Thursday Sampler: Rails to a River by Jim H. Ainworth
July 23, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Thursday’s Sampler features Rails to a River by Jim H. Ainsworth. If you’re looking for award-winning and well crafted story where necessity drags a man away from his dreams, this is the book you want to read. As one reviewer said: Ainsworth has written an intriguing story which cannot be predicted from one page to the next. The turns and twists are marvelously woven together to make the story live.
Rails to a River was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards contest.
An accident at an isolated railroad crossing leaves Tee Jessup in a coma. He awakens to find that everything he cherished in life has been taken from him and a Catholic priest at his bedside with written instructions left by his parents.
Tee resists, but without a home or a job, he is forced to abandon the ranching life he loves and to travel paths he never imagined to recover some of what he has lost. When he fails repeatedly in his new urban world, wife Sarah takes their son and leaves.
Tee thinks she has left because of his failures until he discovers the more sinister reason.
The First Chapter
Tee Jessup weaves his way down one of the concrete canyons of downtown Dallas, his cheap double knit summer sport coat suspended with a middle finger over his right shoulder. His breath comes hard and fast as he tries to put distance between himself and work. He stops at an abandoned shoeshine stand wedged between the back doors of a dying shoe repair shop and a hamburger joint, both scheduled for demolition as relics of a bygone era. The tiny buildings appear as refuse tossed out the windows of the multi-story steel, brick, glass and stone fortresses that tower over them.
Tee expects to find shade and a brief respite from human contact between the buildings. He puts his hated Florsheim wingtips on the footrests, throws his coat over an arm rest, leans back in the seat, and loosens his tie. Only fools wear coats and ties in stifling heat and humidity. The hands of the Fidelity Union Tower clock show a minute past ten, and the LTV Tower thermometer red line is already over ninety. If the forecast is right, it will pass a hundred by noon on the way to one-ten. The bar across the street looks like a cool oasis but will not open till three. Even if it were open, Tee knew he could not find solace there. He had tried.
His heartbeats slow as he takes a series of deep breaths. Being outside is better, but he still feels trapped by the tall buildings and streets where the sun is seldom seen but always felt. When his breathing becomes normal, he walks to a nearby telephone booth, deposits three quarters, and waits for the old man’s voice to come over the wires. They talk until the quarters run out. It still surprises him that a lapsed Protestant has turned to a Catholic Priest for counseling, mentoring, and friendship. But Father Robert Messenger is the only one who understands, the only one who knows the whole story.
The priest knows what brought Tee from the arid and clean air of the High Plains to the humid and stifling air of downtown Dallas; from a place of unlimited vistas to a place where he only sees steel and concrete; from the euphoria a man feels horseback to the suffocation he feels trapped in an elevator or cubicle.
But not even Father Bob can explain why Tee was spared, why it seems as if he has been plucked by some malevolent force from a life he understood and loved and set down into this suit-and-tie existence, into what one of his college professors called the corporate culture. The old priest could not explain why two events, sixty-seven days apart, five hundred miles apart, shattered Tee’s hopes, rudely maneuvered his life down a road he does not wish to travel, toward a place he does not want to be.
And Father Bob cannot explain the dreams, the ones that begin with deafening clashes of metal against metal, ear-piercing screams, and swirling liquids that mix with blood in colors so bright they make his eyes hurt. He cannot explain the voice that sounds like wind might sound if it had a human voice, the voice that beckons Tee to the place where it happened.
When the dream takes him there, he feels like an interloper on ground that has given him birth and nourished his life for almost two decades, but the cold, dry, thin Texas Panhandle air recognizes him with a whistled greeting. The sun’s rays spread across the bluestem grass revealing hoof marks left by cattle and horses in the prairie sod. The departing sun throws shadows across the prairie before he sees them.
They come from the west, as if spawned by the sinking sun. The two boys ride nearly identical palomino horses, the only color raised on the ranch. Tee recognizes the matching wool blanket coats made by their mother in brilliant colors so that her sons can be seen from a long distance. She has knitted bright orange wool neck scarves to cover their ears under their black hats. The boys stop at the crossing, dismount like grown men, and let their reins drop to the ground. The horses stand patiently as they were trained to do. Each brother places a penny on a rail.
The nine-year-old stands on the crossties and looks down the tracks while his ten-year-old brother puts an ear to one of the rails. The rail pulses and hums a few minutes before the train’s whistle pierces the clear air. The boys remount, lift their hats to the engineer, sit calmly in their saddles as the train passes, wave to the brakeman as the caboose departs, then ride to the middle of the still warm tracks. The oldest holds on to a long saddle string and picks up his flattened penny without dismounting while the younger dismounts to retrieve his. Copper trophies in their pockets, the boys ride west until the sun takes them back.
The dream has come unbidden so many times that Tee can bring it to mind at will. He looks down the street to the parking garage where his car sits on the roof, dreads touching door handles scorched by the sun. He briefly considers driving away, but replaying the dream has calmed him. He pulls his tie snug, puts on his coat, and begins retracing his steps. He remembers to stand straight, willing away the slight stoop from an imaginary weight on his shoulders. The limp is barely noticeable as he walks back to face his new life.