Dawn

He’s early. Too early for his usual train. But it’s cool this early. The roof tar is just barely warm to the touch.

He thinks about this. If the roof were still warm from the previous day—warmer than the early-morning air—and today’s heat made it warmer still, and it never cooled—each day growing a tiny bit warmer than the day before—three steps forward and two steps back—then by the end of summer…

He pictures the tar passing a threshold: turning to vapor, rising in waves, ignited by the tiniest spark—like a telephone call or the reflection from a lens…

There’s a train coming! He hears it!

He imagines the roof in flames—the flames jumping from one roof to the next—warehouses on fire—storerooms, workshops, engine oil, axle grease, fuel depots, the insulation on power lines—crawling and racing from pole to pole—smoking—down the lines into the houses—sparking them—clapboard warping, pop-up toasters bursting into flame…

He swings his camera and gets off a few shots of the engine coming in from the west. Slowing. Nicely lit.

Boxcars, flat cars, tankers, reefers, grain cars, flat cars again…

In the squeal of the brakes, a figure jumps gracefully down and strides off behind a shed. Did he get a shot? It didn’t look all the way human. Head a few sizes too large.

He scurries down a ladder, camera banging against his ribs. Which way would he go if he were the figure? Straight across from the shed wouldn’t work; too exposed. What he would do is, he would walk along one side and then cross over to the…

There!

He gets the camera up and fumbles off a shaky shot. He sees now that the too-large head is really some kind of hat, or more like a headdress…

“Hey!”

Crap! It’s Johnson, the bull! Johnson has told him to stay out of the yard enough times. He’s going to be mad!

He hears the big man’s stomping across the gravel. Johnson never runs if he can walk. That’s what he has a dog for.

He hears excited barking from the direction of the retreating figure. Good: he’s not the one being chased.

He darts his head around the side of the engine house. A huge green flag flaps around the side of the machine shop. A long army coat? In this heat?

The dog has stopped and is snapping at the air. It’s caught in some kind of dust-devil: one big enough to toss fist-sized wood chips and big chunks of packing crate. Heavy weather, for a dog. He snaps a couple of shots, doubting that he’ll capture anything but a blur.

Johnson, wading toward the storm, puts a foot down wrong and goes sprawling onto his knees, then struggles back to his feet, cursing. The whirlwind has abated, and Johnson and his dog stand panting, staring at each other.

He figures it’s a good moment to leave and he backs away, then jogs toward the hole in the rail yard fence. He can see the greatcoat and the absurd headdress moving fast, half a block away. He sprints into the alley, unbalanced, holding the camera to his side. When he comes out the other end, he’s just in time to meet the skinny girl in the heavy coat and the crazy hat, but he’s too winded to speak. She looks at him and strides haughtily past.

“Hey,” he pants. “Nice hat.”

She stops and turns.

He manages to get off a head-shot, from her collarbone to the crown of her… What IS that thing?

They stand staring at each other. The hat—or headdress—or halo—is a kind of a cage of woven sticks, with a few wilted leaves that look to have been clawed… He’s never seen anyone so dirty.

She takes off the headdress and holds it out.

“Want it?” she asks.

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