Where the land meets the sky
Imagine this: A woman pulls off the highway near Granada Rd., and stops beside a lake because she can see a train moving along the tracks at the edge of the water. She wants to stand close to the train and feel what she can. She hops out of her car, which is scratched and dented along the passenger side, and in her haste, leaves the door open. She approaches the train, which is fast and eastward bound, and when she is within a metre of it, fear grabs her by the ankles and holds her fast. The sunlight flashes in between cars. The gusting air from the passing freight cars is powerful – it pulls at her, and then pushes her away – it threatens to create a rhythm that will build and build until she is pulled into the train. The woman fights against this beat, but she does not step back. She stands and faces the rushing train until it is done. The silence that swirls in the aftermath of the train is astounding – she is a child, standing with her father in the cool morning, holding his hand, waiting for the circus trains arrive – she is stopped in a jam of vehicles waiting for a train to cross on 50th Street and one of the kids is late for dance class – she is in a tent in the mountains with a lover as the slow train across the lake blows its horn at 2 a.m. and she begins to sob. She steps between the tracks and watches the train get smaller as it moves away.
She has been travelling west, toward the mountains, the highway rising up to meet the low-slung sky. At Obed Summit, it is as if the road and the sky meld inside a zinc-grey wash. She stops here because she has to pee. The outhouse looks as if it’s foul, so she wanders into the woods, disappears herself into the tall pines. She comes across a grey door and instead of pushing it open and entering, she knocks. A man’s voice from the other side – “Coming. Coming.” The door is thick and wooden – it is solid but it does not creak when it opens. The woman looks at the man behind the door. He is wearing a uniform – buttoned-up smock, and trousers, and well-shined black leather shoes. A white towel is folded neatly over his forearm. “Is this heaven?” the woman says, her voice is a hushed small thing. The man smiles kindly – “No,” he says, “this is the washroom.” He shows her to a cubicle, opens the door and gestures for her to enter.
She does have to pee. The walls are dark chestnut and she can barely see, on the back of the door, someone has written a poem with a black Sharpie. With the first line of the first stanza, the woman enters the poem. It is a poem about an elephant standing on the Charles Bridge in Prague. The elephant has escaped from a circus, where its keeper was cruel – he beat the elephant because he could, because the elephant was chained, because his father beat him, because he has had no luck with love. One day, the elephant was not chained and the keeper died. He was smeared against a cement wall – an accident, of course. The woman is there, on the bridge deck with her skirt and underwear around her feet in a puddle. She is naked from her waist down and no one seems to care, or notice. The elephant looks at her. It tilts its head as if it has never seen anything so ridiculous, or beautiful, or amusing. The woman thinks the elephant is smiling at her, so she smiles back.
Thomas Trofimuk is an Edmonton writer who has four novels out in the world (The 52nd Poem, Doubting Yourself to the Bone, Waiting for Columbus, and This is All a Lie) and is currently shopping a story called “The Elephant on Karlův Bridge.” He’s a long-time teacher at Youthwrite (a fantastic writing camp for kids), and quite possibly, a world famous, spasmodic dancer who may have trained with the Bolshoi Ballet Company.