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  • Writer's pictureWriters In The Mountains

Tracks by Shaune Bornholdt

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Clouds? Can’t see. Momma tells her it’s steam. “Chugga, chugga,” like it says in her book, then—what?—so loud she squinches her eyes, puts her fingers in her ears. Whistle. Scary, high black thing, front like a fence, in the book Momma said cow-catcher, but now like a big apron, a big, black apron coming at her. Aunt Sue beside her, waiting to catch the train.

“You hang onto your momma’s hand! You get on those tracks, squash you like a bug.”

Those are tracks. Coughs and shisshes, steam. “Say goodbye to your Aunt Sue.”

How do you catch a train? How does it catch cows? Tracks, cat, catch. Can it catch cats?

In the pickup, her father drives them past the neighbors’ farm, past the—corncrib, with its up and down slats that’s in the big field next to their place, but today no cows. Catch a cow catch a cat. (“Catch you, find you, let you go!” Momma, playing. Not now.) Squash you like a bug. Back at the house, she thinks maybe that’s what the train did to her cat, her white cat, after the wiggly wet things came out and Momma got a bag and her father took the bucket out to the pump and, after, she’d heard him say, “That cat’ll just have more kittens.”

“Maybe,” her momma had said.

“I’ll drive into town, down by the train tracks tomorrow.”

“Yeah. . . . I guess.”

Tailgate rattle in the morning. She’d looked and looked, and Momma had said, “You stop looking for that cat!”

Now Aunt Sue and her suitcase are—where?—on the train and will be in the city. There’s lunch and after that, from the kitchen window you can see the cows again. Not there, then there. Maybe it lets them go (Catch you, let you go), maybe the cow-catcher lets them go in the field (cow-catcher, cat-catcher), maybe it let her white cat go, in this place in the grass, but you can’t see, you have to find. . .

Find. Screen door, then the fence you’re not supposed to, it’ll give you a poke but she can go under, crawling, no white, no cat, big cow-face, bump, roll, her hand bloody where it gets trampled on, brown cow-tummy, bag thing hanging down over her—and Momma grabs her and cries and spanks her and asks what she’s doing over here and when she tells, Momma says, “She ran away. Or somebody drove by and picked her up.”

Next time she gets half way across the field—something white, moving—almost to the corncrib, black, slats like a fence, slits of light, before Momma grabs her. Twice more she gets spanked, till she just stands on the back porch and looks, and the grass gets tall and greener, then yellow, then brown, and the cows are in the farmer’s barn, and everything gets so white it hurts your eyes, and there are little dents in the snow. Momma says they are tracks. Animal tracks. They are rabbit tracks, not cat tracks,. And you can’t go see because it is not our field.

The girl thinks about tracks, the white snow, how big the white looks, like it doesn’t stop. Across the field it is starting to snow again, making it cloudy and hard to see but the dark corner of the corncrib over there shows through and she tries to look at just that, till it looks bigger and bigger, moving, slats fanning out, like a huge black apron coming and coming toward her but there are no words and there is no sound at all.

From Mini-Essays and Short Stories class with Jane Seitel

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