“Starting down the loose dirt slope from the head of the railroad trestle steadying yourself on the rusted steel trusses,” Jim Meirose’s pocket-size collection of three short stories begins, the second person narrator dwelling on the details of the place where the ashes are scattered, the place where the memories are set: “There’s a spot down there you need to get to and you slide or half-fall down the slope to a gravel platform under the trestle by the water,” he writes, not so much, perhaps, painting a picture of a location as making clear, in the telling, how well-worn this location, and the travel down there, are to the narrator. This smoothed style—like a wood tool that, with enough years, has come to naturally fit its users hand—distinguishes this little book. In the introduction, Meirose makes clear the ways these stories are metaphors for the act of writing, but he does so, again, in such a personal tone, intimate, that it is not excessive information but, rather, a tiny and perfectly flavored amuse bouche to awaken the reader’s palate for the meal to follow. Its taste is at once pastoral and post-industrial, a celebration of life and a meditation on death: “At the head of the trestle the steel’s bolded into the concrete, the bolts each enter a star of rust; under the trestle you stand by the black water, the strong-smelling mud, the rubble and briars.”
A boy claims to listen, through a machine, to the voice of his dead mother, in one story, and in another, a woman works the counter of a fuel station on a highway slipped from most folks’ maps by the imposition of an interstate. The woman tries to sell “snack-sized pies in small foil pans on a tray in the hazy glass case at the register” to those few passersby who cross paths with her, but the piece isn’t just a study of contrasts between speed and ease, the new world and the lost, there’s something angrier, even if it is a simple and innocent anger, in the woman’s action—suffice to say, the pies aren’t precisely edible; they’re certainly not made out of fruit. There’s rebellion and humor in these pies and in these pieces of fiction, but there is a gaping sense of loss just under the trestle, just down the highway. As the boy with the machine says, dazed by revelry at the very idea of what it might be like, to talk to the dead, to have the past to experience again: “Thrill, goosebumps, the hot water in the tub, close eyes, Mother what do you have to say, Mother what would you have to say if you could really be here—” But it is just one voice, less young than before, speaking in the dark, one man skittering and sliding down the gravel banks to stand where there’s a better vantage for looking back at the past.