Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
First Stop

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The children are trapped. Their own mothers have wished them into this place, those mothers who stood over cribs, staring, touching, just to make sure.
It's a beautiful place, really. The colors are from a time before the mothers were born. Deep forest green, 50s red, Radio Flyer red. Ham radio, Alias Smith and Jones, cat's eye marble. Toy rifles. The boys are somewhere inside the glass globe, on a street named after trees or maybe orchards. Snowmen dot yards. Milk is delivered to porches. It is sometime after the great war, before all the other wars. There is never death, not even a sparrow drops, and there are no startling noises.

The mothers who wished them there are gone. Instead, there are mothers who worry just enough. These mothers kiss bumps and bruises, sing like angels, and never dream at night. In the morning, boys wake up to waffles with maple syrup, ham and eggs. Their mothers drink coffee, eat fresh fruit. At night the boys press their noses against frosted windows, watching for the train. It's a black train puffing big smoke. Bars of yellow light ripple the darkness. The train comes from dreams of that other place, other time, from storybooks the women read to them. Those women who bit their nails down. The boys dream of them, these real mothers, and in their dreams the mothers smell like coffee, like bourbon. One boy sees her in his shallow dream-state; she's wearing a pink, stained shirt. Her eyes are red-rimmed. She smells of something familiar, something he knows but can't place. Smoke and vanilla. Yes, that's it. Just before waking to the train whistle, he remembers. His mother, sitting on the edge of a bathtub, leaning towards him. A bug scuttles over the old tiles. He's on the potty, feet dangling, and she's looking at him as if he's the last thing she'll ever see, the best thing she'll ever see. But the train whistle wakes him. All the boys do this, they wake, they go to their windows and look out. Every night, without fail, that magical train appears in their yards. If they try hard enough the boys can read its name as it zips past: THE POLAR EXPRESS. Some of the boys run out in their footed pajamas, some don't. The snow doesn't dampen their flannel. Nobody in their town ever catches a chill. Each lonely boy knows the train will never stop for him.


Claudia Smith lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Nathen Hinson and her young son, William Henry Hinson. Her stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton’s The New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond and So New Media’s Consumed: Women on Excess. Her collection, The Sky is a Well and Other Shorts, is available from Rose Metal Press.


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