A train had gone right through our basement.
This was very odd.
For weeks we’d been hearing its aggressive call, dissonant and distinctive, sometimes off in the distance, sometimes loud, as if it were right across the street. With the lake on the north side and the forest bisected by the parkway on the south, both were quite impossible. But we all heard it, including the neighbors.
“Did you hear that?” one of us would say, somewhat redundantly.
“Television,” someone might answer, but eventually we accepted that TV couldn’t be the culprit. We didn’t even have one.
“The Polar Express,” joked someone else. It was the most likely explanation.
But no matter. Now we had direct evidence. We hadn’t heeded its call, and now our basement was ravaged, as if by a tsumani—a perfectly straight, twelve-foot-wide tsunami.
It became clear that we would have to move. “The foundation of the house has been compromised,” said Dad, meaning either the actual structure of the house, or our former, collective belief that we were safe from trains. Strangely, the neighbors had endured none of the same wreckage. They had heard the horn, but their houses and yards remained intact, as did our grass and dead hydrangeas at the train’s points of entrance and exit. It was as if the train simply appeared at one wall, wrought havoc in its determined path, and crashed through the opposite wall.
Then where did it go?
“I’m just so thankful no one was sleeping down there last night,” Mom said tearfully. The nights, though June, had been getting increasingly colder, and the night of the train had even dropped below freezing; those of us with basement bedrooms had been sleeping upstairs more often. Someone suggested that the cold was what allowed us to hear the train at all. It was true that we only ever heard it at night, and the days were seasonably warm.
Unfortunately, we could not move right away because our insurance company refused to pay for the damage, citing our failure to have purchased train insurance prior to the incident. When the town hall heard, they sent someone to assess the situation, who frowned at us for allowing property values to fall, and tried valiantly to find some way to blame us, or the house. When that failed, it seemed they would be forced to deal with the fact that a train inexplicably rent our house in two, but even then they merely sniffed and said our shed was built too close to the property line and would have to be removed or “taken in” seven inches, and that it was impossible for a train to go through a house that was not built on tracks.