Sunday, July 24, 2011

cousin pearl

The train rails gleamed in the sun, blades cutting the morning.  Leddy searched them, like she did every morning since Pearl died, for some sign of her cousin - a strand of her blue-black hair, a shred of her skirt.  Nothing, but empty cigarette cartons littered the tracks now.  The railroad men had come and wiped any trace of Pearlfrom the rails.  All that remained was her voice, her siren’s song seeping from the train whistle on the distant breeze, awful and beautiful at the same time. 

            Leddy only heard it when she was alone.  Usually, her brother Miguel walked to school with her, but he was in bed sick this morning.  She had begged him to get up.  Leddy quickened her pace and tried not to think aboutPearl.  Did she feel it when the train cut through her?  Leddy prayed the meth inPearl’s blood had blocked all sensation somehow.

            Cesar was across the tracks, slumped on the sidewalk outside the bar he spent the night in.  There was no way around him.  Leddy wanted to rip out his eyes and spit venom in the empty sockets.  She stared straight ahead, heart hammering.

            “Amiga!” Cesar called. “Leddy!” 

Leddy broke into a run past him, but somehow he caught her and spun her around.

            “I’m talking to you!” he screamed in her face.  Leddy just shook her head.

            “I didn’t kill her,” he pleaded, his rancid day-after booze smell oozing all over her.  “I know what you’re thinking.  It’s a lie!”

            Leddy looked into the dilated black pits of his eyes and wondered if this was whatPearl saw.  Cesar had been handsome once.  The cousins had giggled about it.  Now, all Leddy could see was the shine of spittle on his rotting dirt-colored teeth.  His soul was gone. 

Did he kiss her with those crusted, sore-laden lips before he gave her the hit?  Leddy shuddered realizing this man had killedPearlas surely as if he had laid her head on the tracks himself.  Cesar recognized the accusation in Leddy’s eyes.  The scream of a train pulling into town startled him.

            “Did you hear that?”  His bony fingers dug into the soft flesh of her arms as he twisted to look down the tracks.

 How could she not? Pearl’s voice cried a warning Leddy couldn’t ignore.  It screamed “Run!”

“It’s her,” said Cesar.  He blinked too many times, salty tears at the corners of his bloody eyes.  “She won’t stop.  Make it stop!” 

Cesar let go of Leddy to claw at his ears, tortured by an invisible beast.  Leddy ran all the way to school, but she could hear Cesar shouting above the clatter of the train for several blocks.

“Tell her to stop it, Leddy!  Make it stop!”

All day, Leddy tried to focus on school, but her mind kept drifting back to when they first came toIdaho, following the work.  If they had stayed inCalifornia, maybePearlwould still be here, maybe she never would have fallen under Cesar’s spell.  Her cousin, her idol, all Leddy ever wanted to be wasPearl.  How could she step in front of that train and leave Leddy alone here?

“It was Cesar,” the ghost whispered again and again.  “He’s to blame.”

Leddy started for home, knowing what was in store for her down by the tracks.  She turned down a different street, hoping to delay the inevitable.  Cesar was there, waiting for her.  This time when she ran, she made it across the tracks before he caught up to her.  His malt liquor lunch made him sluggish.

“You’ve got to help me,” Cesar begged, still standing on the tracks.  “I can’t get her voice out of my head.  She’s trying to drive me crazy.”

A train was coming.  They always came, crying out before they reached the crossing. Pearl’s calm, reassuring voice wafted to Leddy’s ears.  It said “wait”.  Leddy paused and turned to look at the shell of a human being behind her, teetering on the tracks.  The power of the coming engine pulsed through her body.  She feltPearl’s smoldering hate in her chest.

Don’t do it,Pearl, Leddy prayed.  Don’t.

The whistle came again, much louder now.  Shocked out of his stupor byPearl’s scream, Cesar stepped off the tracks toward Leddy.  She backed away, even as the ghost pleaded with her to wait just a moment more.  The engine bearing down on them drowned them in its diesel-throated roar.  Its constant scream now joined the agonizing shriek of metal against metal as the train tried to stop. 

Leddy saw Cesar’s mouth say “Help me!” but she never heard his voice.  His eyes followed Leddy’s to the train, knowing it was coming for him, both fearing and welcoming it.  He swayed almost peacefully to the deafening throb of the engine and suddenly stumbled back, as if pushed. 

Pearl, don’t!  Leddy lurched forward to grab Cesar’s hand,Pearl’s painful voice wailing in her ears.  She caught only the rushing wind in her fingers as Cesar was swept away by the screeching train.  Leddy wept when she realizedPearl’s voice was silent.  She was finally gone.

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