The train trellis is very high up where the woods slope out from underneath it. I’m only a few feet out, standing on dark, rotted slats, but close enough to the beginning to go back, to choose not to do it. When I look down, the empty space makes me nervous. The ground is still very close to my feet. From here, I could jump off with no problem other than dirty knees and scraped hands.
The spaces between the slats are only a little bit smaller than the slats themselves, which affords me a clear view of the little creeks and mud below. If look out I can see more of the sky than usual, but I’m afraid to look out or up, afraid the trellis will disappear beneath my feet, and I’ll go tumbling to the dirt. I keep my eyes on my feet, and will them to move. One step and stop. One step and stop again, because my legs won’t listen.
When I walk, I feel like I’m flying and this is part of the problem. With every step, the ground edges away from me beneath the slats until it’s not me who is moving. I am standing still, and the ground is flowing like water underneath the trellis which has become the only thing stationary in the world. When I stop, I can convince myself that I am just walking, and the trees and the mud are solid. So I inch along.
I trust myself less and less, the further I walk out. My foot will catch and I’ll stumble off the edge. I’ll get too dizzy watching the trees and sky flowing past me in a nonexistent wind. A million scenarios, most implausible or at least very unlikely. Sometimes I raise my foot and can’t place it down again, out of the fear that the slat won’t be there. My weight will carry me down, and I’ll fall, breaking my bones into splinters. I’ll die. This feeling roots me to the spot and I can’t take another step.
The sky is melting and I’m going to go insane and pitch myself off of the edge. I’m stuck.
He is standing on the middle of the trellis, watching me and smoking a cigarette. He’ll walk right on the edge or stand in the middle and spit over the side. I know this is cool, and I want to do it. "Well, come on then," he says, smiling. This is not a jibe or chastisement, rather it’s a call. He obviously enjoys whatever can be seen from the middle when you stand up straight, and unworried. I want to see it, too.
I look at him, and feel like I’m taking my first steps into some big adventure. Come on, I think, don’t be a baby, girl. It’s just a bridge. "Hold on, I’ll be right there," I say crossly. Don’t be a baby, baby. . . babe, in the drunk tank. . .
It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank. . .
He looks back at me, and I stop. I’d been moving, and he smiles, stays where he is, waiting for me. I sing louder, and though my voice falters with my footfalls, it’s steady enough.
An old man said to me, won’t see another one, and then he sang a song, the rare old mountain dew. It turned my face away and dreamed about you.
I’m standing next to him, on a flat piece of wood that bridges one of the larger gaps between slats that have started falling away. I light my own cigarette with shaking hands. I’m in the middle and the sky is like a gray bowl, over me. The tops of trees make sad noises in the wind, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, high over the grass and the mud and the world. Somewhere, we have a conversation about what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, but I’m only half listening.
"Shall we," he asks, and I answer by flicking the end of my cigarette over the side. It falls slowly, and I watch unafraid.
Let the phone ring. Let's go back to sleep. Let the world spin outside our door, You're the only one that I wanna see.
I follow him, more surefooted and agile, only occasionally dropping into a camel-walk to pass the burnt or broken slats. When the green and brown below start to swim in my peripheral vision, I concentrate on the sound of my voice in my ears. Every few feet he turns around and it eggs me on. I’m still going slowly, but I walk faster watching his back and mumbling songs in time to my steps. When the song ends I fumble for another until I’m spinning snippets of melodies to keep myself going.
. . . that roll back in his head. They flutter and dart. He slows down his heart. . . . Once upon a midnight dearie, I woke with something in my head. . .
I jump. I soar through the nothingness, bowl-sky above me, ground below my feet solid again. My sneakers hit the patch of dirt where he’s already waiting for me, grinning. I look back over the walk I took, through the sky and trees. If I was a native, I’d be a man now; as it is I’ve been born-again-baptized, with music in my head. One foot in front of the other we walk away. I’m whistling.
And through the bad dreams I'll be right there, baby. Holding your hand, telling you everything is all right. . .
They tore down the tracks after the summer rains took their tribute. . .