Broken Vessels

Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus Read Free Book Online

Book: Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus Read Free Book Online
Authors: Andre Dubus
voices rise again, and people sway against the backs of our seats. Outside the land stretches wide and treeless, broken by the steep sides and flat tops of buttes. Then we see a prairie dog village. At some of the holes, prairie dogs stand erectly and watch the passing train.
    On Saturday, the last day of the journey, I wake in Carlin, Nevada. We are going through foothills then Battle Mountain, a town of trailers, with a sign at the highway: The Barite Capitol of the World . I go upstairs, through sleeping cars and the dining car, the smells of bacon and pancakes coming from the kitchen below, a few people eating early breakfast, through the club car, clean now and empty, and down to the bar. Sharon is working, and while I drink coffee a woman and her daughter, about eight, come in. The girl is barefooted and Sharon tells the woman not to let the child walk barefooted on the train. She says to the girl: “When you grow up and get married your husband will want to kiss your toes, and you want to have all five of them.”
    Near the tracks, a coyote trots west. My wife comes in for coffee, and Sharon sits with us in a booth; in the booth across the aisle are a couple and their seven-year-old daughter and a boy who belongs to no one in the car, and who wears a T-shirt with, printed across the chest: Caution: Here Comes Trouble . Sharon talks to him. He is five, and his name is Casey. He is sitting beside the girl and, now and then, he peers at her and smiles. He and his mother and two-year-old sister are going to Martinez, he says. He keeps striking his left palm with his right fist. After a while, a conductor comes to the foot of the stairs.
    â€œDid you know you’ve been lost?” he says. “Come on, son.” He looks at the girl, and says: “I don’t blame him for following that pretty girl around.”
    Casey leaves with him, and the girl says: “I wish that boy took an airplane.”
    â€œThey lose them all the time,” Sharon says. “Soon as they come aboard, they expect the conductors to look after the kids. We had one drunk woman who got off in Omaha and forgot her little boy. A conductor found him curled up asleep in a men’s room. So they wrapped him in blankets and left him at the station in Sparks.”
    â€œHow far is that from Omaha?”
    â€œFive hundred and twenty-two miles. But there wasn’t anyplace to leave him in between.”
    I tell her about the angry people waiting for dinner last night.
    â€œThey’re just bored,” she says. “If they had some dis trac tion, they’d be all right. And they’re the same ones that’ve been nickel-diming me all afternoon for snacks.”
    We talk about Amtrak people losing jobs because of Reagan’s budget; and propositions thirteen in California and two and a half in Massachusetts taking away more jobs, and public services as well, and she says: “Those people in power: they make a decision on paper, in their offices. But where’s the heart? The heart, that is this country.”
    After breakfast we move southwest along the Truckee River, through the mountains. A huge bird flies over the valley between the tracks and the mountains: dark grey, wide wings, moving up toward the high brown slopes spotted green with scattered brush. Two palominos are drinking in the river; they stand among rocks, the water beneath their knees, and the high country is closing in on the tracks, cutting off and diminishing the blue sky with small puffs of solitary white clouds, and we go to the club car to watch the Sierra Nevadas.
    Reno’s so close to hell you can see Sparks , a trainman said. In Reno we pass tawdry casinos and hotels, and look away, at the mountains beyond them. Quickly we are past Reno’s outskirts, going between hills and past grazing sheep, to California: to Truckee in the Sierra Nevadas which rise now on both sides with slender evergreens growing up their slopes and with

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