Thing about assumptions is they are wrong most of the time. I was not headed towards Huntsville rather we sliced northwest, along Lake Joseph, and skimming MacTier, at the foot of Muskoka. By noon, we crawled into a town with a beat up sign that said Still River. There was a single grain silo, a herd of cattle swatting away black flies, and the distant rumble of machinery in a quarry, nothing else. Why we had slowed was beyond me, but than again, my job was not to guess why things happen, rather fade away when they do. I laid down, and looked up at a few straggling clouds that seemed to have lost their way.
It was a good thing I was a heavy sleeper, as I realized later how insanely close to edge I was. I awoke to the sounds of the train and of a harmonica playing far off. Thing was, the sound didn’t fade away with distance. I leaned up, cracked my neck, and saw in the peripheral a man sitting on the other side of the flat.
“This is your wake up call.” He said. The lines on his face showed how time had claimed him.
“Excuse me?” I said, probably not looking much better.
“I said, this is your wake call, any requests?” I could think of a couple.
“I figure you were sleeping way too long. I got bored passed Sudbury, and name that bird is only fun for a while.” He smiled at his own wit, a pet peeve of mine most of the time, except out here I figure you’re your best audience.
“Well thanks for not waking me, I would have been a big disappointment.”
Again he smiled; it was familiar. It didn’t hit me then but I would later realize how much it looked like my father’s. He placed the harmonica back to his lips and played a ballad that was meant for my benefit. The sound suited the tempo of the train, and spring air. He was pulling at my heart; all I could do was concentrate on the horizon, and not let my emotions take over.
I hated him at that moment. I didn’t know his name, where he came from, and why he picked my flat. I assumed it was to torture me. Suddenly I was protective of my space like it was first class seating. He played for a minute longer; then I heard him open his pack and put it away.
“Where you headed son?” He asked, his voice thick with age.
“Not sure, out west I guess”. For the first time reality dipped its toe into my situation, I really didn’t know.
“Yeah, lot’s o’ kids go west when they’re tryin’ to find themselves. They go all the way to the Pacific, and come back.” He shuffled himself and I heard his exhausted bones react.
“Why do you suppose they come back?” I asked.
He might of thought that was a clever question, but I was serious.
“I guess they figure the ocean is too big to swim. Maybe they’re afraid to swim; afraid of trying or thinking they’ll drown.”
And there it was. I could run, but no matter what, I would eventually have to swim, or drown. I assumed he was here to torture me, but I was doing that already. Once again, assumptions are rarely correct. I looked at him, and I could see he knew. Just as I could see the lines on his face, he could read between the lines on mine.
“My name is John, but most call me Papa J.” He got up slowly, holding his balance. He held out his hand and we shook. The last hand I had touched was my father’s. I stared at this simple gesture, and Papa J let me. We must have looked like an odd pair, standing there.
“You know, I like a good story.” He said, “and by looking at you, I bet you got one to tell.”
“I have no idea…” I stopped. I sat down and looked at the horizon again.
“I guess I have a story, like everyone else, but I would rather not be the main character.”
“Don’t we all, son. Don’t we all.”
The train headed into Sault Ste, Marie.
But where was I?
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