It is a fall day. A great muddy bluff
to one side, gleaming in cool, late afternoon sunshine
and the splay of gold-yellow leaves against blue and white. The Mississippi River
spreads out before you, deceptively lazy, an enormous mirror of the sky. Your dirt-caked boots are wedged into the gaps in a chain link fence
, your hands are cold on the gritty metal, and the chilly breeze tugs at your navy blue sweatshirt. Here, the sounds of the small town
are reduced to a murmur. Atop the bluff is an old graveyard
. It has watched this river for 200 years and more, the stones decaying, finding their way into the silt, drifting away on a journey to the Gulf of Mexico
, a thousand miles away.
A grumble in the distance. You lean over the fence, peering around the bluff. A whistle. The train comes quickly, grinding down the track, louder and louder. You watch with a strangely tight heart. The clack of the wheels crescendoes to a roar, the whistle sounds again, deafening. Pebbles scatter, you watch dizzily as the slats of river shine between the cars. With a great breath of air, it is gone as quickly as it came, and you strain to hear its whisper in the distance.
That night, you lay in bed and think of the train, crossing muddy, moonlight rivers, journeying to places unknown, places you may never see. You wonder who is on the train, where they are going, and what has ever made them cry. You open the window, cold air snaking into your bedroom, and beg the empty hills to let you hear the whistle from across the plains, just one last time. But it is silent.
You are in Hannibal, Missouri. The date is September 10, 2001.