From "Suburban Misfits"

Storm over Mahwah

You could hear the train hooting through Mahwah as we drove, the low groan beating at the windshield with the sheets of rain. Pa's fingers gripped the steering wheel like vines around a stone, while flashes of dying daylight streaked through the trees and across his grim face.

"Get your head in the truck!" Pa shouted at me. "What're you doing with that window open?"

"I just want to hear the train, Pa. That's all."

"Can't hear nothing in this rain. Close that window before we all drown."

"But Pa..."

"Close it!"

I rolled up the window until all I heard was the gush of the tires and mud. Ma said nothing about the window or the train. She stared straight out past the flashing wipers, eyelashes blinking with every swipe.

"Aren't we going kind of fast, Carl?" She asked Pa.

"You want to drive?" he asked, pressing down on the pedal a little harder.

Ma's mouth snapped shut. The train whistle sounded again, softer this time, and I was caught between wanting to go faster or slowing to a crawl. I wanted the trees to look like trees again instead of a green/gray smear.

I was thinking about the clothes I'd dumped in back with the lumber and how I'd have to hang them out the train window clear to Ohio to get them dry. Providing it didn't rain all the way.

The rain held Pa's truck back like a big wet hand, splattering mud at us that the wiper couldn't handle. The windshield smeared black with it so no one could see out.

But Pa drove by instinct. His weekly trips to town had worn a groove in the road that he could have driven half blind or drunk -- and often did, when he came home Sunday mornings with lipstick all over him, and Ma crying over the washtub later with her hands in pink water as if she was washing out blood.

She said nothing about that either -- even now. Or about the man in the baggy gray suit who'd come to the house one Sunday after church, shoving papers at her. Her mouth set like a signature over them as they rested now in her lap, the shadow of rain dribbling down her cheeks.

"Close that window, boy!" Pa yelled as I inched the glass down again.

"But I was only listening to the train, Pa," I said.

"I'll push you under a train if you keep giving me lip. Close it."

"Okay, Pa," I said. I sat back and tried to think about how much better life would be in California -- if I didn't miss the train.

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