On the Train

by jkatejohnston

25 March 2016

Dear Max,

Enzo and I are on the train. There’s something so great about that moment when it starts to move, barely perceptibly at first and then definitely moving. Across the I Street Bridge in the still-dim early morning. We’re off!

He’s looking out the window across flooded rice fields, his whole body alert. Being in a place we usually aren’t makes me see him with fresh eyes, maybe more as he really is. Most of the time what I see is all mixed up with younger versions of him.

A few days ago I heard on the radio that a fast-ball can’t rise (it’s physically impossible) but our brain expects it to rise and so sees what it wrongly anticipates. (I didn’t catch why our brain expects that.) It made me think of how fast he’s growing up, hurtling through time, faster than we’re capable of perceiving. So we see something that’s not really there anymore, not entirely. And we adore it.

30 March 2016

Dear Max,

Back home. Yesterday after our long cramped bus ride, we finally made it to San Jose and onto the train back to Sacramento.

Ah, to move about! Before the train even starts, Enzo says, “Let’s go find the cafe car.”

“You can find it. You can explore the whole train.”

Off he goes. Back in a few minutes. “Mom! We are standing right on top of the café car. It’s right under us!”


He takes off again. And back. “Mom! The car next to us is way better.”

“Okay, go save us a spot and I’ll be there with our stuff.”

He goes off again. I gather our stuff and find him. Yes, it’s better, a bigger window, an altogether newer sleeker train car.

“Can we go to the café car?”

“I could just give you money. You could go by yourself, and bring your food back here.”

“No way.”

In the café car, the woman at the counter greats him, and he gives a short, not-very-audible answer.

“Do you know what you want?” I ask him.


“So, you can tell her.”

“No. I’ll tell you.” We retreat. He whispers in my ear. “Colossal hot dog.” We approach the counter again and I order it for him.

“How old are you?” says the woman, “About ten?”

“Almost.” Looking down, pleased.

“I have a grandson about your age.”

We get the hotdog, and Enzo selects his condiments, two little plastic packets of mustard and ketchup. We pass the bathroom. “Didn’t you say you needed to go?”


“So go. I’ll wait outside.” He goes. Soon the door bangs open. “Mom! I am such an idiot!”


“My mustard!” We both go into the bathroom, and he points into the shallow metal toilet bowl at the packet of mustard sloshing about with the pee and water. “And you’re not allowed to put trash in there!” He points to the sign by the toilet which shows trash in a circle with a diagonal line across it.

“Well, it’s too late. Go ahead and flush it.”

“How?” I point to the red button on the wall. He gives it a long look, then with a quick movement presses it, flush! We rush out of the bathroom and up the stairs.

On our way back to our seats I say, “If the toilet explodes and derails the whole train, we’ll know why.” He seems pleased with the idea.

Settled in, ready to eat. “Oh great! Now I don’t have any mustard.”

“So, go get some.”

He goes. Back again. I tear open the little package of ketchup first and squeeze it on, all up and down the colossal hotdog. I’m about to start on the mustard when he says, “I am such an idiot!” Striking his forehead with his hand.


“That is salsa!” I examine the hotdog and the empty packet. Yes, it’s thick, smooth hot sauce. I get a package of Charmin Fresh Mates out of my backpack and wipe most of it off.


“But what about the ketchup?”

“Go get some more.”

He goes, returns. “I am positive this is ketchup.” I put it on, then the mustard. He eats the whole thing.

“Can I have the iPad?”

“After you throw away your trash.” I gather the used napkins and empty condiment packets. He clutches the bundle close, hops down the aisle on one foot, throws it way, walks back with an air of cool accomplishment.

“Now can I have the iPad?”