After it happened, we boarded the late train to Paris. Cities flash past the window, Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart, smears of yellow light, followed by long gulfs of darkness. The darkness creeps into the car like worms, and if I sleep it might crawl into my skin. Milo sleeps. It isn’t because he is not afraid, or that he feels no sorrow. He sleeps because he is running, and sleep is an easy way to hide.
We brought nothing with us. Almost nothing. In the front pocket of my jeans, I carry a pair of baby shoes, crocheted by my mother. She was happy about the baby until she learned Milo was Jewish. “That was a long time ago,” I told her.
“People haven’t forgotten,” she said.
“They shouldn’t forget,” I said as I left her house. I didn’t visit her again. She called every day, but I didn’t answer. She is no longer my refuge. Milo is a gate between us, a gate she can’t walk through.
Milo doesn’t know I kept the shoes. He said, “We’ll start over in Paris. I can paint and you will write. In Paris, anything can happen.”
“Maybe,” I said. Can people start over?
Inside the rattling car, I fight the darkness. It taunts, and its words are unforgiving. The rattling of the car slows. A sign sweeps past proclaiming Strasbourg. We have arrived on the border, and the train will stop for ten minutes. People get off. People get on.
“I need to take a walk,” I say, untangling myself from Milo’s arm. He shakes off the camouflage of sleep, starts to rise. “Alone,” I say.
“Are you all right?” He knows the answer, so I know it isn’t the question he wants to ask. Will you come back?
“I don’t know,” I say.
I cross in front of the train and walk along the tracks, out over the bridge that spans the Rhine. To the north, the city of steeples clutches the riverbank, like a fist clasping the arm of a receding lover. To the south, the darkness stretches unimpeded. The Rhine whispers beneath my feet. An ancient river harbors ancient secrets. And new ones, too. It is eternal enough to shoulder both. Her black waters seem to gather darkness from the sky, from the trees along the banks, from the alleys of Strasbourg, and sweep it away. How much darkness has that river carried in her lifetime? She has borne the burden without complaint. Can she sweep away the darkness inside me, too?
I step onto the iron railing, and for a moment I float, suspended above certainty. Anything might happen. But nothing will happen if I don’t let go. People can’t start over; that’s Milo’s mistake. There is no starting over. But there’s no going back either. There is only the night train speeding me forward.
I lean over the rail, over the river of ancient secrets, and toss in the baby shoes.