When I were young, I got it in my head to be a train. Not a conductor or a passenger or any kinda person on a train. Just the train itself. Kids don’t usually pretend to be trains or nothin’, just people or animals or somethin’, but I were a train.
Mama always said the train brought in Daddy, and the train carried him right on out. Rolled into town one day in a bright new steam engine, and Mama knowed right then that it were love. No one else seemed to think so’s the thing. Turns out they was right, ‘cause he only stuck ‘round long enough to get Mama in the family way and then he were off again.
‘Course that’s where the trouble first got started. Folks say Mama ain’t been the same since. ‘Course I don’t know different. She just always been Mama.
That’s where the trains started for me, too. Mama used to bring me down there every week, down to the railyard to look at them trains. There was big long ones and small single cars and ones that had people and ones that had cows. I’d be lookin’ at the trains, and I’d start to thinkin’ ‘bout how to get away.
I sticked it out, though, for Mama. The good part’s at nighttime, when the trains start cryin’ all low and sad. I’ll run to one’a the windows just for a listen. Mama always hear me goin’, (got ears like a bat) and she climb on outta bed, too, and start makin’ hot chocolate on the stove. Then we get all cozy right there ‘gainst the wall, a nest made’a pillows and blankets and love and just try to hear what the trains’re singin’ ‘bout. Makes me forget ‘bout everythin’ for a while.
I’m all Mama has, is the thing, and she’s all I got. When I were born, lots’a her friends up and left her. Ain’t no one in town that talk to her anymore, ‘cept for Mr. Schultz in the store and a couple’a church ladies. I think her Mama and Daddy died long ago, and she don’t got any sisters or brothers, just like me. I really is all that’s left.
All that’s left’a Daddy, too. Mama tells me stories ‘bout him, sometimes. She say that his smile were like the sun and his laugh were a warm bed. She say they could talk for hours and hours and not even get tired’a it. That even just lookin’ at him made her light up inside.
Don’t have no pictures to show me Daddy. Weren’t ‘round long enough. I ain’t got no clue what he looked like, and I ain’t got no one to tell me ‘bout it, either. I asked Mama one time, and all that she said were he were beautiful, Cassia, and you got his chin and his eyes, Cass, and his stubbornness.
Well, that took me to the mirror real quick, and I just looked at my face for the longest time. I couldn’t even figure it. My face looks like mine, not anyone else’s, and not a man’s, neither. But I can see why Mama wants to think so.
My face’s got lots’a problems. I run into somethin’ when I were real small. Mama say it were the inside’a the front door, but I used to pretend it were from the endside’a some outlaw’s gun.
Either way, it done left me with a giant line ‘cross my face. It go all the way from the inside’a my right eyebrow all across to my left cheek. All big and white, and jaggedy, too, ‘cause it were a big ol’ cut once. My face gets me a lotta problems, too.
I ain’t never been to school. I ain’t sufferin’ for it none, though. Never really saw why I needed to be ‘round other kids my age. There’re enough’a ‘em in town that I always knowed I don’t want to be nearer to ‘em than I gotta be.
They do a good job’a makin’ sure it stay that way. I were only six years old when I first figured out them kids is nothin’ but cruel and vicious. I been sittin’ in front’a the house, waitin’ for Mama to bring out the lemonade. She leave me there ‘cause she can see from the window, and I never got myself into no trouble.
And suddenly they were there, a whole lotta ‘em. Bigger ones and smaller ones, scabbed over knees and angry faces. Them kids don’t like no one who’s different from ‘em. They marched right on up to me and this big one looked me right in the face.
I said hello to him, all polite, ‘cause that’s the way Mama taught me.
He asked me straight out what were wrong with my face.
I got real mad quick, ‘cause he didn’t have no reason to ask me that. I told him there weren’t nothin’ wrong with my face, what ‘bout him?
