The Small-Town Mirror

By Catherine Day


       The ticket arrived in the mail. A single stub, pale green, with only a fancy art deco border and his name printed on it in brown ink. On the back was written: Power has always been a small town mirror, something desperate people turn to for reassurances

       Enrique wasn’t sure what to make of it. That night, he went to sleep with the ticket under his pillow. 

       That night, the train arrived. 

       It pulled up next to his bed, which was still his bed, but also a large, brick station, of indeterminate architectural style, and stately nonetheless. The station’s many arches looked into other rooms, but some let out into nothing, just an expanse of black. Enrique spent a time looking around, and yet it couldn’t have been that long, because when he was done, the arrival board still said YOUR TRAIN: ARRIVING SOON. He stepped up to the platform. 

       The locomotive pulled into the station with a sound like clouds rolling in during a storm. It was pale green, with The Small Town Mirror written on the side in bronze letters. Enrique smelled the scent of toast, and pineapple, and woodsmoke, which was what the train ran on, except he could see the steam curling out of the train’s chimney. The windows were fogged over. 

       Instead of the steps that graced a regular locomotive, two glass doors like those leading into a hotel lobby came to a halt in front of him. They were made of frosted glass, making them as opaque as the windows. Two bronze handles gleamed in the light of the station’s lamps. 

       Enrique opened them. 

       The car he stepped into was occupied. The passengers were of varying ages–by the opposite window, a teenage boy with brown skin and tousled black hair, long on top and short on sides, stared into the smokey window. A gentleman in his early fifties, well dressed in a pair of silk pajamas, sat with his hands folded in his lap a few seats down. At the end of the car sat a elederly man, cane leaning against his knees, and in the seat next to him was a—Enrique had to look twice—a baby, in a blue romper, a few strands of black hair plastered across its scalp like moss. The old man reached a hand out to the baby, and it bit his knuckle softly. 

       They looked up as Enrique entered, taking in his appearance, jotting the details down in their minds. The old man spoke. 

       “Ah. The last one.” He thumped his cane on the floor of the car, once. “Good. Now we can begin.” 

       “Begin what, exactly?” Enrique said, taking a seat. It seemed like the right thing to do. He was right across the aisle from the middle aged man, who raised a hand and waved at him. 

       “The reflection,” said the teenager. “Duh.” 

       And the train pulled out of the station. 

       No one said a word as they traveled. Through the window, Enrique could see the tracks they were following: broad, coppery rails, winding through a black world. Everything outside the window was black. Not dark, but black in color, a whole world laid out in the shades of nighttime. They seemed to be traveling through a countryside of some kind: a patchwork of hills, fence posts, and bushy trees sprawled before them. 

       Enrique leaned closer to the pane, and felt his skin prickle in recognition. Though he’d long since moved away, this was where he’d grown up. He’d spent his childhood traversing the reaches of these backroads—now, he was speeding past them in a blur as the train reached an old house. His house. 

       The train pulled in at the station, which was also the mailbox. The walls were constructed from letters—bills and notices, birthday cards and romantic missives. As they came to a stop, Enrique could read the words of his childhood written on the walls around him. 

       The train was now still, but the doors didn’t open. The other passengers didn’t seem bothered. Instead, they all got up from their seats—some more slowly than others, the old man taking his time, and the teenager now holding the baby—and walked over to the windows closest to the house and its vignette. 

       “We’re not getting off?” Enrique said, fiddling with his ticket. He looked down at it, and frowned—he hadn’t been holding it before. 

       “No, we’re just here to observe,” said the pajamaed man. He was looking expectantly through the windows with all the others.

       He got up, and stepped closer to the windows for a better look. 

       A boy ran up the path.