I’ve said before that I sometimes take a line from another story and see where it goes. Today is from a story called In the Zoo, by Jean Stanford.
She walks quickly along beside the train. “Watch out for pickpockets!” she calls. [Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, page 1325]
And I wonder exactly why she would tell me that. Don’t I have enough experience being robbed that I already know to be aware, to attend to my surroundings? I feel myself frown, then, and that is not the last memory I wish to leave with her, so I force a smile onto my face. I lean out the window. I wave, she is waving, we are waving across an expanding gulf, one of space, yes, but also of experience, she remains on the platform and in the small town and confined by the vagaries and vulgarities and smallness of life. While I am heading off to the world, to richer experience for myself, to become something, some thing, I know not what, but I plan to explore and to see and to delve into the variety of all this world offers.
Platte Butte falls away behind, as the trail pulls eastward, and I lean back in the seat satisfied, and yet scared, too.
I am satisfied that I have achieved this taking-off, this breaking free of the shackles of small town, I have stepped out into the world with its bright lights, fancy technology, and people from all over.
And yet I am scared, too. Scared for my sister, all alone now, and staying with a friend until she is married in another three months. Couldn’t I have stayed just a little longer to help her get settled? Wouldn’t it be fun, two sisters, greatest friends in the world, to live in a small apartment above the Woolworth’s on Sixth, sharing meals, gossiping about all of the untoward actions those unseemly men have put forth in our days recently past, planning for and executing her marriage and eventual moving out for her to live with him in a two-bedroom apartment on the east side? Wouldn’t it have been better for me to stay to complete that single life of hers with her, to support her and transition her and be there with her as she grew up and out and happy?
Perhaps it would have been [illegible]. But each time I considered it, each time I imagined myself in this world, each time I thought of staying in Platte, all I imagined was another chain wrapped round my ankle, day after day, after day, another loop, another clasp, another link, longer and stronger with each sunrise, deeper with each sunset.
I knew, a year ago, that if I were to ever live, I would need to disappear from here. I would need to drop off of everyone’s radar for a time, a year, two, five, and only reappear for a visit once my roots were firmly established somewhere else. Anything but that – any delay, any hesitation, any romantic or career (ha!) involvement here would be enough to seal my fate. It would bind me to this tiny, nothing town forever, and there my heart would slowly wither and die, like the leaves in autumn, crumbling to dust too soon.
So I set my mind to departure, immediately after graduation. As that happened three days ago, I bought my train ticket out of town the next day. “How far can I go for seventeen dollars?” was my exact question. “All the way to Chicago,” was the reply, and so after a day of packing, here I am, on the first leg of what may eventually be an around-the-world journey but has begun with this six-hundred-and-forty-mile train ride.
Chicago. The Windy City.
My heart flutters.
It skips. It dances. It threatens to break through my ribs and launch itself to the top of the trees. It thumps and pounds, and I calm it with a steady palm to my breast. I have many miles to go before I sleep, and this journey shall be quite long. Rest, dear heart.