Love's Tracks | Fiction | Chicago Reader

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Love's Tracks

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On the train tracks Love and I sat together watching the endless horizon. The planks were warm from the beating sun. On one side of the tracks was a brick factory and on the other was the dump. At night my mother and I took our garbage in a wheelbarrow and dragged it a few blocks there, past house after house. There was an occasional dog bark. If it was a full moon we never went. Mother was afraid we would be seen and get caught.

I watched the crows picking bits of the garbage here and there. I wondered if I would step on a rat or a mouse. Love was never afraid of the dark. She liked walking through the garbage. We would sit there at 3 in the afternoon, when the brick plant let out a screeching whistle. Love would leave before me but I would stay and watch the men and women with worn clothes and dusty faces stroll across the tracks back to town.

"There it is. Eternity. Out there," she'd say and look with amazement. We'd pick up a few rocks, throw them back and forth, and strike them against the steel tracks. It was on one of the planks that she took a knife from the garbage and carved "Love loves Miso" on it. I was only eight and she was nineteen.

We talked about boys and I told Love I liked a boy in my class, and his name was Zeljko, and I thought he was cute. But she told me Miso was her life. Then she'd laugh a little and take me in her arms and swing me around the tracks and say "Well, with the exception of you."

She told me all about Miso as we walked from the tracks to the cemetery. She liked looking at the tombstones, especially of the ones who died younger than her. "Look here, Tamara Zimkovic, 1951-1974. I wonder how she did it?"

"Did what?" I asked her.

Sometimes we'd go to the closest bridge between Kac and Novi Sad and we would sit with our legs hanging over the bridge and just stare at the passing Danube. "Do you know how to swim?" she asked me.

"Yes," I told her. "But I don't think I could jump from this high place."

She told me she didn't know how to swim but her brother Miso knew. He swam like a fish. She remembered when they lived in the village how they did everything together. He braided her long black hair, they slid down hills in the snow. When she spoke of Miso, she got so excited and started jumping and skipping on the side of the bridge, saying, "We had secrets, he carried me on his back, we chased all the chickens and geese," and as she walked away from me, her voice softened and I'd run to catch up to her and she'd smile at me with her dark eyes as though she were somewhere else.

The last night I saw Love was in our churchyard on a bench. She wanted to go inside but said that this was a place she was afraid of. I told her that I had been baptized there and it wasn't as scary as it looked from the outside. That's when she told me that the church would one day consider her evil. Evil like the brick factory that took all the happy faces away from the people. She told me her Miso was getting married. And that she had met his new wife and she couldn't stand her even though she had pretty hair and smiled at her. She would be taking him away from her and she missed him so much she just wanted to die.

"Miso, your brother or your boyfriend?"

There's only one, she said.

Love's father came to my house in the dark to speak to my mother. He was crying and told her Love was missing.

I was too young to go to her funeral but I went to the railroad tracks and sat on the same planks where she had written her confession. Down below I saw the funeral line cross over the tracks one by one dressed in black, carrying wreaths and Love in a casket.

My mother and all the townspeople spoke of the funeral and suicide for months. Love's mother sat vigil by her grave every day. One day my mother and I took a walk in daylight to visit Love's grave. At her grave I started to play, jumping back and forth across the fresh mound. Sometimes I missed and fell down with my bum in the dirt. And I got up again and stole fresh flowers from the other graves and put them on hers.

Miso and his wife became good friends of my mother's, and when they stopped by for Turkish coffee I told my mother that I never wanted to see them in the house. She said that the house was hers too and that they were nice people. She loved Miso's wife and had brought her a gift. Lanterns were given in our village of long ago to the newly married couple. I found the lantern and took it to my father's shed. I took a hammer he had up against the wall. I put the lantern with its glass covering on the ground and smashed it as hard as I could. The glass shattered everywhere and slowly I gathered the pieces and put them in the wheelbarrow for our nightly garbage run.

That night I watched for the moon. It was only a crescent so I knew we would go to the dump. My mother and I walked to the dump with the wheelbarrow and I smiled at the moon behind me as I saw the silhouette of the train tracks ahead.

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