TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 26 (EXCERPT)
Olesya rose and her eyes passed over Yanchik’s silhouette, darkened by the dusk seeping through the narrow gap in the curtains. The fabric no longer had a blue tinge, it was black.
Black like the black crepe of papa’s casket.
Olesya squeezed her pointe shoe, holding it in a clammy fist the way she held her toy locomotive on that winter morning, when snowflakes floated down on her eyelashes, melting, dripping together with her tears that she couldn’t stop, silent tears that blurred her vision. Her other hand, mittened, clutched her mother’s. They stood, surrounded by solemn family, at the far end of the old Moscow cemetery, beneath naked elms dotted with crows. A long black box on the hoary ground holding what was left of her papa, of his warm words never to tell her another story, of his raspy laugh, his lengthy explanations of how the trains worked.
“You’d be surprised at how easy it is to stop such a big machine,” he told her before leaving on his last trip, the trip from which he would return in that black box.
“How?” Asked Olesya.
“Well, there are several ways,” he sat down in his haunches, taking her hand in his and prying the locomotive from her fingers. “See the wheels?”
Olesya looked. “Yes.”
“See the rims on the wheels? They guide the train. Where the rims turn, there it will go. And if anything is in their way, even a small stone or a bolt, it can cause the whole thing to run off the rails.”
Olesya’s eyes widened. “Run off where?”
Her papa chuckled. “It’s not like it will sprout legs and run, no. It simply means it will sustain a mechanical failure of tracks or wheels, or both, and stop moving, or even keel over, if there is a bend in the railroad, and if it’s going fast enough for inertia to carry it over.”
Olesya blushed, caught in making such a silly assumption about a train running on legs. She pondered her father’s words, rolling the wheels of the toy with one finger. “Is that when they call you, papa?”
“To put it back on the rails?”
“Well, not exactly. I tell them how to fix it and then inspect it once it’s fixed.”
“What’s the other way?” Asked Olesya, looking into his suddenly distant eyes.
“The other way? You said there is another way for it to fail.”
“You have quite a memory, Olesya.” He patted her gently on the cheek. “Yes, there is another way. It doesn’t happen very often as engineers like me inspect every locomotive on a regular basis, but sometimes we miss things, and sometimes things get so worn, they break and cause the engine to fail.”
“What things, papa?”
“Oh, it’s too long to explain. I have to go now.”
“No, papa, please! What things?”
He smiled at her. “Why do you need to know? Do you plan to become a mechanical engineer? I thought you want to be a ballerina. I really need to go, Olesya, or I’ll be late for my train.”
Her mother then came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron. “Still here? Aren’t you going to be late?”
He left then, and he never told her what things one has to do to make the engine fail.
(Photo by @joelrobison.)