He just looked at me for a real long time, and then he looked back at all them other kids, and they all came at me. Don’t know what they was doin’, but they got me on the ground someway. All a’sudden I couldn’t even see the sky, they was so close. Hittin’ me with arms and legs and words, all because’a how I look.
Then Mama comed outta the house, ‘course, ‘cause she weren’t ‘bout to let ‘em hurt me none. She asked ‘em what it was they thought they was doin’, and the big ol’ one what were talkin’ in my face telled her his mama said that we was crazy ******, that we wasn’t fit to be livin’ in town with decent folks.
Turns out his mama’s name’s Renee. She used to be a real good friend’a Mama’s. Mama turned to screamin’ like crazy at that yard full’a kids, and it scared ‘em real good. They all runned off. I just stayed there on the ground a bit, ‘cause it sure feeled like where I belonged. Them kids made me feel like dirt, to be sure.
Mama picked me right up real quick, brushed the dirt off’a my hair and my dress. She looked at me and told me right there not to ever let ‘em make me small, ‘cause I were bigger and better than they was ever gonna be. I told her yes, Mama, but I were cryin’ when I did it, ‘cause, well, I were only six.
What Renee told her kid hurt Mama real bad. She don’t like to think ‘bout how folks here feel ‘bout her. She like to pretend that all’a ‘em still like her, even though they don’t much like what she did. But Renee’s kid tryin’ to get at me really reminded her how they all actually feel.
What gets me is why we don’t never leave this place. ‘Cause I know Mama don’t like it here none and I right hate it. I think that maybe Mama’s tryin’ to stick ‘round case Daddy ever come back. ‘Cause he won’t be able to find her if we go someplace else. I’m not quite sure if he ever gonna come back, truly. Seems to me he goed for a reason, and it don’t seem likely that reason changed so much.
Mama say Daddy were a traveller, travellin’ all ‘round the country and seein’ more than I could imagine. Mama says he told her ‘bout the ocean, that it go as far as anyone could think to see, and that he seen the Statue’a Liberty, all the way out in New York City. If I were ever gonna talk to them kids, I could tell ‘em all ‘bout my Daddy and all he seen, and I just know that would get ‘em to shut up ‘bout me. I just know it.
There’ve been days when Mama just sits and cries. Nights, mostly, when she think I don’t hear. It get to her sometimes, bein’ alone. Sometimes it go on for months without her talkin’ to anyone but me. Must be hard sometimes.
On Thursday, Mama went down to the railyard without me. I didn’t much mind, seein’ as I were asleep. She stood right there in the middle’a the place, right on the railroad track, and I guess some big ol’ train comed and knocked her down. She were dead right there, without no warnin’.
It were one’a them church ladies what come and tell me. Woke me right up with her knockin’ and carryin’ on. I were all sleepy when I answered the door, and she telled me that my mama did a nasty thing, and that she were goin’ to the Devil for it. That lady telled me my mama had gone and left me all alone.
Well, I just slammed that front door right in her face and I locked it up real good. And I sat down right there on the floor and I started cryin’.
Mama always told me it were a-okay to cry ‘bout somethin’ sad, but not to let it take over your life. But, well, Mama weren’t here no more, she ain’t never gonna be here again. So I just cried my guts out, right there on the floor.
I spended Thursday night in Mama’s room. I never really went in Mama’s room too much, ‘cause she always deserved her private place. But I opened that door right on up, and I curled up in her bed. She hadn’t made it up nice like she always told me to, and her sheets was all messy. But I climbed right on in, and golly that place smelled like Mama.
Oh, Mama, Mama, Mama! It were that smell that got me, made me cry like that. Got her sheets all wet with my cryin’, and she’d’ve been a little bit angry ‘bout that. Which got me cryin’ even harder. It felt like my heart were like to fall outta my chest, it hurt that bad.
My sweet Mama. What were it ‘bout me that made you go? That church lady telled me life got to be too much for you, like so much happened you couldn’t make yourself work anymore. Were it my fault, Mama? Were I so bad? I’m so sorry, Mama.
