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He is on his side and almost asleep when suddenly his wife, who is supposed to be dead, is in bed behind him, snoring. At first, her snore is an almost imperceptible sound: a catch in the back of her throat, followed by a low whistle.

Under the sheets, he feels her calf rub against his calf. He is so scared he can’t breathe, but he wants to inhale deeply, to turn around in bed and smell the nape of her neck, her hair, her shampoo. Her hand settles on his hip, and her snoring gets louder now, an arrhythmic whistling, the kind that used to wake him in the middle of the night and send him running for the couch, a blanket draped over his shoulder. And then, just as suddenly as his dead wife materialized behind him, beginning to snore, and touching his calf and his hip, he feels awful for all those nights he slept on the couch. Really awful. He is whimpering a little, about to turn around and beg his dead wife for forgiveness, when he realizes she is not in bed behind him at all, and that the snoring he thought was her is just another train whistle.

They call the place Rail City, there are so many trains passing through his town. They are freighter cars, filled with coal or steel, or flats stacked with trailers loaded with who-knows-what—diapers, canned peanuts, fly swatters. But never people. Sometimes, during the day, he gets stuck at a train crossing, and as he watches the train pass, he tries to imagine what the cars are filled with. Most days, he can’t get the image of diapers or fly swatters out of his head. He imagines thousands of them, out of their boxes, piled all over each other, and in his head, the diapers are soiled, and the fly swatters are spattered with bits of wings and guts.

Tonight, though, he is able to get past such unpleasantness. He is tired, and trembling a little, having just thought his dead wife was in bed with him. He forgets all about the goods in the trailers, and he imagines the train cars passing through the night are filled with people, all of them paired up together under plush blankets in sleeping cars. These people, he imagines, are so happy, so sated, that they’ve forgotten what it means to feel hopeful or guilty. They are so in love, snuggled under their blankets together, sound asleep, they don’t even hear the train’s whistle when the conductor lets it rip, again and again, as they hurtle peacefully through town.



rail city


chad simpson