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If There’s Any Truth In A Northbound Train

Story by Ryan Werner (Read author interview) March 25, 2014

art by Greg Westfall

I’m on a train going one way and my twin brother Keith is on a train going the other way. Both of our noses look like a blown-apart tulip, the same hot blood on our knuckles, the same problem of not knowing who the oldest is, not knowing which of us should sign away their years and worship the other.

* * *

The tickets are one last gift from our lying mother. When we were kids, she told Keith he was the oldest and told me I was the oldest and told each of us not to say a word about it, and neither of us did until Keith started a sentence with the phrase As the older brother on the railway platform and a few words later I punched him in the face and he punched me right back.

I had a fistful of Keith’s ear, crumpling the cartilage like dirty money, and I thought about our mother suspended above that six foot hole, big enough for all three of us, if it came down to it.

Trust, faith. Whatever it’s called. Everything is up for revision. If there’s a God in the sky, if all men are truly brothers, if there’s any truth in a northbound train.

* * *

After a few hours of the big forever out my window, I get off in a town so green it makes my heart seize up. The girl working at the cafe next door is missing a foot.

“Diabetes,” she tells me when I can’t stop looking. “Would you believe I used to weigh almost twice as much? Would you believe that I turned my life around?”

I go, “They make trains for that, you know.”

* * *

Some people say Mary had other kids after Jesus, some not-so-immaculate conception with Joseph. Some people say otherwise, say that brother of Jesus is just a phrase. It doesn’t matter either way. Would you rather be Jesus or Joe Junior?

* * *

My phone rings when getting back on the train. It’s Keith, who says, I can be the bigger man before I tell him that it’ll be a nice consolation for not being the older man. He hangs up.

I call one of my aunts and she tells me she doesn’t know who was born first. Same for all my other aunts, all my uncles, all my cousins.

I try calling the hospital, asking for records. I look up the numbers of old family friends and they either can’t remember anything or they’re dead.

Back on the train there’s a drop of blood on my seat. It’s mine or it’s Keith’s. I check my nose, check my knuckles. The train starts to move and I can’t decide if I’d rather be watching it go.

* * *

I get up to go to the bathroom and on my way back I watch the horizon tumble low and wide out everyone else’s window. It looks like the prairie parts of the country, but I can’t tell. When I get back to my seat I flag down one of the attendants and ask her, “Do you know which direction the sun is setting?”

She points out the window toward the way the Earth is spinning and says, “You’ll never catch it, but there it goes.”

About the Author

Ryan Werner is a cook at a preschool in the Midwest. He plays guitar in a loud instrumental rock band called Young Indian. You can find him at @YeahWerner on Instagram.

About the Artist

Greg Westfall is a criminal defense attorney based in Fort Worth, Texas. This photo was used via Flickr Creative Commons.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Three

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