Betrayed Restlessness II 

(MacArthur Bridge over East St. Louis)

The train lumbers slowly over the Mississippi, quiet and hypnotic: chunk, chunk...chunk, chunk.... I can hardly breathe.

I'm swallowed into the belly of American folklore; I am a lyric in a forgotten blues tune. Stretched out in every direction, incredible expanses of land. I see the Arch: magnificent, bizarre, something mistakenly left on the riverbank by bulbous-headed aliens. Strange how a few city blocks can manifest worlds richer than some vast stretches of geography, I think. I don't know where the idea comes from.

The train picks up speed as it reaches the Illinois side. I hadn't anticipated that the bridge -- which has no guardrail or walkway, nor any visible way down to street level -- would extend for miles into the distance, well above the shadowy buildings. I imagine myself trapped on this coal car indefinitely, arriving in an Indiana small town by morning. If I'm lucky.

Where am I? Who am I? Where am I from? It's been so long since I've been from anywhere. Ghosts are everywhere now: my own personal confederacy of wicked antagonisms. What difference does it make what happens next? My grandfather was a milkman. I don't remember my grandfather. Maybe I never had one.

The train jerks unexpectedly to a stop. There's a small grated platform protruding from the bridge, just below my car. This is my chance! I am Papillon! The train lurches forward again. Jump, Papillon! But then what? Fly, stupid!

More by Timothy Lane

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