Today I am Martin.

This is the first time I’ve used it. I thought it might be cool to pronounce it like “Martian,” but every time I said that out loud while practicing in the bathroom (words sound better there), I saw Jacob and David laughing at me and Missy wondering if she should join them. I don’t care so much about Jacob and David. They’re jerks anyway. But Missy would make a terrible jerk.

So it’s Martin. Mar. Tin.

My father is in the basement again. He’s always in the basement. He calls it the “cellar,” because the walls and floor aren’t finished like the rest of the house. He used to say, “someday we’ll fix up the cellar and make it a proper basement,” but not so much lately. I don’t care. It’s finished enough for me. The scratches on the concrete floor where I play roller hockey for the Green Bay Slicers is proof of that. My dad’s on the team, too, along with a bunch of people we made up. We’re the world champions. Again. He taught me how to play. He got in trouble when he was teaching me because Mom came down to see what the noise was and saw all the scratches on the floor. Or maybe it was the black marks on the walls. Here’s a tip: Don’t use black rubber pucks when you play cellar roller hockey. Use the fake plastic ones.

Dad’s back has been hurting a lot, though. You can’t play cellar roller hockey with a bad back. Everyone knows that.

Mostly these days he just sits at the desk in the corner by the window well and types things on his desktop computer – the one he named “Old Stupid.” If you tried to play a game on it you’d understand. But it works okay for writing emails and stories. That’s what he does when he’s not helping out at Aunt Louise’s dairy farm.

I read one of his stories once. He forgot to turn off the computer and it was right there staring at me. I had been playing basement bowling and I guess I was being too loud or something because he just slammed his chair into the desk and went upstairs without saying a word. Basement bowling is fun when you have someone to set up the pins, but not so much when you’re the only one playing.

The story had a name. “Entropy.” I had to look it up. That didn’t help much. It was about a guy named Lawrence. Lots of bad things happen to him. Like for one, he falls down a flight of stairs. But that’s not the worst thing according to Lawrence. According to Lawrence the worst thing is that the girl he loves more than anything stops loving him. At first I thought Lawrence was an idiot. The worst thing would be the stairs. They were metal stairs. Metal! But then I thought of Missy and the way she smiles and how she is the opposite of a jerk and I kind of understood what Lawrence meant, even if I still don’t understand the title.

Every day I walk to the train tracks. It takes me 27 minutes. I decided that 27 minutes equals one Train Minute. Just because. I used to count things in Train Minutes. Once I wanted to know how long the school day was in Train Minutes. I needed a calculator. The answer is one of those numbers that goes on and on: fourteen point four four four four four and an infinite number of fours after that.

I think that’s when I stopped counting things in Train Minutes. Infinity hurts my head.

My dad doesn’t like it that I go to the tracks, but he lets me go anyway.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” he says. “There haven’t been any trains on those tracks in years.”

Ever since the bombings. I know about that. I learned about it in school, like everyone else. Terrorists blew up some trains. A whole bunch of people died. No one wanted to ride the trains anymore so most of them stopped running. Simple math, really. Not like infinity.

“The trains will never come back,” he says. But the way he says it makes me think he isn’t really talking about trains. I don’t think he’s talking about Mom either. Because she does come back sometimes. She doesn’t stay long, though. Just long enough to tell me she loves me and tell Dad she doesn’t love him, I guess.

I want the trains to come back. I read a really cool story about trains a long time ago and it was kind of like finding out that time machines were real. But when I tell dad that he just gives me one of his sad smiles and says, “Some things never come back, Byron.”

Byron is my real name. I was named after a dead poet. He was a Lord, but not the kind you learn about in church. (Don’t ask how I know that. But I’m glad we don’t go to church anymore.) I looked up some of his poems. They’re kind of like entropy and infinity. I don’t understand them. But there was this part in a poem called “When We Two Parted” that I liked so much I memorized it. (Ask my teacher. This is a big deal.) It goes like this:

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow--
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.

That’s how Lawrence feels in Dad’s story. And it’s kind of how I feel when I sit on the train tracks. My dad is right, they’re never coming back. My dad is always right. He was right when he said Mom would kick him out for a while. (He was gone for a month. The longest month in the history of life.) He was right when he said she would be the one to leave for good. (She did, though she visits sometimes, like I said already.) He was right when he said people would make fun of me because I change my name all the time. But he was even more right when he said it didn’t matter because I could choose any name I wanted.

“A name is just a way of talking about a thing,” he said. “You don’t love someone’s name, you love the person inside.” He was talking about me, but not only me. He wasn’t talking about Mom, though. I mean, he loves her in a way. You have to love the person you share a name with. But that’s not the same kind of love. I told him that and he laughed and said something about “irony.” I looked that up, too. Don’t ask.

“Some things never come back.” He says that about the trains, but I know he mostly means Marie. That’s not her real name. That’s the name Lawrence uses. I didn’t tell you this yet, but I’m pretty sure the story about Lawrence is really about my dad. Lawrence was married, too. But he loved someone else.

He loved Marie. She’s the one who stops loving him. After he falls down the stairs. It hurts just thinking about it.

When I go to the tracks, I just sit there and listen. I know what a train horn sounds like. I’ve heard them online. I also have a pretty good idea what the track would feel like if a train were coming. I think it would be like the way the whole house vibrated when Dad dragged Mom’s dresser to the garage last year. I was sitting on kitchen floor eating a Pop-Tart when he did it and the crumbs bounced on the linoleum like they were trying to fly. Mom calls Pop-Tarts empty calories, but I always feel pretty full when I eat them so I’m not sure what she means.

Entropy, maybe.

Or maybe she’s just wrong. Sometimes Mom is wrong.

Today is Saturday. When there’s no school I walk to the tracks right after breakfast. (Usually Pop-Tarts.) I like weekends because I can go early. The “chill on my brow,“ and all that.

I was only two when the trains blew up. The tracks are rusty now. And cold. And broken in some places. Some things never come back.

My dad is always right. But I don’t think he wants to be.

Tomorrow I’m going to be Timmy.

And I will wait for trains.

[Author’s Note: This short story is based on a very minor character in my current novel-in-progress. I know that’s kind of meaningless, considering the fact that the novel is still “in-progress” and you can’t go out and buy it anywhere. But someday you’ll be able to. And when you do, you’ll be among a select group who can say, “Hey, I remember that Byron kid.”]
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