The Hard Edge of Things
Mark Smith

Going home or leaving home -- sometimes there's no difference.

I thought how strange it was to find myself after all these years back in downtown Temple, Texas, with no money on a Saturday afternoon, facing the hard edge of things and no choice about it. I'd hit the limit of what a body could do without a car. The public library closed half an hour ago, and they didn't allow sleeping anyway. I'd been to the park and watched clean-cut guys in shorts pushing their kids in the swings. I walked up one street and down another looking at the empty stores, whitewashed, boarded up. I remembered them when people still shopped there and air-conditioning was new and smelled funny and my mama would buy me a Coke at Mackey's Drug Store. I cupped my hand against the sun and looked through the plate glass where there used to be a department store. A single high-heeled shoe lay sideways on the carpet. I never felt so low.

I made up my mind that minute to walk out to the highway and get out of town, no matter how long it took or how hot it was. But I got stopped after a block by a big freight train passing through, slow as a dream. It had about a hundred cars, so I sat on the high curb to watch it go by. A guy on the other side of the street had the same idea, except he had a flask of peach brandy. He belched and I could smell it and hear it even over the rumble of the train. I read the contents on the sides of the cars: methanol, corn syrup, liquid petroleum gas, gravel. I looked away, up to the big grain silos, and thought how much it looked like Kansas or North Dakota. A black woman came up on the other side of the train, waiting to cross to my side. She wore shorts and a halter top and she had a baby in a stroller. Seeing her flash between the cars as they passed gave an effect like a series of still photos. She looked as hot as me standing there in the sun.

I thought about turning around and heading out South First Street to see the spot where my grandmother's house used to be, that big old house with stained-glass windows and a wide front porch. But just then the last car went by, and I decided I'd head out to the highway like I first planned. There wasn't any point in going to South First anyway, since they'd torn the house down to put in a Diamond Shamrock station and I knew that would only make me feel worse.

So I walked on, down the dusty streets, wondering when they stopped having cabooses on the ends of trains.

Mark Smith ( lives in Austin, Texas. His first book of short stories, Riddle (Argo Press) won the 1992 Austin Book Award. His first children's book, Slosh, was scheduled to be published in 1997. (This biography written in 1996.)

InterText stories written by Mark Smith: "Back From The West" (v2n5), "Reality Check" (v2n6), "Slime" (v3n1), "Doing Lunch" (v3n1), "Snapper" (v3n2), "Innocent Bystander" (v3n3), "Sue and Frank" (v3n5), "The Hard Edge of Things" (v6n2).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Mark Smith.