A New Year in a New Town

Life had become one train and one town after another.
Life had become one train and one town after another.

THE WORLD WAS NEW AGAIN as if freshly born.

Mama said yesterday was gone.

Mama said yesterday should be forgotten.

The little girl tried.

She squeezed her eyes tightly.

She ran as hard as she could.

She and mama were always running.

But she could still hear them.

Footsteps in the night.

Footsteps behind her.

Growing closer.

Always closer.

And the little girl could smell his breath.


And sour.

Like sugar.

And garlic.

She ran harder.

Mama said he was gone.

Mama said he was somewhere behind them, somewhere in yesterday, and he would not be coming anymore.

The little girl kept looking over her shoulder.

She didn’t see him.

But she knew he was near.

Yesterday she thought she saw his reflection in the window of a department store.

She didn’t scream.

But she cried.

And her mama held her until the tears all ran dry.

Here we are, mama said.

New town.

New room.

New name.

A new year.

Mama smiled.

The little girl felt better.

She wasn’t use to seeing her mama smile.

They were seated in a diner early on a new day in a new year.

The little girl was drinking milk.

Mama was sipping coffee.

Mama ordered eggs.

The little girl had cornflakes in a blue and white bowl.

Coffee was hot.

Cornflakes were crunchy.

It was a good morning.

The waitress smiled at them.

It was a good smile.

“You new in town?” she asked.

Mama nodded.

“Passing through?”

Mama shrugged.

“Time will tell,” she said.

Time might run out.

Time always did.

But mama only smiled.

She thought back over the miles that trailed behind her.

Six years.

Four states.

Nine towns.

Too many new days.

Too many new years.

Too many new names.

No matter how hard they ran, no matter how far they ran, he always found them.

He always begged her to come back home.

He always beat her when she did.

But never again.

She made up her mind.

This time it was different.

“Where you from?” the waitress asked.


“Been gone long?”

Mama shook her head.

“They had a terrible shooting up there,” the waitress said. “I saw it in the newspaper.”

Mama didn’t look up.

“They found some man shot to death.”

“That’s a real shame,” mama said.

“Name was Thornton.”

Mama shook her head.

“Thought you might know him.”

“Name’s familiar,” mama said. “But Durant’s not a big town.

“It’s terrible a man losing his life right after Christmas.”

Mama smiled.

“Maybe he had it coming,” she said.

“Nobody deserves to die like that.”

Mama smiled.

By nine o’clock, she and the little girl were on the bench outside the depot waiting for a train.

“I thought we were home,” the little girl said.

“Not yet.”

“The waitress was nice.”

“She was indeed.”

“Then where are we going?”

Mama smiled.

“Some place where nobody’s heard about Durant,” she said.

“Is it far?”

“We’ll know when we get there.”

They rode all day and through the night.

When the little girl awoke, it was a new day.

In a new year.

In a new town.

She stepped off the train with a new name.

The faces were new.

The faces belonged to strangers.

But mama was smiling.

Life was always good when mama was smiling.

She had been smiling now for a week.

In my novel Secrets of the Dead, Ambrose Lincoln spends a lot of time in trains.


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