HOLDING PATTERN

The train accelerates after Chatham—steady, galloping, equine—the passengers within docile riders ready to unhorse. Eager to get off train #67 in Windsor, the last stop on VIA Rail’s Corridor run.

“Are you gonna give Daddy a hug, Mommy? Will you give him a kiss?”
“We’ll see.”
“But you said—”
“Enough, Evan.”
“But you said.”
“Shhh, the man across from us is trying to sleep. We’re almost home.”

I lift an eyelid. She looks drained, siphoned—her boy has been pretty good, but still he’s sapped her spirits.

The iron horse hammers home, racing the rigs on the 401 through Tilbury and Belle River. Evan presses his nose against the glass, peering out at Lake St. Clair in the gathering dusk.

“Look, Mommy! The lake’s like a hockey rink!”
“I see it, sweetie.”

She reaches into her pocket, pulls out a gold band and slips it on her finger. She holds out her hand, inspecting. She doesn’t smile. Finally I realize who she looks like. She’s a blonde Sandra Bullock—but not Keanu’s cutesy bus driving sidekick in Speed, she’s the sullen thin-lipped wife of Brendan Fraser in Crash.

She closes her eyes and spins the ring on her finger.

I stare at her profile and Evan’s face-smear on the window and think about my flight this morning from Edmonton, stuck in a holding pattern over Pearson airport before it landed. I picture the plane doing quiet figure eights over and over in the sky above the snow clouds. I picture it suspended in air, and think of how my Mom had been in a holding pattern herself—lying in her hospital bed, not getting any better or worse for months, until her plane decided to swiftly descend.

And which one’s better? The airplane looping round waiting for the all-clear to land, or the train careening headlong to its last stop?

We’re almost in Tecumseh now. The town’s been lobbying for the trains to slow down ever since a young girl was struck and killed on the railway in 1996. But instead it charges ever faster, Tecumseh a scant blip on the radar, as the machine lunges towards the final stop. I still can’t imagine how that little girl didn’t hear the train coming. I spent entire summers as a kid leaving pennies on the tracks behind Tranby Park, waiting for the afternoon train to come by and flatten them. And long before it did, the rail would vibrate and make a sound like far-off sleigh bells.

“This is how you should hug Daddy!” Evan shouts, latching his bony arms around his mother’s neck, a mini bear hug, a schoolboy stranglehold.

Mommy catches my eye as the train finally begins to brake and the nearness of home wrings my stomach. I still can’t get over how much she looks like Sandra Bullock, and wish my Mom had resembled a movie star when I was Evan’s age.

Recently published in Misunderstandings Magazine
 

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2 Responses to “HOLDING PATTERN”

  1. Blair Trewartha Says:

    Great story Matt!

  2. mmmlele Says:

    Merci.

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