Wherever You’re Going
This lady tells you that you just have to walk all the way out there to see it. So you walk all the way out there, and you see it. And then you start walking back. You have to walk out on another road, a single lane road winding up and down huge rocky hills, between stone walls, past barren fields and abandoned tractors. No cars ever come. You keep walking, all day, into a stiff cold wind. And it starts getting dark and the wind really picks up. And at last, a car drives past you–a black one, like a hearse–and the driving man stops, and turns around, and backs up to you, and pushes the passenger door open.
“Wherever you’re going,” the driving man says, “you best get in.”
“Thank you, sir.” You throw your pack into the back seat.
“I hope you haven’t been walking all the way from out there,” the driving man says.
The driving man turns and looks at you. He looks like Harry Truman, with a crack straight down the right lens of his glasses. His face is whiskey red. There is no seatbelt. You hold the dashboard, white-knuckled. He drives for an hour, swerving toward the stone wall on the right, then the one on the left. The driving man rattles off the names of all the places you should go and see that don’t require a very long walk on an exposed stretch of land where you’ll catch the death of cold and they’ll never find your bones: the church of this, the high king of that.
The walls turn into buildings, then open into a town square. The driving man slams on the squeaking breaks in front of a huge train station. ‘You’ll find a place to sleep in there,’ he says. ‘And if you can’t you should sleep anywhere you like. Although I wouldn’t recommend it.’
He reaches over to shake your hand. His coat opens up at the neck. For the first time, you see the priest collar, stained with sweat. You climb out of the car and stand under a lone street lamp. The wind is howling now, a winter one, an ocean blast. Ropes clang on a pipe somewhere. Only one door to the train station is open. You walk through it. There are lines of old trains waiting on platforms, but the lights are off and the engines silent. ‘I suppose I can just sleep in a passenger car,’ you think; but you try some doors and they are locked.
Then a yard man appears on the end of the platform, swinging a lantern.
‘We’re closing now so you better get out,’ he says as he approaches you.
‘Oh,’ you say.
‘Are you looking for a place?’ he asks. In the lantern’s light his face is bony; his dark eyes set back under a hedge of eyebrows.
‘Can you manage four?’
‘I’ll lock up the rest now,’ the yard man says. ‘Meet me in front in five minutes.’
You stand in front of the station. The last light of the sky-a deep blue, like the ocean beneath it- barely glows beyond some old chimneys. A dog barks somewhere, but sadly, like he is lost in his own house. The wind rips through you three, four more times. There is a lone light on in the square—the window of a pub, across the way—and you are just about to start walking for it when the yard man reappears.
‘Follow me, then,’ the Yard man says. He starts walking, very quickly. Exhausted from the day’s march, and weighed down with your pack, you struggle to keep up. The yard man’s lantern lights up the faces of whitewashed buildings, little houses, tiny doors, and rows after rows of shuttered tiny windows. The yard man seems to pick up speed. Soon you are falling behind. ‘Come on, then,’ the yardman says, waving his free arm as he turns another corner. You turn it, and there he is in the middle of a block. He is knocking on a door. ‘Who in hell do you think it is,’ he yells. A woman’s muffled voice yells something back. The yard man hisses something back through the door. This goes on until you catch up with him. The door swings open and yellow light spills like heat out onto you. A tiny woman in a blue scarf and a housecoat looks up at you. The yard man disappears, running up the street.
‘You are welcome, you are welcome,’ she says, spreading her arms. ‘But please wipe your feet.’
Frank Haberle’s short stories have won the 2011 Pen Parentis Award and the 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation Award; they have been published in numerous journals including the Adirondack Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Melic Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, Cantaraville and Hot Metal Press. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Wherever You’re Going