By L. Burton Brender

“Did they ever find it?”

“My bag?”


“They haven’t.”

“Had your car keys?”


“Didn’t think to put those in your pocket before you got on the plane?”


“Sounds kind of stupid, if you ask me.”

“Do you often say that to people you’ve known less than an hour?”

“Often.  But, I can’t say much; I’m stranded, too.”

“Get hold of a ride?”

“No.  I tried this girl I’ve been seeing, but no answer.”



“So, had something like this happen before?”

“Being stranded?  Oh, well.  Yes.  I guess so.  Once.  One time I took a train ride with my dad from Washington to Tennessee.”

“Washington, D.C.?”

“No, State.”

“That’s a ways.”

“Yep.  Three days on a train.”

“I’m not sure I could spend three days on a train with my old man.”

“Ha!  I don’t think I knew what I was getting myself into.”

“Why’s that?”

“My dad and I were never really close.”


“Yeah.  Hell, you can even hear it in the way we talk.  If you seen us sitting next to each other, you’d think we had never spent a day in our lives together.  I think it was his mom.  Grandma was from I-O-A.  Came west out of the dustbowl.  I suppose my dad got a whiff I didn’t.”

“What’d you and him find to talk about?”

“Mining.  Crazy about mining.  He spent ten years buying up gold pans and rock crushers and shaker tables and all.  Put everything together in an old makeshift tent outside the house. I came home on leave from Korea once and asked him how it worked.

“‘Well, son, iffin’ the ore is too big, you take the mallet and break it into manageable chunks,’ then he smacked this big rock with a hammer, ‘then you put it into the rock crusher, what they call a pulverizer, and break it up into gravel about yay big,’ he’d show me his pinky fingernail.

‘Then, you take it over here to the fine grade pulverizer and put it through again until it comes out pert’near sand.  Then, what you do is take it over to the shaker table.’

‘How’s the shaker table work, dad?’ I asked.

‘It uses water to separate the sand particles, rocking them so that the lighter stuff falls off the edge and the heavier stuff, like gold, stays over here near the top.  You do this when it ain’t nuggets you’re after.’

“Your dad wasn’t looking for gold nuggets?  What else is there?”

“My dad thought the big gold angle was all played out.  ‘Micro-gold, son.  It’s everywhere.  You can’t see it ‘cept with a microscope, but when you take the refined sand, strained out for just the heavy, hot-rod metals, you’re a lot closer.  Then you take them over here and put them in this here cupel.’

‘What’s a cupel, dad?’

‘It’s like a little cup, and it’s made out of bone ash.  High tech stuff.  You pour your shaken-down ore and this stuff called flux in and then let ‘er rip with the blow torch.’

‘Blow torch?’ That got me interested.  ‘Have any safety glasses?’

‘Nah.  Just don’t look at it.’

‘You don’t look at what you’re using the blowtorch on?’

‘Of course not.  Lookin’ at it’ll make you go blind.  You gotta think these things through when you’re doing serious business, son.’

“Is all that really so different from you?”

“Well, he made more colorful anatomical references than I’m putting in.  

Anyway, so dad lights up his blow torch.  It doesn’t turn out to be the high-glare type so there was no real danger in looking at it, which is good because he’s staring at it the entire time, and starts cooking away this sand in the cupel.  The bone ash was supposed to absorb the remaining impurities and ‘leave a little BB, son.  See here, that little ball of metal?  Now, that’s not all gold or silver, of course, but it’s got some, which you can extract out later.  I sent this off to the assay office a while ago, this real serious affair in Colorado, and they said my ore was rich as fire.  30 troy ounces to the ton.  A troy ounce is what them silver coins weigh, and it’s bigger than a regular ounce.’

‘12 ounces to the pound instead of 16 avoirdupois, right, dad?’

‘Aver do what?’

Avoirdupois.  Goods-by-weight.  French.’

‘The point is a troy ounce’s bigger, son.’

‘Right.  Anyway, since you mentioned it, you know I’ve always really loved coins.’


‘Well, when you get your first ounce of gold, I’d love to take it to a mint I know and strike it into one for you.  Wouldn’t that be cool?’

“That sounds like a neat thing to do with him.”


“Something wrong?”

“No.  Well.  Yes.  It’s just, like I said, my dad and I were never very close.  We didn’t see eye to eye growing up.  I was a lot more like my mom than like him.”

“That can’t be that bad.  He married her, right?  Wouldn’t being like your mom work in your favor?”

“No.  Not here it didn’t.  I was bookish, academic, introspective.  Worst of all, though, I joined the army.”

“Your mom wore combat boots?”

“OK, we weren’t exactly the same.”

“Anyway, I had wondered when you mentioned Korea.  Thank you for your service.”

“Weird—I never heard that from him.  See, my dad hated the army because he loved money, and he loved money because it was a way to show how he measured up better than his own dad and better than his brother.  He had more, therefore he was more of a success.  Plus it gave him independence, which he really valued.”

“Don’t we all value independence?”

“Maybe, but he saw the army as its opposite.  To him it was weakness.”

“He saw the army as weakness?”

“Well, it didn’t make much money, but it was deeper than that.  He saw taking orders from other people, having to conform, any kind of working for somebody else as the opposite of independence.  The opposite of strength.  If I had been truly strong, I’d have been brave enough to strike it out on my own.  He was self-employed from the time he was young.  He never said it, but I think that’s what he wanted me to be…that and he hated the government.  He’d get all worked up. 

‘When the feds send those tanks rolling down the street, son, I’ll be up in these hills with everything I need.  I got the food, I got the skill, and I got the ammunition.’

