The BMX kids have their secret hang-out spot by some wrecked cars of a Union Pacific freighter that derailed some ten or more winters past, in the grove of pines by the ice floes that wind on down south to Niagara Falls, just below the border.
They’ve built ramps from packed dirt and planks of wood in and around the upturned flatcars and freight wagons. There’s between five and fifteen of them on any given day. They ride their bikes down the service road beside the trackbed to the bend before the girder bridge, down the embankment where the train came off the tracks. The graffitied, rusting caboose still stands beside the rails.
The first days of winter are closing in, the season not quite yet turned, still warm enough to take the bikes down to Pacific Park. They go in fur-lined jackets and boots on their chromed rides, fogging up the air with their breath.
White wooden houses crowded around the cul-de-sac where they grew up, Dobermans and retrievers behind picket fences.
One kid, Udo, is half Chinese or maybe full Chinese, people keep forgetting. One time Sam and Udo go down to the park with their bikes by themselves, some time near nightfall, to practice, to try and get as good as the others, like Rey and
Moose, like those guys.
They pull jumps and see how long they can hold a wheelie until Udo comes off wrong on a landing and says his wrist is hurting. Lemme see it, Sam says. Nah, man, it’s nothing, just stings a little. You sure? Should we, like, take you back to your dad’s? Nah, man, it’s fine. It’s nothing. And they keep riding for a bit more, Udo holding back, not trying anything tricky, just riding the contours of some of the tracks around the trees and in between the cars. Then Udo says it’s getting late and he should be going home. Okay, Sam says, slouching back and riding low on the saddle in small loops in the middle of the clearing.
Udo pedals back up to the embankment and the tracks. There’s the horn of an approaching engine coming from over the river.
Just gonna hang back and watch this one, Sam says, but Udo can’t hear him. He was saying it mostly to himself anyway.
Udo’s on the other side of the tracks now, still pedalling, holding his hurt arm funny, kind of just hanging it over the handlebars and riding slow, lurching a little like a drunk guy, but not a really drunk guy, just a guy who’s had a few drinks, maybe one or two, like that.
Soon the light of the train’s coming through the trees, the rumble of it on the bridge and another blast of the horn, a short blast. Sam walks his bike beside the tracks and waves at the driver as the engine rolls past, belching diesel smoke and
noise, and watches the cars, oil cars, rumble by him, slow, so slow he can almost keep pace.
The front cars of the train disappear around the bend and he can’t see Udo anymore. Sam stops and watches the rest of the train pass, and suddenly he’s thinking about trilobites. He doesn’t even know what a trilobite is, the word has just come into his head uninvited like a pizza flyer into a letter box. Probably something from school that day.
He imagines microscopic segmented creatures roaming the earth in slow worming turns like centipede trains. His feet make shapes in the snow and his breath makes shapes in the air and like melting permafrost suddenly he doesn’t feel so stuck anymore.
Tayne Ephraim studied at UOW and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he rides around on a little old motorbike and eats mangoes. He has appeared in Voiceworks, The Suburban Review, Scum Mag, and Seizure.
Jacky Hawkeswood is a Melbourne-based pharmacist with a camera, who enjoys drinking beers and talking about comics and films with enthusiasm.