Winter 1994, Volume 11.1
Fiction

E. L. DOCTOROW
Streetcar

There are no more passengers. Still the streetcar makes the daily run from the city.

Sand covers the tracks. The motorman stops the car at every corner and comes down with his broom and sweeps the track clean.

The flanged wheels of the car mill the sand till it no longer settles but hangs in the air like white smoke.

When the wind comes off the ocean the smoke is punched and buffeted and blown into the shapes of shades and ghosts that float and loom and shrink in their anguish through the streets of empty bungalows.

The sand rises in the street to the level of the curbs. The tracks are no more than thin intermittent glints of sunlight. One ordinary day at the last stop, at the foot of the dunes, the car slips gently atilt and the motorman abandons it without a backward glance.

The wind sandblasts the paint off the car till it is down to the wood. Eventually the wood bleaches white. In that year it is very beautiful.

The wind blows out the windows and sand fills the aisle and piles on the seats in the shapes of slumped bodies.

Terns fly in and lay their eggs and gum everything up with their guano and feathers. The car becomes a cheap symbol of civilization in ruins.

One winter a hurricane destroys the dunes and fills the car with seawater. The car lists like a sinking ship, half of it buried in a newly formed tide pool. Marine life begins to subsist there. Clams and crabs burrow in the sandwater. Minnows swim through the windows and snappers chase the minnows into star shaped sprays of watered light.

The streets of bungalow have been flattened. The wind blows through the stacked housewalls. Sections of roof rise and sail through the air. The utility poles tilt and topple and the electric wires hang in loops.

On the land horizon to the west the city skyline advances.

As the tide pool fills one day the underwater barrier is breached, the ocean breaks in, and the streetcar is lifted from its seabed and begins its stately drift out to sea.