Railroad Tracks, Aptos, CA Photo by Susan Dorf
Sunday in Autumn, and a man and a boy walk along the railroad tracks in Aptos, the man arching forward in a steady rhythmic swinging of arms, measuring his pace with the railroad ties, his feet landing on the spaces between. The boy lurches forward, then skips, then does a series of short quick steps until he is up on the rail, arms outstretched like an airplane, then flapping like an awkward bird, wobbling for a moment before swooping back down onto the tracks. He crosses to the other side where he does a little turn, spinning on his toes and coming up along side his dad, then arching his head back to stare up into the eucalyptus branches and the blue sky beyond, where shifting puffs of cloud dance lazily in a slow waltz, their shadows moving like the ghosts of dark lumbering creatures across the uneven earth.
The man stops at a bench to sit. A worn wooden plank spanning two rusted metal poles, its surface gouged and wounded, carved with the names of lovers who have long passed on. The boy is still for a fleeting moment while the view from the cliff captures his attention, the greenblue of the ocean spanning out forever, more miles than he can count, towards vast emptiness and other countries with their own little boys and dads, places he may or may not ever travel to. The breeze fumbles with the leaves of the eucalyptus in a spooky rustling sound, and several pelicans soar by in prehistoric elegance. The cry of a seagull repeats somewhere below where the waves crash and suck at the shore in the sea's eternal quest to swallow the land.
The boy drapes himself over the bench, then lifts his feet and stretches out his arms, stiffening the length of his body into the pose of a human seesaw. He imagines himself teeter tottering there to the amusement of squirrels and birds, and then suddenly he is Superman, flying out over the vast expanse of ocean towards other continents. He is halfway across China when the man heaves himself up from the bench, and the boy spirals forth and together they continue on as the railroad tracks merge together following the straight and true laws of perspective, one tie at a time, each worn tie carrying the memory of the howl and scrape of a thousand trains in the night.
The boy is in motion, a puppet of a child, skinny legs poking out of baggy shorts planted into enormous sneakers. Blue tee shirt, a mop of dark tangled hair. He hops up on the rail again, manages a few quick steps, then lands in a puff of dust. He pounds his feet into the ground, watching the dust clouds rise about him and settle, rise and settle. His gangly arms follow his body, the fingers twisting and unfolding, fluttering and clenching as if conversing with each other in their own alien language.
At some point the pair become spots of color in the distance, a large white one growing smaller and smaller towards a known and certain destination, counting the mutes and hours of the finite days. Beside it small blue shape wiggling and leaping like a thing caught in the current of a wild and unpredictable river, towards a future impossible to imagine.