Despite the fact they tore up the virgin earth at the behest of robber-barons and industry tycoons, there's something romantic enough about steam trains that would make Ani DiFranco proclaim their whistle to be the soul of the night. We have idealized the coal industry, apparently, despite the choking black smog that blanketed thick the foundry districts of Philadelphia in the smudged mornings of late winter, 1841. We forget somehow the mess of mechanization. The smells, and the squeals, and the heat of it's fires is sanitized in some way to ignore the long and unlabeled trail of tears marked by the bodies of immigrant Irish and Chinese from one end of the nation to the other, and the wholesale slaughter and discard of the American Bison.
It's easy to forget, watching trains pull into the station at the river, that the blood running beside the tracks might well be made of that.
On the alkali flats that shrug close to the barren highway 50 eastbound through Utah, rain collects in the white plastered earth like water in your expectant palm. Collects there, and in the spring, will not dry.
In the salt sediment, there is a chemical reaction I don't understand to make it a prime breeding ground for type of red algae that wash the pale and desolate land to a shallow bed that resembles most the river on the edge of the station.
It's the same chemical reaction which makes a warm spring in the Nile turn it Plague Crimson. Sulphur, for you. Copper, for me.
It was paper mills who were the worst polluters in our industrial history. While the railroad engendered more carnage and took more human lives than the textile mills which burned all their young and lithe female workers alive, it was the paper mills which squeezed from their pulpy sheeting the chemical waste of softeners and dyes and bleaches, and dispensed them, unthinking, into the Connecticut River.
To press the fine cotton-fiber stationary, on which you lilt with your graceful, archaic hand, the words, "Dear Evelyn."
The train's brakes scream to a stop at the station, and Vincent disembarks, his shoulders hunched into his coat. He gives me a clear-eyed nod of his chin to show me he fears nothing, and deposits a green lollipop into his mouth, as he steps down the uneven 3 stairs to the platform.
His silver hair is stringy and black at the root, and it hangs in his eyes while he shuffles away, his boots making a hollow clop against the wood and cement. Lucy waits on a bench, jiggling her ballet shoe impatient for something to do, and someone to become. Her hair is tied into elaborate pigtails of gold ringlets, fastened with the plastic ribbon of birthday packages (hot pink). She tucks Joshua's head under her chin, and waits. Behind her, the trees fan prettily against the coming night. I follow the river, cutting back through farmland and over a field fenced with barbed wire where a broken-down workhorse is grazing, and into the dark woods, where the silence is broken only by birdsong, and my unquiet step.
I'm following the smell of burnt hair and peanut butter, deep into the darkness, until I collide with it and realize that the source of the smell is me.
"That's stupid," I inform the trees, and they nod in agreement.
The Broadwood Fox is covered in moss and slime the colors of which I could only imagine in the water beyond a paper mill. Whatever alien life would succeed in growing there would surely be vermilion and puce and magenta like this. A discarded McDonald's cup floats next to it.
"Yucky," I admonish Clyde, and lift it from the water with a stick. I drive the stick in to the wet ground as if to say, "Your head on a pike, Clyde Barrow," and draw on it's white sides a smiling face in green marker.
The deck of the boat is damp, and rotting away. I sit on it and pull myself to the dock tie by the blue and white nylon rope which moors it there. The knot is a labyrinthine construction with the leg of a Barbie stuck through it, and it unfolds like a flower to let the tiny ship loose and drifting in the calm here where the river becomes sluggish.
The winds bear me to the site Brad's house once stood, and where he and John promised to build me a replacement. The open plain of rocky riverbank puddles out to shallow water free of woods for miles around beyond me. Where the water remains deep enough for the Fox, I hit the old dock onto which I painted the first word I learned to write: BRADLEY.
Yellow, onto stained gray. Steps go up to the house from there, sitting on an bank like a manor in an English love story.
Today, it's a ranch-style split level with brick exterior, not unlike the Hanson house of bygone years. But this house is lower and flatter and wider than yours ever was.
The exterior shimmers, as a reflection in water that is touched by a falling leaf. The house stretches, and seems to yawn a chimney column, and smaller windows, raising it's arms to a white second story with aluminium siding and gabled windows. The Amityville house.
In 2014, when Brad was beginning to stalk Bonnie through nightmares, I remember he came back to this site in near-hysterics. Smoking a cigarette in shaking hands, he admitted to me that the house itself, the physical set, had been drastically renovated years prior, and that much of the spirit of the house had been gutted for the sake of modernity.
"I was... gonna buy it," he choked out, damning the sob his voice was carried on to a place so far within him it would never return. "But it makes sense you know that now it only fucking exists in dreams."
Palm trees wave beyond the Amityville windows, distant and foreign against the blackening skyline. There are ways the bones of a thing can be changed, and not the skin, like you implied so heavily in one of your letters. There are ways to lathe a rib over time to a certain shape, where no one knows the work is being done. And the bones of the Nightmare house being changed, Brad struggled to find a point to it all.
The Amityville house dims as if being seen through smoke, and clears again to the Addams house, Gothic and dilapidated.
"Stop showing off," I command it's clapboard, and it slouches, embarrassed, back into the ranch house.
Pushing open the stained oak door, I see this is the Cartwright house, and an homage to the three of us, my brothers' exuberance evident in every angle and shadow. We made were we used to live Evie come see come see come see.
The entryway into the sitting room is lined with family portraits, showing our parents' eventual removal from our affections. In each photograph, John is sitting quiet and unsmiling, Brad is grinning his most malicious dare, and I'm flirting with the cameraman, soft around the corners of my mouth.
Mrs. Cartwright commissioned in our teens a series of strange photos for the hallway, each of us back-lit on a black background, and photographed from below, as if we were sitting for an album cover. These mark the archway into the living room, where her pragmatic sofa converses with the television, all the furniture raised up on legs long enough to showcase her oriental rugs.
What I'm most afraid of, which isn't death, is someone approaching me from a position where I know my perception of safety is wrong. The man who makes a beeline to my tinted windows. The one who sees me, regardless. Brad, all of 17, and in a muscle shirt and denim jacket, does this to me down, from the stairs at the top of which are our bedrooms. I wonder if he's a ghost, or a facet of himself, or actually there, and when I say his name, a nervous squeak, he vanishes.
Where are we, if we are everywhere at once?
The flight of stairs is short, and at the top are 4 closed doors, stained oak, and wood floors, and a rug resting on the landing. They surround me in a half-circle. Brad, bathroom, John, me. Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright sleep on the sunken first level, their room what was meant to be an informal den.
I try John's door, and find it locked. I try Brad's, and it opens only halfway before it's sweep is ended by a pile of dirty laundry.
"Brad?" I ask the darkness, the expanse of tossed sheets on the bed illuminated by the green numbers of his alarm clock.
There's silence, and the room changes form as I wait and peer within, to fool me to thinking things are moving inside, and becoming strange beasts, or ghosts.
"Brad!" I hiss, and I back away and pull the door shut, just as a creature begins to take form at the edge of the light.
My own room in the Cartwright house is decadently red, and looks the most like Nicholas' does now. Short of the bare floor and curtains, most of it's surfaces seem to be softened by velvet. My closet, standing open, houses mostly blue items. The mirror over the dresser is obscured with a lipstick message, "Happy Valentine's Day." The top of the dresser, flanked with 2 lit taper candles, is set with a purpling human heart.
Distant, I hear a train whistle.