The word hung in the air between us for a while as the tracks sang under our feet.  Suddenly I wanted to be off that train in the worst way, but I knew that we still had hundreds of miles to go.

            I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I asked him for another hot dog.  As he pulled one from underneath the lamps he shrugged again, still caught up in the memory.  “Just one of those crazy things, y’know?  I guess it’s like that sportscaster always says.  ‘You can tell that one goodbye.’”

            From the restroom we heard the sound of flushing.  At some point the student with the book had reawakened, and now she uncapped her highlighter and began marking a paragraph.  The girl with the tattooed bracelets stirred.  Her lover’s hands had slipped away from her, and she reached for them, blindly, in her sleep.

            As I made my way back down the rocking corridor, I heard Jamie whistling behind me.  It was the old, old song, played by a hundred Wurlitzers in a hundred ballparks around the world, for longer than the oldest fan could remember.  “Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack, I don’t care if I never get back.”

            “But I care,” I whispered. 

            The train rushed forward through a world that slept, but would wake again all too soon.  Before long, the perfect darkness in the window was spoiled by a touch of gray.