‘You know I’m a tank officer, right?’

‘A what?’

‘An armor officer, I command tank formations.  That’s what I do for the army.  I don’t think there’ll ever be tanks rolling down Pioneer Avenue but, like, you know, I’m the guy in there.’


“Your dad didn’t know what you did in the army?”

“I don’t think he liked to think about it.”

“That had to be tough.”

“I suppose.”

“So.  What happened with the gold?”

“The what?”

“The gold.  The gold your dad was mining for.”

“Oh.  He never found any.”

“I thought you said he spent ten years mining for it.”

“He did.”

“And he never found anything?”

“I think my younger brother found enough silver to make a small ring out of.”

“And how much was that?”

“About a quarter of an ounce.”

“A troy ounce or an avoirdupois?”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“Can’t help it.”

“ANYWAY, he never found any, and it made me upset.”

“Because you wanted to get rich, too?”

“Not at all.  Being rich…was too much like him.”

“This is beginning to sound like a Dr. Phil episode.  OK, why was that such a bad thing?”

“Well.  That’s tough.  I loved him, but he spent all his time when I was growing up working late, hunting the next big deal.  Never had time for me, and I resented it.  I saw him do everything for money, live every day of his life for money—but not for me.  Kids don’t turn profits.”


“To be fair, though, there was one other besides money.  Hunting was a big deal to him.  But again I wasn’t a hunter, either.  Didn’t even like guns.”

“But don’t you use one all the time?”

“Now.  And to be honest, early on I had hoped that would bring us closer.  I always shot expert, and I had secretly hoped he would be proud of that.”

“Was he not?”

“Don’t know.  I didn’t want to pester him for praise, and he never offered it.  But, to get back to what I was saying, he loved hunting but even that was secondary to money.  I remember he was in the hospital once.  He had just told me he had cancer.

‘Dad, I have a question I want to ask you.’

‘Well, what is it?’  He was angry.  I think it was all of our past bubbling up.  All the things we didn’t know how to say to each other.  But, I was pretty upset, too.  I was weeping.

“I asked him, ‘Dad, have you ever seen me cry as an adult?’  He looked genuinely surprised at that.


‘Well…I need to know something.  Something I’ve been wondering my whole life.  Did you love me…did I…mean more to you than the money?’


“I didn’t know how else to put it.  It was this fear, you know?  In the back of my mind.  Like I could never be sure, because he had never said it.”

“What did he say?”

‘That question doesn’t make any goddamn sense, son.  Of course I loved you more than the money.  Your mom and you both.’

‘But, you can understand why I’m asking, right?’


‘It’s all you ever talked about.  Money and gold and getting rich and your rifle collection and land.  It wasn’t high school concerts, or baseball games, or promotion ceremonies.  Hell, my son’s six, and you’ve only seen him a handful of times.’

‘You just don’t get it.’

‘What don’t I get, dad?  Tell me, because I don’t get it and I’m scared I never will.’

“He sat up, which I saw hurt him.  ‘I am the money, son.  And the money is me.  The land, the guns, the money, that’s what I’ve worked for ever since I was a kid.  It’s what makes my time on this earth worthwhile.’ He settled back down into his hospital bed. ‘And boy, how I did make some damn money.’

“I began sobbing.  Just broke down.  My wife and son were there, but I up and walked out of the room.  My boy followed me, all scared.  He’d never seen me cry.”

“What did you do?”


“You what?”

“We left.”

“You left him in the hospital?”

“I don’t know if it was right.  It probably wasn’t.  But I couldn’t take it.  I said goodbye, I took my son and my wife, and I went back to my home town, where my dad had raised me.  It was about ten miles away and the county fair was in town.”

“You went to the fair while your dad was stricken with cancer?”

“Don’t judge me.  You weren’t there.  You didn’t grow up with him.”


“Ah—Goddamnit.  So am I!  But you don’t understand.  The fair was really important and we didn’t have much time.  I had to leave town in an hour because I had duty the next day.  And I wanted to go with my son, to be with him at that fair.  I had originally meant for all of us to go, but dad had gotten sick.

“And it was so important.  I wanted my son to know right then that just being with him, just having fun at the fair, was the most important thing in the world to me.  The same fair I had gone to with my own dad when I was young.”

“So, your dad took you when you were a kid?  That doesn’t sound so selfish.”

“It, well…no.  No, I guess it doesn’t…”

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“It’s OK. Heh.  I guess this makes twice now.”

“We don’t have to keep…”

“I just guess I never thought about it that way.”


“That maybe when he took me to the fair, he meant it the same as I did for my son.”

“Well.  Maybe that’s exactly what he meant.”


“So, what did all of this have to do with your train ride to Tennessee?”

“The what?”

“The train ride.  Where you got stranded.  That’s what you were telling me about in the beginning.  What’d all this have to do with the train ride?”

“Oh.  Well.  Nothing, I suppose.”

L. Burton Brender’s fiction has appeared in The Deadly Writer’s Patrol and placed in the 2021 Writers Digest Short Story Competition.  His poetry has been published on Zen Space, the Shrub-Steppe Poetry JournalCollateral, and The Whispers of Wenatchee.

Story updated February 15, 2022

One thought on “Train Ride

  1. Good job L. Burton Brender. How awesome! I laughed a lot when his dad told him not to look at it or he’d go blind then he said his dad stared right at it the entire time lol. The name deadly writers patrol kinda freaked me out though 😬 I’d like to read your other stuff sometime thank you.


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