Once, as a child, I almost saw a man kill himself. The boys up at the wall looked down at him as he, weeping, put his head on the tracks. I stood back, watching them as they watched him. Or that’s how I remember it, but I also remember his face, so I’m not sure I believe my memory.
The boys were hollering with joy, as I recall, but that seems improbable to me now. What I know about people, even cruel children, is that amusement there, in that grisly context, it isn’t likely. I remember that they averted their eyes at the last second as the train passed, so none of them saw him die, either. But, yeah, we were all there.
Decades later, lying in bed with my girlfriend, I tell her the story and she says, “Jesus.” And I say, “But do you really believe they laughed?”
“I do,” she says, but I guess I already know that.
Later still, I drive over a goose, which walked onto the freeway and just stared at me. I slammed on my breaks, honked at it, but it just stood, staring, and I couldn’t stop, not there, so I drove slowly over it, my back left tire lifting a little. “In the rearview,” I tell my girlfriend on the phone minutes later, “it wasn’t dead yet, I saw one of its wings extend up toward the sky.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that,” she implores. “I don’t want to know.”
“But I didn’t kill it,” I say pulling over onto the shoulder, putting my hazards on. “Someone behind me—”
“Please,” she says.
But I’m not done, I need to tell her about the wing pointing upwards, like it wanted to tell me something. I need her to hear that yes, maybe we’re all dying, but it’s not my fault.
Peter Mountford is the author of the novels The Dismal Science and A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Granta, Best New American Voices 2008, Conjunctions, Salon, Southern Review, Slate, and Boston Review. He’s currently the events curator at Hugo House, Seattle’s writing center, where he also teaches.