Cari Luna received her MFA in Fiction from Brooklyn College and was awarded a 2005 residency by the Ragdale Foundation. She recently completed her first novel, Drowning Practice, and is currently at work on her second novel. She is also involved in a collaborative project that pairs visual artists with writers to create narrative using both word and image. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.


posted Jan 9, 2006


The train moves over the tracks, carrying me from gray city to gray city, the cold calm stones of Europe. Train tracks numbing, easing me through. Chasing down ghosts. He must be here somewhere. In the reflection that blurs across the nightdark window. In the fields that slip away as the train pushes north. Here in this darkened compartment, beside me.

A year on the rails, and nothing to show for it but some scraps of paper, coins from ten countries, a torn black ribbon. Time grows thick, it pulls at me, and sometimes I’m afraid I’m going to forget his face. Afraid that I’ll find him, finally, and won’t know him. Afraid a day will come when I’ll forget to even look for him at all. Maybe we’ll pass on some street one day in Madrid, Utrecht, Rabat. We’ll pass on the street and just keep moving. Because the momentum is there. It’s been building all along, an insistent hand at the small of my back.

My father hangs heavy in the silver locket around my neck.


Just go.


In Prague everyone looks like me. I wasn’t prepared for the force that centuries of shared genetics can bring to bear on the line of a nose, the shape of a chin, the curl of a lock of hair. Men approach me speaking Czech or Russian. Women don’t approach me at all.

It’s almost summer and I shed layers as I go. Tired wool coat left in a hostel locker two cities ago, sweater stuffed at the bottom of my bag. T-shirt and jeans now, and scuffed black boots with a hole threatening to wear through on the right sole.

There are three other Americans in the apartment where I find a room. They’re easy with each other, sharing a joint and travel stories. None of them would have been friends back home, but this far away just being American is enough for them. They corner me in my room. I’ve got the street maps, the pieces of paper, the scraps of conversation and clues I’ve been able to dredge up from my memory spread out around me on the bed. I’m not like them. I’m not traveling at random. I’m not following a guide book. I let my gut lead me and sometimes I can feel I’m getting close. Sometimes I feel him with me, just for a moment. I don’t have time for these American kids with their big backpacks like snail shells, their Dutch hash, their fresh new passports. I’ve got to move. Have to keep moving.


Amsterdam cold morning and Marco waits for me at the train station. He looks like hell, but his is the first familiar face I’ve seen in weeks. He’s welcoming, glad to see me even though he knows it’s only a matter of time before I leave again, knows that he isn’t what I’m looking for and what I’m looking for isn’t here.

We take a tram to his neighborhood. On his street there’s an early morning produce market just closing up now, 6 a.m. Up two flights of stairs to his apartment and it’s as if I hadn’t left three months ago, as if I’d just stepped out for coffee or a loaf of bread. There’s his boots at the same awkward angle at the foot of the bed, the sugar spoon still propped up against the dirty coffee cup on the table. The same Dutch newspaper folded the same way on the couch; only the date has changed.

Marco eases me down onto the single bed, pulls off my boots and rubs my feet. Undresses me gently and pulls the wool blanket up to my chin. Through the wall behind the bed, the nine Moroccan children next door wail their familiar morning tears. It begins at midnight each night and rolls on well toward noon when their mother returns home from wherever it is that she goes. Marco doesn’t know where their father is and he’s forbidden me to ask. Their weeping has lulled me to sleep each of the twenty-odd disjointed nights that I’ve found myself in his bed.


I change trains at the Spanish-French border. A high-speed train direct to Paris, where I’ll catch a connecting train to Copenhagen. An hour or so outside of Paris the train slows and rolls to a halt. There’s an announcement in French that I don’t understand. People around me grumble to each other and settle back into their seats, so I settle in too.

Outside the train are fields of brown reedy grasses, and in the distance a forest. If I could fly as the crow flies, over the field and the forest beyond and north ever north I could reach Denmark long before this train limps into Paris.

Four hours pass without another announcement. None of the other passengers seem concerned, though I haven’t seen a single conductor since we stopped. The sky outside the windows grows steadily darker until the glass goes liquid black. The forest and fields are blanketed and hidden. Not even a single star to be seen. They seem to have forgotten us, we seem to have been abandoned. There is the train car, and the sleeping passengers around me. There is the scent of black tobacco and the night heavy outside the windows, and beyond the windows maybe a hidden field and forest and maybe nothing. Maybe it’s all fallen away and we’ve reached the end of it. The last train car at the end of the world, slipped off the tracks and into nothing. Morning will come to find us gone. I’ll never make it to Copenhagen, but maybe my father can find me here in this train car, this speck of metal and fluorescent bulbs a shaky beacon in the immense French night.


