THE RAILS • by Patrick McCarty

“Hey.” He walks into her parents’ living room and looks at the book she’s holding open in her lap. “Harry Potter?”

She nods. “I’m on Prisoner of Azkaban.” She pretends to keep reading as she stares at the open pages. “I read the books as they came out, y’know, like everyone else. And, after the last one, I decided I wanted to read the whole series, start to finish, all at once.”

“Yeah, that sounds like fun. I should do that when I get a chance.”

“The books were all sitting on my shelf in my — in my old room. Right there, in order and everything. All I had to do was grab the first one and start reading. I must have come close a dozen times. But I never did it. It’s a long series, you know, and I always told myself I’d have time later.”

“So why’d you start now? Seems like you’d be pretty busy with the wedding and — everything.” He glances involuntarily at her belly. She has, unmistakably now, started to show.

“I — I wanted to do it while I was still a kid.”

“We’re not kids now.”

“We’re eighteen. That’s — everyone else our age is still a kid.”

“We’re adults.”

“And I’ll be nineteen when I have this baby, and all my friends will still be kids, but — but I can’t be a kid anymore, not if I’m supposed to be a mom.”

“We’re adults now. We’re getting married.” He leans in to kiss her clumsily on the cheek, and leaves his arm over her shoulder, his hand hovering awkwardly over her right breast. She grips the hand and holds it away from her as she stares resolutely out the window. “I love you, babe.”

“I love you too.” The words are automatic, mumbled, like a child saying a prayer it has learned by rote but doesn’t understand.

“We’re gonna be so happy, babe.” He doesn’t notice the way her jaw clenches every time he says ‘babe’. She’d deny it if he did. “I’m gonna be the best dad ever, I promise. My boss says I might get to be a shift manager starting in the fall, and pretty soon I’ll be running the whole store.”


“And then we’ll be able to afford a nanny, and you can go to — ”

“Oberlin.” As if it is an invocation.

“I was just gonna say ‘school’.”

“I know.” There is unintended venom in her voice. “I’m going to Oberlin.”

“I know that’s what you wanted — ”

“It’s what I want.”

“Hey,” he says, “chill.” He forces a laugh. “Your hormones must be going crazy, right?”

“Yeah. My hormones. Sorry.” She hasn’t told him that she did not officially decline her acceptance at Oberlin until the last possible moment, and then only by default, when May First came and went with no deposit from her, when holding onto that dream for a day longer would have meant spending her parents’ money on something she couldn’t have.

He hasn’t told her that he doesn’t think she’ll go to Oberlin in a million years, that he knows they’ll be lucky to scrape together enough money to make the rent on their cramped apartment.

Of course there are ways out. The fetus can be aborted, the baby put up for adoption. She could have even, maybe, managed to go to Oberlin and kept the baby at the same time. The college would certainly have been very understanding, so long as she kept qualifying for loans.

But they’ve made their decision. The wedding is coming together. Invitations have been received, distant relatives are making travel plans. Precious money has been spent by all involved, so it would be wrong to back out now.

“So,” he says after the protracted silence. “You’re on the third one?” She nods. “That one was always my favorite.” She shrugs. “How long have you been working on this?”

“Four months,” she says.

“And you’re only on the third book?”

“I finished.”

“Wow. So you’re reading the whole thing again?”

“I finished twice. I’m reading it a third time.”

You must really like Harry Potter, he almost says. But he can hear that her voice is breaking. He holds her now, because he can’t think of anything else to do. She turns to look into his big, soft, kind eyes, the eyes she’d fallen in love with, back when the two of them had been kids. And then she turns back to the book.

The rails stretch out in front of them. The wedding is set, the baby is coming, and everything proceeds from there, inevitably.

But meanwhile, in another world, Harry Potter and his friends are on their train, heading off to another year of fun and adventure at Hogwarts.

Patrick McCarty writes in Illinois, USA.

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