At the Train Wreck

All the ears were piled in one place and all the noses in another. All the fingers were piled together except for thumbs, which were piled separately. Same for big toes. Where organs could be identified, they were piled in groups—heart, liver, lung.

Each reporter had a pile. The American reporter stood by the jawbones, while the British reporter covered shoulder blades. The Canadian reporter got kneecaps, and the Italian and Spanish reporters shared a pile marked Misc. “What a tragedy,” they all said.

The President flew in. “What a tragedy,” he said. “I’ve never seen such tragedy. No words can describe something so tragic.” He spoke in front of a pile of hats—not all the hats, only those his advance-team had approved. Certainly no torn hats or ugly hats or hats with pieces of scalp clinging to them. The reporters extended their microphones to catch each of the President’s words, but secretly they hated his prolixity and euphemism. Any of them, they thought, would make a better head-of-state.

Then everyone left. The men from town filled boxes with things—hats, wing-nuts, clavicles—then labeled each box and put it on the new train that had been sent. At night, over dinner, they wondered when they could expect more work in these lean economic times. They remembered stories their fathers used to tell about awesome trains forever appearing on the horizon, sleek and purposeful as swords. Even the wrecks had been better back then. The men felt their meals turn a dun color in their guts, but what else could they do? Their fathers’ trains had earned their stories. Their fathers’ trains had put food on the table for days.

J. David Stevens teaches creative writing at the University of Richmond. His latest stories appear in The Southern Review, Mid-American Review, and Confrontation.