It was a bright, warm day in early May. She’d taken her son to the train tracks at his request, let him meander along the platform and observe the scene. Clear blue sky juxtaposed thick steel beams and rugged asphalt; the Chicago skyline shimmered on the horizon. It was the type of day she might even describe as perfect, except for the whole pandemic situation, and that her son was edging too close to the end of the platform.
“Stop right there, buddy, that’s far enough,” she said, her breath quickening. The surrounding prairie grass shuddered in the soft breeze.
“Why can’t we go on the rocks, Mommy?” he whined, turning around. She was already jogging toward him, the taste of metal in her mouth.
“It’s not safe there, buddy,” she said, snatching his hand and pulling him away. “This is too close to the tracks.”
“Mommy, can I see a train?”
She glanced again at the tracks leading north toward the jagged Chicago skyline. She wanted to go back home. “I just don’t think there are a lot of trains running right now, you know, because of staycation.”
Her son’s face fell. “Staycation” was their word for the pandemic, for the endless hours of play they’d logged since sheltering in place, for a break from school for him but no breaks from Mommy and Daddy, for a break from plans and a social life that was slowly breaking them. First a fond word, then one that produced groans.
“OK, let’s check the schedule,” she conceded, pulling out her phone and locating Metra’s website. What had she expected bringing him here? That he’d be content to stare at empty railroad tracks? “Well, what do you know? There’s a train coming in seven minutes,” she told him. “We can wait here … but you have to sit with me.”
They plopped down cross-legged on the hot asphalt and waited, him snuggled back in her arms gazing ahead at rows of tracks. A white butterfly danced above their heads, perhaps searching for a flower or just enjoying the feel of flying.
Sunlight warmed her shoulders, and she felt something fluttering inside her, too. What was it, peace? Or maybe anticipation? She’d nearly forgotten the feeling.
Far in the distance a light appeared, first a pinprick then a widening beam. The train whistle blared, and it felt as though the ground beneath their bottoms began to rumble. She caged her arms around her son’s small body and shouted, “Jack, it’s coming!”
He whipped his head toward the approaching train face. Dark and large it galloped toward the station, a rush of wind and sound and power. Suddenly their patch of platform now seemed far too close to the beast. The whistle sounded again and Jack pulled his hands to his ears, shaking under her embrace. She wanted him to look at the train but he’d shut his eyes tight so instead she drank in the sight for both of them.
The train’s brakes squealed to a halt, stirring up hot dust. A conductor hopped off, glanced around the deserted platform, and spotting Jack, waved. Jack still had his hands capped to his ears, but, recognizing the train’s conductor, he lifted them and waved back.
The train cars were nearly empty. She wondered what would happen if they up and boarded one. What adventures could they have? What people would they meet? Everything was canceled, but she was spinning a plan in her head. She could take a day off work and they would take the train to the city, then explore Union Station. They might visit the Field Museum via an extra train or bus ride, and he could revel at Sue, the T-Rex model. Of course, before training home, they’d have to stop at Garrett’s for a bag of cheddar-caramel popcorn. Her mind buzzed with possibilities. She wanted to take Jack on a train ride … once the pandemic was over.
Nearly as soon as it arrived the train bulleted away. Jack unwound his legs from her lap and watched it barrel under a bridge on the south side of the tracks. Standing tall, he looked as if he was ready for a new adventure.
“Mommy, that was cool!” he said, arms swinging. “Can we go to that bridge next?”
She smiled and contemplated his thought. “Absolutely.”
“It’s a beautiful day, Mommy!” he said, already bounding toward the forest path where they’d eventually find the bridge. The prairie grass swayed in his direction.
She scanned the open sky, the train tracks and the wonder gleaming in his eyes. It was the kind of day she might describe as perfect.
“Yes,” she said, bounding after him. “It really is.”
I wrote this post as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. To read the next post in this series, click here.