New Year’s Eve. Amsterdam. With nothing to do and not much of a desire to venture out into the city yet, I sit on the steps of the hostel and watch the fireworks blooming red and green and white over the canal.  It’s cold, a wet chill that seeps right through my coat, but it feels good, in a way, to be starting a new year like this: a woman alone, freezing to numb on the stone step where I sit. This will be the first year of my life that my father has not seen. It feels right to be entering this new year with some pain, some small discomfort.

The night clerk leans out of the hostel window and invites me in. “Aren’t you cold?” he asks. “Come in and have some hot chocolate.” I go upstairs. He says his name is Marco. There are dark rings around his eyes and his hand shakes as he passes me the warm mug. He says he hasn’t slept in four days. We meet each other on this common ground—land of the sleepless; land of ghosts that come home to roost beneath eyes, at the hollow of the throat, the pit of the stomach. My hands empty as his, we don’t have to say much. He locks the door to the reception area and I join him under his worn wool blanket on the couch. We huddle together and wait for the sun to rise.


Cool November night in Madrid. I’ve just missed another phone call from my mother back home in Jersey. Five months I’ve been gone and she still hasn’t figured out the time difference. I pull my coat tighter around me—it’s too thin, really, for this weather.

Round the corner of Cuesta de Santo Domingo. The street is a steep hill, dim lights bouncing off the cobblestones and stone walls worn centuries smooth. There’s a certain comfort to the way the dust hangs in the air here and glows yellow in the passing headlights.

Up the block a man stands beneath a streetlamp, hands at the small of his back and face upturned into the light. A familiar shape, a stance that echoes back through every day I’ve ever lived. He’s taut as a bow, potbelly forward and arcing out, chin outthrust. Pigeon proud, dominating the sidewalk. Thick gray hair in curls. I rush forward. Here he is. Beneath the lamplight. My father on this dusty side street in Madrid at night. This street with its yellow light and stones worn smooth and now my father, here, my father.

I’m still a full ten feet away when the man who is not my father turns and the lamplight illumines his stranger’s face.


Small stones clicking in my sweaty palm. Dirt on the coffin, a dull sick rain.


After three weeks on life support my father’s skin has gone waxy and his eyelids have smoothed over, so accustomed now to being closed that the crease has relaxed away completely, just pale brown eggshell edged by his thick eyelashes. There’s white residue around his lashes and I wonder if they taped his eyes shut at some point. His hair has grown as the rest of his body has begun to shrink. Thick gray curls abundant and greasy against the white pillowcase. They haven’t washed his hair. Why can’t they wash his hair?

After three weeks on life support my father is an alien. His knees move toward his chest, his hands make shapes but these are not, we have been told, signs of life or recovery or even the slimmest of hope. It’s called posturing. It’s a sign of brain damage. My father’s wondrous brain is dying. It is dead. The body on the bed lifts and lowers with the ventilator. Plastic tubing blooms from its mouth. It is not my father. It can not be my father.


My dad has been gone for three months. Away on business in Europe. Tonight we pick him up at the airport. I’m wearing a new pin on my jean jacket, a black pickup truck with a glass ruby glued into the bed. My mom has had her babyfine hair spun up around her head like cotton candy, or a halo. My brother is reading a choose-your-own-adventure book and has refused all attempts on my mother’s part to clean him up. I’m nervous, excited to see my dad but I’m not sure why. He’s been gone so long I have trouble bringing his face into my mind. He’s never been away from us for this long before.  He’ll see my new pin, and the way I’ve started to wear my hair long and loose instead of a ponytail and maybe he’ll tell my mom I’ve really started to grow up and she’ll finally let me wear eyeliner to school.

When a man comes through the gate and hugs my mom and my brother I hang back. It takes me a moment to realize it’s my father. He’s somehow smaller than I remember, and older. But it’s my dad. I know it when I hug him and smell the softpack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. I know it when he takes my hand in his, and I feel his palm worn smooth and cool like stone, and the calluses on his fingers.

We walk that way, my father and I, hand in hand. Our reflections stretch and blend together, chasing us from car window to car window beneath the glowing lampposts of the airport parking lot.