today instead of writing a poem i wrote a draft to a short story. yes. i wrote all of this today.. does that count?
Hearts Heavy like Pennies in our Pockets
When we were young, we would run out into the cornfields to the train tracks that ran through Birdseye. We would dodge the stocks and play hide and seek- we played all sorts of games. The biggest game we played was at the tracks. We threw pennies into the tacks to see what the weight of our changing world would do to them. We’d collect the flattened copper the day after and give them names; we’d make up stories on how they had been deformed. Jenny’s favorite was nearly sliced in two. She named it cash- we weren’t that creative then. One day when we were 8 Jacob brought a Philips head and we carved our names into the steel. Jenny, Nick, Jacob, Julia, April and Katelyn; each name was written in our own handwriting- mine was the worst- I hated the way my Y’s were always uneven. The tracks were old so some of the plates were loose so one day jenny pulled at the plate under her name and realized they was room to hide things and that’s when we started leaving parts of ourselves at the tracks.
That’s when we were young. And curious. And scared of nothing but the speed of the bullet train. That’s before we were afraid of the world. Before we were afraid to grow up. Before we were peter pans and wanted nothing more then to be gone- To never-never land. That's before we started throwing our bodies into them. Because we were trapped here and we wanted out- and we always said the trains would be our only way—if only they would stop here- if only Birdeye would build a station and we could board them with all our memories and baggage and leave this place behind us. We’d imagine a new world beyond the steeple of our single chapel and the water tower on oak road. We would dream of freeing ourselves from these picket fences.
Our parents used to tell us stories of the town before the trains. How things were slow. But Things still feel slow. The trains still pass by every afternoon and sometimes even the night trains come through. Birdseye Indiana still doesn’t have a station so we are 16 and 17 now- still watching the world change around us while everything here remains the same. Jenny, Jacob, Adam, Nick, Julia and I. we’ve been in the same class since kindergarten. We were best friends once- the kind that hung out in public. But we have a different relationship now. Jenny was the first of us to follow through. To throw herself into the afternoon train that passed through the empty cornfields that’s is Birdseye Indiana. We made the pact last July- when we realized that getting out of this town wasn’t nearly as easy as we had imagined as children. The train still didn’t stop in Birdseye and so we got used to watching the changing world leave us behind. It seemed like the only way to over come was to find a way to use the train to leave this place in our past.
We met under the water tower after we had all received an email from jenny about some kind of emergency.
“I think it’s about time we get real” jenny started
“About??” Nick was always the first to ask questions.
“About getting out- its not gonna happen. And if we don’t do something we are gonna die old and bitter just like everyone else in this stupid place”
“Soo… I mean, what are we supposed to do? It seems kinda pointless for you just tell us that—we know we’re not going anywhere fast.” April said.
“We need to take things into our hands.”
I looked around to see I was the only one understanding where this was going. I imagined a conversation like this to be a lot more emotional but it really was pretty logical; at least jenny made it seem logical- and we let her. Jenna had joked about this before. That the trains were the only way out and if they weren’t going to stop we’d have to find another way to escape. Somehow it always went back to the trains. Jacob was the first to speak.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” he asked.
That was the last we really talked about it. Jenny would be first because it was her idea. And after that we were to flip a coin to decide who was next. There had to be rules. We all promised to follow through and to write letter. The letters were really just technicalities, its something we had heard of people leaving behind so we thought we should be consistent. We also all had to promise not to mention the pact to anyone- especially in the letters.
I think we all had our beliefs for what would happen after it was our turn. Where we would go. Jenny already thought she was going to hell so she wasn’t worried. And I think most of us just decided to follow out of curiosity. I know it sounds crazy- but crazier thing shave happened. But not in Indiana, not in Birdseye. Nothing interesting or crazy happened here. That was the problem- it definitely appealed to us to be the first and only interesting thing that ever happened here- that we could go down in history. And of course on top of that was the whole taking control of our own boring lives.
The town dealt with Jenny’s death in an awkward way. The teachers refused to talk about it and the principle, who was also the mayor, sent home a one page letter with a help hotline number requesting parents to talk to their children. It was all really formal; too formal for the kind of town that everyone knows everyone else. And of course we didn’t talk and our parents were either too terrified or too stupid to know that we’d be next so they kept quiet too. In the mean time, we just kept running for the tracks.
