MILKY WAY STATION
Then Giovanni saw the weather
station pillar right behind him take on the vague shape of a triangular
sign, flickering on and off like a firefly. When the blur in his eyes
cleared, everything became clear and finely outlined, and the sign with
its light soared straight up into the dense cobalt-blue field of the
sky as if it were a sheet of freshly tempered steel. Out of the
blue he was sure he heard a strange voice calling...
'Milky Way Station! Milky Way
And before his eyes there was
a flash flood of intensely bright light, as if billions and billions of
phosphorescent cuttle fish had fossilised at their most radiant instant
and been plunged into the sky, or as if someone h
ad discovered a hidden cache of precious jewels that the Diamond
Company had been hoarding to bolt the price skyhigh, turning the whole
treasure topsy-turvy and lavishing them throughout the heavens.
Giovanni found himself rubbing his eyes over and over, blinded by the
By the time he came to, he
had, for sometime now, been chugging along on the little train. It was
really him on the nighttime narrow-gauge railroad, gazing out the
window of a wagon with its little row of yellow lights. Ins
ide, the seats, nearly all empty, were covered in green velvet, and two
big brass buttons gleamed on the varnished gray wall opposite him.
Giovanni noticed a tall boy
in a jet-black wet coat poking his head out the window in the seat
directly in front of him. He could have sworn, judging from the boy's
shoulders, that he had seen him somewhere before. He wante
d to know who it was so much that he couldn't stand it. But just as he
was about to stick his own head out his window and take a look, the boy
popped his in and turned toward him.
It was Campanella!
Giovanni was about to ask him
if he had been on the train from the very beginning but Campanella
spoke up sooner.
'Everybody ran so fast but
they missed the train. Even Zanelli ran like mad but he couldn't catch
up with me.'
Giovanni thought to
I got it! We've
got a pact to go away together.
But he said, 'Should we wait
for them somewhere down the line?'
'Zanelli went home already,'
said Campanella. 'His father came to get him.'
Campanella's face turned
pale, and he looked as if something were hurting him. Giovanni felt
funny inside, as though he couldn't remember something that he had
'Oh, darnit,' said
Campanella, coming alive and peering out the window again. 'I've
forgotten my water bottle. And I've forgotten my sketchbook too. Well,
no matter, we'll be coming into Swan Station soon. There's nothing I
like better than watching swans. I'm sure I'll be able to see them no
matter how far down the river they fly.'
Campanella looked down at the
round plate-like map in his hand, busily turning it round and round. On
the map a single track of rail skirted the left bank of the whitened
Milky Way, tracing its way south and further south a
gain. But the really fantastic thing was that the map, a platter black
as night itself, was inlaid with little whistlestops and triangular
signs one after the other, and forests and miniature lakes, all shining
beautifully in blue, green and bitter-orange
Giovanni was convinced that
he had seen that map somewhere before.
'Where did you buy that map?'
he asked. 'It's made of obsidian, isn't it?'
'I got it at Milky Way
Station. You mean, you didn't get one too?'
'Gee, I'm not sure if I went
through Milky Way Station. We're around here now, aren't we?'
Giovanni pointed to a place
directly north of a sign that read Swan Station.
'Right. Oh, good heavens! I
wonder if that dry river bed is moonlight.'
When the two of them looked
they saw the pale bank of the Milky Way glisten with pampas grass
growing all along it, rustling and swishing, rolling in the wind into
billows of waves in a silver sky.
'That's not moonlight,' said
Giovanni. 'It's shining because it's the Milky Way!'
Giovanni, feeling so elated
that he wanted to jump up and down, tapped his feet, poked his head out
the window and whistled the tune of the rotating stars as if his life
depended on it.
He couldn't get a clear
picture of the water in the river no matter how hard he looked at it.
He kept staring and staring until he gradually saw that the clear water
was even more crystal than glass, even more transparent than
hydrogen...and maybe it was just his eyes, but the water in spots
seemed to be making delicate purple ripples or glistening rainbows of
light as it flowed steadily, silently along. Phosphorescent triangular
signs, beautifully erect, patched the sky. The faraway objects were
small, the closer ones large; the faraway ones distinctly yellow,
bitter-orange, the closer ones pale and faintly hazy. Some objects were
triangular, others rectangular; some the shape of chains, others the
shape of lightning...but they were all in place, filling the field with
Giovanni felt his heart
throbbing down to his toes, and he shook his head for all he was worth.
Then, as far and as wide as his eyes could see, the blues and oranges
and all the luminescent sights began to tremble and flicker, as if they
were alive and breathing themselves....
'I've made it right into the
sky's field!' cried Giovanni. He leaned out the window and pointed to
the front of the train with his left hand, adding, 'Besides, this train
isn't burning coal at all.'
'Must run on alcohol or
electricity,' said Campanella.
The beautiful little train,
chugging and clanking its way through the pampas grass that waved in
the sky and through the waters of the Milky Way and the glimmering
milky-white lights of triangles and deltas, was running on its endless
'Oh, gentians are blooming.
It's autumn for sure,' said Campanella, pointing out the window.
gentians, so fine that they might have been carved out of moonstone,
grew among the closely cropped grass that lined the track.
'Just you watch me hop right
out of here, get some of those flowers and jump back on again,' said
Giovanni, his heart leaping with excitement.
'Too late,' said Campanella.
'We've left them behind now.'
But no sooner had the words
left his lips than had another batch of gentians flashed brightly past
them...and then another, and another...cups with yellow at their
hearts, gushing, passing in front of their eyes like rain..
.and a row of triangular signs, some smoky, others burning, rose up,
radiant for all the world to see.