Train, Library, Hotel

John Fram

We set out in the middle of the night and arrived at the station by daybreak. The two men we’d been promised awaited us in black jackets and red caps, standing alone together on the empty platform with their hands behind their backs.

Once the train set off she asked the waiter for a glass of ice water. He brought the water to her boiling but dropped in ice cubes from a gilded bucket until it cooled. They left the bucket and the little golden tongs they’d used to withdraw the ice on the carpet of our cabin. I tried to read the book I’d brought but the pages kept moving every time I looked up. Outside the window the fog would clear for a moment and set in again.

Once as we rocketed past a line of telegraph poles she said, “At the rate we’re going we could run someone over and not notice the bump.”

I slid through our cabin door. The floor of the car was all bare concrete. Someone had retrofitted the dining car into three lines of computers running through spotty plasma monitors.

When we pulled into the city he looked up what he’d come to find but learned that the library had burnt down the night before. The firefighters were kind enough to let us under the cordon wire. “Just watch your step,” they said.

The drizzling rain of the morning turned the fine layers of ash into mud around our shoes.

The door to the records in the basement was intact in its frame but the stairs had all collapsed in. He spoke very rapidly for awhile about getting in from the basement of the department store next door but then abandoned the idea for some reason he never told me.

At our hotel I traded the empty ice bucket and tongs left to us on the train for an elevator ride to the roof and we stared down at the city and at the city that mirrored it on the opposite coast. Everything stayed in place while the fog cleared.

John Fram writes from an apartment within his price range in Texas.