All my life my words connected my mother to places she would never see—the inside of a restroom at the drive-in, my dorm room, the delivery room where her grandchildren were born. On the phone, or at her kitchen table or mine, I dished out descriptions of places near and far, cities and ghost towns, highways and vistas from the mundane to the spectacular as I acquired the means to travel. She feasted on my accounts, a starving woman at a grand buffet.
There were times I tired of being her eyes and ears. Her legs. I rebelled, parsing language, giving up coins of imagery as stingy as a miser. Sometimes, pre-cell phone and internet, I did not even tell her where I had gone, forcing her to endure the agony of her fearful imagination until I was disposed to reach her. To the hypnotic thrum of the rails I ponder the ways I could have been a better daughter.
Soon, we begin to pass farms, with marching rows of blueberry bushes and fields of apple trees extending to the horizon, where there might be glimpsed a house shrunken by the distance. Wild blackberries with fruits big as a man’s thumb line the tracks on both sides, fragrant with ripeness, promising an explosion of flavor if I could just reach them. I see people in backyards, and cars stopped at crossings waiting for us to pass. Sometimes I wave. Or they do.
The train slows and the skyscrapers of Vancouver rise unhurriedly in the distance. With a perceptible bump we negotiate one switch after another, pulled into the city as though by tractor beam through a confluence of rails aimed toward civilization. An unseen hand manipulates these switches, drawing the train like a deep splinter from Fraser’s wilderness, from distant time. The sluggishness of our approach softens reentry, present and past mingle, merge.
We disembark, the windows of the coach unreadable in the late afternoon sunlight. I slip my arm through my husband’s. The city beckons.