Walter awoke to the sound of squealing metal on metal in that rhythmic kerthump, Kerthump sound that means a train is slowly passing the nearby crossing. Back in 1953 when his parents moved here, the train traffic was only once a day, or every other day so said the realtor. “It’s a great neighborhood for children” he said. Karl and Ester Bathens had difficulty speaking the language, having come over from Slovenia after the war. They had lived with Ester’s sister in her back room until Karl had finally gotten a job at the foundry and earned enough money to bring Ester and their unborn son to this neighborhood, away from the dirt, grime and closed in feeling of city life. Since 1953 the railroad had gone bankrupt, sold, resold and bankrupt once more until the lines were purchased by the Canadian Railroad back in the ‘80’s. Today, Fords built in Canadian factories flow into the heartland of American on the tracks behind Walters home – empty now save for the memory of Ester and Karl, and a few faded photographs that hang in the hall way.
Walter rolled out of bed in just his shorts and a faded t-shirt that smelled of last nights cigar and beer. He walked though the empty house, back into the kitchen that looked the same as the day Ester cooked her first meal. White porcelain over steel cabinets faded and stained to a gray brown, and an electric stove that only had one burner left working. Walter never needed more than one, so why invest in fixing it.
The sound or the train drew his attention as the squealing of the big wheels suppressed every thought. Walter still half asleep walked out the back door and down the 3 wooden steps to the neglected grass of his back yard. Through the broken fence that separated his home from the tracks the big train cast shadows that flickered against Walter’s gaze and the occasional open car allowed the morning sun to blind him. “Big Joe’s Circus and Cultural Oddities” the sign said on several cars of the train. Strange, sullen faces of circus performers watching nothing in particular were visible as the cars creeped by. How sad, Walter thought, some of those faces could be clowns, shouldn’t they be happy? Jovial? Not the sad, mournful faces that refused to make eye contact with him.
Walter ambled through the yard and ducked down and through the broken fence to get a better look at the circus train before it totally passed by. If he wanted to he could reach out and touch the train, and it was moving slow enough he could have jumped on if he so desired. For an instant that thought passed through his head. He could join the circus and become a clown. Make people happy. Wear a smile every night and enjoy the sound of children laughing. He turned away from the train and stepped through the hole in the fence and began to head back into the house.
Something hit him in the back of the head and he spun around in time to see the last car of the train pass his home. Sitting on top of the caboose was an old man, weather-beaten, as old as time itself and beside him was a monkey, sitting smoking a pipe, just like the old man who waved a salute to Walter as they passed into the sun and toward the horizon. Puzzled, Walter looked down and saw a beat up brass cup at his feet. Picking it up, Walter heard the far off sound of an organ. Remembering the old man, Walter said to himself “Think I grow a Moustache.”