It was a model train exhibit, a second story creaky attic packed with eager faces and laughing children, that got me thinking about living in the absence of the dead.
Once, in England, my grandad took us on a real train. The black, coal kind that made me feel, even at six, like the modern world lost something crucial when we traded in tracks for tires. It heaved and swelled as it chugged along that track, laid again, painstakingly by the backs of men. He worked for the railroad, my grandad, and with his gravelly voice and rough, warm hands, he would explain to us all the parts and workings.
See that there? That’s the smoke stack. That keeps the train from overheating.
He loved trains. Trains and electronics. He used to make videos of our family vacations, and over the stream of classical music we would hear the whistle of the train and the steady chug, chug, chug, like a heartbeat as it passed over the screen for at least fifteen minutes. When he and my grandma would come to visit, we would take him to train anything, just for the satisfaction of the half smile that would come over his face as he stared intently at the inner workings and knobs.
Painstaking work, is all I can think about the tiny little houses, the boards upon boards of miniature wooden logs that assembled in a line so that the model train can chug on by.