Its been 3 weeks since jenny’s been gone. 3 weeks since we stood in the hallow chapel under the stain glass and the bare cross. After the funeral we all gathered at the tracks. Where we grew up, where jenny died, where we were all to die. We lined up n front of the plate with our faded names and pulled Jenny’s favorite coin from under the steel track. We took turns flipping the coin deciding that the odd man out would be next. This time it was Nick.
So then it was Me, Jacob, Adam and Julia sitting in the middle section of the chapel in the same black attire that we wore to Jenny’s funeral. I think we all wanted to cry, but I can’t be sure. We sat in the second row right behind the family. Nick’s younger brother was sitting in front of us, bawling. I wanted to tell him about the pact. I wanted to remind him that Nick loved him. I wanted to comfort him- but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So instead, I just put my palm on his shoulder. It was becoming more and more clear that we were affecting the entire town. Families were crumbling around us but somehow that didn’t make us second-guess what we were doing. No one second-guessed anything until Jacob was gone- because the way he left shook us all.
After Nick’s funeral we all met back at the tracks. We flipped coins and they decided Jacob was next.
“I guess its time.” He said. Deadpan, like he had been waiting. We all were waiting as patiently as possible.
“Do you know when you are going to do it?”
“Thursday.” He let the words slip off his tongue as he jumped from each side of the tracks, flailing his arms through the corn stocks, as if he was examining his target. We all just watched.
That was the last time I saw Jacob. Now we were back in the chapel. Julia, Adam and I- in our finest black attire that we had worm less then a week ago and then again a few weeks before that. We sat in our same seats. In our same shoes. In the same order except now the seat next to me was empty- that was Jacob seat. This was getting familiar and it almost made sense except now there was uncertainness in the air. There was something especially unsettling about his funeral. Jacobs mother claims to have not found a note. So to the town it was unclear as to whether or not he ran into the tracks or slipped. But we, Adam, Julia and I, and anyone who grew up here knew those tracks like the back of our hands. We had stood at the edge of the tracks since we were 6- we’d learned not to trip. We knew logically- he ran. But there wasn’t a note. And we never want to believe in something dark if we don’t have to. So we say that he tripped. That he was misguided- Cuz we all were. Because to a small town there’s nothing logical about a boy running into an oncoming train- even if he is the third to do it in half a year. So we as a town decided he fell and decided not to investigate while the rest of us in the pact wrestled with the idea that maybe it was an accident. That was the problem; he left everyone with questions- even us. Now this wasn’t something against the town because we felt it too- it wasn’t supposed to happen like that- we were supposed to be in control.
When Jacobs mother walked to the casket I started crying. I think Julia started crying too because I felt Adam readjusting himself to hold her hand. This is the first time we had cried since it all began. At least it was the first time we cried in front of each other. Jacob’s mom gave a eulogy about integrity. About strength and will and she almost made it through the entire thing without breaking down. I swear she looked at us square in the eye. That’s when the real tears came. Because Jacobs mom figured it all out. And even if she didn’t she made us feel like she did- so it really was the same thing.
When we got to the tracks Adam was the first to speak,
“what the fuck was that?”
“I think she knows,” I shrugged
“she definitely knows do you think shell say something, “ Julia chimed in
“its hard to tell, but how the fuck did she find out?”
“First of all, Adam, Calm down. Second, I don’t think Jacob told her- if that’s what you are getting at,” things were obviously faling apart- I tried to keep them together.
“whatever, lets just get this over with.” Adam reached under the steel plate but instead of pulling out jenny favorite coin he pulled out a piece of paper. “don’t do it.”
“What?” Julia asked.
“That’s all it says, ‘Don’t do it’.”
That fall is something we carry every day. Adam, Julia and I. we meet at the tracks every July and cry. We remember what happened and we remember our promise to keep our pact secret but more importantly we remember Jenny, Nick and Jacob- we remember how they left and we let them. Somehow that makes everything so much more heavy. We don’t throw pennies at the tracks anymore- and we try our hardest not to throw our bodies. We have a new pact now- to live for them and to remember how stupid we were for not speaking up so they could live for themselves. The secret never got out- because if it did we would know, this is Birdseye- if one person knew the whole town would by know. Or maybe we all know and its something too dark to talk about, I don’t know. All I know is that instead of carrying flattened copper in our pockets we carry a piece of Jacobs letter. We carry a piece of his forgiveness and we hope that Jenny and Nick feel the same. We pray that we will see them again- and that someday the train will stop in Birdseye- that everything we tried to do actually made a difference. We pray that we wont be stuck here forever with heavy hearts weighing us down like pennies in our pockets.