My cryin’ only stopped some ‘cause I seed this photo on Mama’s nightstand. It were all faded brown and white colors, and it were Mama plain as day, standin’ with her arms ‘round the middle’a some big ol’ man. She looked right happy, holdin’ on to that man. The man were grinnin’ away at her, like she were the one who made the seasons change. He were real handsome, like Mama always said, so I knowed it had to be Daddy.
Somethin’ made me grab on tight to that picture. I pulled it into me, right ‘gainst my chest, so the frame were cuttin’ into my skin and my arms were shakin’ for how hard I were holdin’ on. Don’t know when it happened, but I fell asleep, with my parents right there next to me.
The funeral were today, Monday, ‘cause there were a weddin’ on Saturday, and it’s bad luck to have funerals on Sundays. It were real nice, and there were flowers everywhere. People everywhere, too, more people than I ever talked to in my whole life. Couldn’t say if they cared ‘bout Mama at all, or if they were just there ‘cause’a how she died.
Soon as it were all over, I went right back to my house and packed right up. Not everythin’, a’course, just what I could fit in the big ol’ backpack I found in Mama’s closet. Clothes and all the money I could get my hands on and the picture a’Mama and Daddy. ‘Cause I’m keepin’ my family together, even though I’m the only one what’s left.
I walked right down to the railyard, where Daddy got taken away and Mama and me dreamed ‘bout him and where Mama got taken away, too. I figure that if the trains can take away Mama and Daddy in two different ways, then maybe there’s a way they can take away ten-year-old orphans, too. ‘Cause I don’t want to be here no more, not without Mama.
When I first started with the trains, Mama sang me all kinds’a train songs. Songs ‘bout trains goin’ and comin’, songs ‘bout workin’ on the railroad and ridin’ on trains, but there be one I remember best, one that I like a lot more than all the others:
This train is bound for glory, this train
This train is bound for glory, this train
This train is bound for glory
Bringin’ home the righteous and the holy
This train is bound for glory, this train
Always been my most favorite train song. I fair like the sound’a trains that come for good people. I always thinked I were a good person. I tried my hardest, and even if I made Mama die, I didn’t mean to. Can’t really be my fault if I didn’t mean to.
I’m thinkin’ ‘bout all’a this, and this man come and sit next to me. And wouldn’t you know it be Mr. Schultz, the man Mama always talked to in the store. I wonder what he thinkin’, comin’ out here.
Hello, Mr. Schultz, I say to him.
Hello, Cassia. Going somewhere?
Leavin’ town, Mr. Schultz. No reason to stay without Mama.
You don’t like it here? This is your home, isn’t it?
Why, yes, Mr. Schultz, but sir I ain’t never been wanted here’s the thing.
That is the thing, Mr. Schultz say, like he really is thinkin’ ‘bout it. Where do you plan on staying out there?
Don’t rightly know, sir.
I wonder would you come stay with us, Cassia?
Well that really just takes me way, way back. Ain’t nobody never cared a lick for me but Mama. Didn’t never imagine this.
Why would I do that, sir?
Because your Mama was my daughter, Cassia.
This man be Mama’s daddy? She ain’t never told me nothin’ ‘bout any kinda parents.
But why-? Can’t even get myself to say real words.
Your Mama had her reasons for doing what she did, says Mr. Schultz. I won’t hold it against her.
There be a good amount’a grief in his eyes, and I feel it. I feel that this be my granddaddy and I know I’m gonna go with him. I just know it, like I know my mama ain’t never comin’ back.
I been all kinds’a too quiet, too long.
I do love you, Cassia. And I promise, we’re going to take care of you the best we can.
Well, I think I’m gonna come home with you, I say. His smile grow to burstin’.
Wonderful! say Mr. Granddaddy. Do you need to get anything from home?
I stand up, take his hand.
I got everythin’ I need.