IF HE HAD ASKED ME...
TEXT: "If he had asked me, I could have told him that Cicely C. had spray-painted her name in black on the back of the old train station, that old white building with the columns and the second-story verandah, probably the biggest building between Barstow and here and Flagstaff. I could have told him it was the old Harvey House, home to many a train crew in its day and now most of it dark and the back lawn strewn with broken palms and if he wanted to he could walk around it like I did and imagine he was in Havana or Caracas or further. But he didn't want to know that.
And if he had asked me, I could have told him that there along Front Street between that old building and me on the corner of "D," he could find Foxy Coiffures and Gift World, Irene Furniture and Desert Hair Design, half of them dark and empty, and a half-block up four trucks parked at the back of the cold-storage dock. But he didn't want to know about all of that either.
As it was, all he wanted to know was what town it was, and all I said was "Needles," and he said "California?" and I said "Yeah," and then the train lurched and he ran for it, back to his spot on one of the flatcars behind the tires of a truck.
I stayed in the disc of orange thrown by a streetlamp and watched with eucalyptus as Mo-Pack and Preferred Pool and Boston-Maine rolled by, and as the moan of engines picked up speed and drew further and further away I knew I heard him ask me, and I pointed up to the expanse of stars and the glow of a waxing moon."
Jack Balas, from MileMarker