Paul Masse: Lottery. September 2023.

Larry tosses the last garbage bag inside his company’s dumpster when a movement in the distance catches his eye. It’s a young mother walking alongside her three or four-year-old child riding his tricycle along the industrial park’s paved entranceway which runs nearly a mile long before widening to allow for employee parking.

The long entranceway is flanked on one side by an enormous marsh where various waterfowl call home. The opposite side features a gentle-sloping grass berm that rises up – then levels off – for the tracks of the North Shore line which run parallel to the entrance road. 

At the far end of the industrial park a dirt path leads to a network of wooded trails – inviting joggers, walkers and bicyclists to regularly pass his place of work.

During nice weather Larry usually sees families strolling through the industrial park enjoying the wildlife and, hopefully, a passing train. Occasionally, a parent will lead an excited child halfway up the grass berm to get close enough to the train tracks so they can prompt the conductor to toot the train whistle as it approaches – then squeal in delight when they hear the unmistakable sound in reply.

Larry knows the routine; first, the red lights start flashing on the train gates that sit near the business park’s main entrance where it meets Cannon Street. Then, the gates close, giving a fifteen-second warning to automobiles and pedestrians alike of an approaching train. Larry secretly hopes that he’ll be the first one to notice the lights flashing so he can properly alert the duo of an oncoming train as though the mother is incapable of grasping the concept of flashing lights and closing gates herself.

While the gates remain motionless the mom leads her child towards the marsh where several ducks float placidly on top of the murky water, squawking loudly into the early evening air. A pair of geese suddenly take flight across the orange-purple sky. A stray rabbit hops out of a clump of tall reeds, assesses the situation, then quickly hops back in. Larry laughs inwardly as he sees both the mom and child taking turns pointing at the abundant wildlife activity surrounding them.

After watching and waiting for a few minutes, Larry turns and heads back to work when he hears a loud shriek behind him. He turns to see the young child jumping up and down while his mother points to the warning gates and the flashing red lights.

She apparently doesn’t need my help, Larry surmises.

As the train approaches, the child pulls on his mother’s hand leading her up the grass slope towards the tracks. Once cradled snuggly in his mother’s arms, the child frantically gives the conductor the universal sign of tooting a horn by “yanking” on an invisible rope. On cue, a long, mournful cry fills the air while the conductor gives a friendly wave towards the mom and child as the train rushes by.

Mission accomplished they head back towards his parked tricycle. But, before he mounts it, his mother suddenly picks him up, spins him around, then plants a big kiss on his cheek. Once seated, and helmet placed properly on his head, they head back towards the main road. Larry feels a little disappointed as he was hoping to speak with both of them had they continued past his workplace towards the nature trails instead.

Watching them moving away from him, Larry thinks about the news he learned earlier in the day regarding how the lifeless body of a young Lowell boy – approximately the same age as the tricycle rider – was pulled from a small pond near his babysitter’s house where he wandered away from while she was temporarily distracted. The local newscast featured a grim-looking policeman instructing parents of young ones to “please hug your kids a little tighter tonight.”

Staring at the diminishing figures, Larry sees a young mother who has no need for those words.

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