Victims of the Imagination
I was dressing for work that morning, knotting my violet tie, when I
remembered a conversation I'd had with a colleague the day before. I
was complaining to the colleague about the type of man who plays with
trains. What a waste, I said, grown men, playing with trains. The
colleague replied that not only did grown men play with trains, but
they spent thousands of dollars on their trains, they published
magazines about their trains, they made videos of their trains that
they uploaded to the Internet, they held toy train conventions. The
colleague laughed. I didn't.
That was the end of our conversation, but now, the next morning, I was
thinking about it again. After a quick look in the mirror I headed to
work. I planned to drop off my dry cleaning, but I made a driving error
and missed the turn. I was still bothered by the type of man who plays
with trains. Since I had a load of shirts in the back seat, I circled
around and returned to the cleaners from another direction. That's when
I noticed, in a shopping center I thought I knew, the train store.
Switchback Train Shop. The colleague hadn't mentioned it though it was
only a pistol shot from our office. It's likely he didn't want to upset
me. In the window were two crossing signs. Red and yellow. What had
just been an abstraction the day before was now right in front of me.
I didn't want any trouble but the OPEN sign was a clear invitation to
enter. When I did, a train whistle sounded. The store was filled with
shelves of trains. In the back, two men were facing each other on
chairs. Add that to the list, I was thinking. Not only magazines and
videos and conventions, but early morning conversations on metal
From a blind spot, a third man appeared. He was wearing a t-shirt and
asked me if I had a son. It seemed a revoltingly personal question. I
backed up a step and turned. On the shelf in front of me was a blue and
green train engine in a bright orange box. I was intuitively aware that
in the hues of my own clothing I'd completed a rainbow of colors. I was
revolted a second time.
I started thinking again about the colleague. It seemed suspicious that
he knew so much about the type of man who plays with trains. It seemed
so suspicious, in fact, that when I heard the sound of the train
whistle, signaling another customer, I fully expected that I'd turn
around and see him standing there, my colleague, dropping by the
Switchback Train Shop on his way to the office.
That's not what I saw. It was a woman. Blonde, younger than me, not
wearing a ring. The most attractive woman I'd seen all year, perhaps.
I realized I'd made a mistake. It was the second that day if you
counted the driving error. Here I was, alone in the Switchback Train
Shop with three grown men who played with trains. How could I expect
this woman not to get the wrong idea?
I needed a diversion. My impulse was to buy the place and tear it down,
but there was hardly time for that. "Thieves!" I said instead. It was a
good start. "Crooks!"
I ignored the surprised looks from the men who played with trains and
made my way out of the store, taking the woman by the arm as I passed.
She came along willingly enough but began backing away once we got
outside and I asked her why she'd come to the store in the first place.
Surely her presence there had also been a mistake. Surely there was
some connection between us that needed to be explored.
The men who played with trains observed us through the window. The
woman needed a better explanation, but all I could think to do was call
as she retreated from me, "I'm not like that!"
How hopelessly ambiguous this was. It should have been clear I wasn't
the type of man who played with trains. But what if she'd mistaken me
for a man who stumbled from place to place, randomly throwing off
rainbows like an effete god?
I'm honestly not sure which is worse. For weeks, I've been keeping my
eye on the train store, waiting for the woman to return. When I see
her, I'm going to tell her I'm not what she thinks. I'm a victim of the
imagination too. There's nothing about me to fear.
Evan Schaeffer lives in St. Louis. He has writing in or coming from Sonora Review, The Chicago Tribune,
Artful Dodge, Nanoism and others.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201004victims.htm
Detail of illustration on main page courtesy
of Happy Via.
w i g · l e a F