We were standing in an old, men’s clothing store in Tabor City, NC. The store was obviously going out of business; we must have walked in on the dwindling sigh of its last, musty breath.
The room was large and the ceiling very high and the neon tubes running the length of the ceiling cast not so much a light as a pallor upon the room. Apparently the store fixtures, including the clothing racks, had already been hauled out. What was left of the pitifully dated merchandise was laid out neatly upon long tables running the length of the room. The creases at the folds of the shirts and trousers were faded.
One attendant, undoubtedly the owner, stood smiling as we wandered with pretended interest along the length of the tables.
Nearly all the buildings in the old section of Tabor City had been empty for years. Truth to tell, as Mother would say, Tabor had never been much, but the small town had once been active with businesses and offices, a movie theater that had tolled “Just a Shanty in old Shanty Town” each evening at twilight. Generations of families had come and gone. Children had been educated here. And then moved on. Leaving empty buildings sinking in upon themselves.
The store we had wandered into because we had nothing else to do was the only one still paying an electric bill.
As we lingered self-consciously under the gaze of the store owner, wondering how to gracefully extricate ourselves from the bit of hope that he had invested in us, I glanced up at the front windows and saw that a light rain was falling. “Ohhh…” I sighed, loving rain, loving the gift, the sweetness of it. I went out, closing the loose old door behind me and stood, inhaling the smell of the rain steaming off the darkening pavement of the street.
When I heard the rumbling on the rails that ran down the center of the street, I turned my head slowly to the right and it was already there, the engine and then the cars, yellow as boxes of Crayola crayons sweeping past me and I turned, yanked open the door of the store and shouted, “Hurry, hurry.”
She came fast and stood beside me as car after car went by, traveling fast, rocking, clinking…clink-clink…clink-clink…clink-clink…in the delicate, silvery rain.
We neither wanted to move or speak or look away, for we had only seconds before the train would be past and the moment over. For those seconds we might have been dreaming, the clickety-clicking yellow train running through the hollow of our unconscious in a dream of sparkling rain, phantasmal, bearing away with it all longing and wishing and clinging to this empty place that had once been home and family, that had been the full compass of her world and that was now only a place of loss and decay and goodbye, the train rushing in to sweep it from her arms and then it was gone.
We stood unmoving for a moment, the rain falling softly, and then we turned only our heads and looked into each other’s eyes.