“Charlie I been thinking. I shouldn’t but I do. I get to brooding on a thing and then it gets hold of me and worries me to no end until I think it all the way through. We put one foot in front of the other but we never arrive noplace. How can that be? The train, he runs from point A to point B and that’s that, unless the boiler gives out. There’s a bill on the wall in the depot, and it stakes its reputation about the comings and goings of the world and generally turns yellow before it misses. But we never arrive where we’re going even if we hop the train. It doesn’t seem possible but there it is.
“When we walk along the ties we fall into an easy rhythm, don’t we Charlie? There’s nothing else a man can do. You know I’m right in this, Charlie, it’s plain. You remember when you was just an angelina the ties would break your step and confound you and you’d try every kind of thing to beat them at their own game. You’d walk along the edges of the railbed and get poison ivy real good, or find a bramble, or step in a chuckhole, and pruddy soon you’d find yourself back on the ties and counting the anchor plates for amusement, now wouldn’t you? If we had minders we couldn’t be herded any closer. They cut the railbed through the wilderness and it’s the only way from here to there and a man knows it for a fact if he’s not a fool. But we never arrive at anywhere we need to go, do we, Charlie? The rail is laid for another man’s trip but that’s all there is.
“When I was little they took me to the church, Charlie. It was the plain church with no Romans, but I can’t remember the name. The only sign that it was a church, besides how hard the seat felt, was the cross marked on the wall as plainly as the chalk on the curb outside a kind lady’s house, the kind that talks religion and gives food. But they never gave me nothing. Then a feller that looked like reform school got up and took out his watch and set it on a little desk next to a book he never looked at once and started thundering about this and that. He looked me straight in the face and said in our occupations we spread our nets but God brings the fish. I don’t know why he looked at me like that when he said it but he did. He put that sentence on my mind like a mark on cattle and I never forgot it. I didn’t know what it means but it stayed with me.
“I think he meant to tell me that if you got fish in your net then God almighty himself put them there. And I guess that means if you haven’t got no fish that you don’t deserve any. I know upon reflection that was a hard thing to say to the face of boy that hadn’t seen breakfast. Having fish God gave you with his own hand seems to come mighty easy to those with nothing but ink from a bill of sale for the net on their bony fingers, don’t it?
“I’ve been turning it over and over in my mind, Charlie, and I think I had it all backwards. We live in a world where you never arrive no matter how many steps you take. Your destination is never posted in the depot and if you say you’ll go along to another then you find you’re in the wrong place every time, and have to start over again and again.
“I been looking at the nets and the fisherman and I’ve seen the fish on the plate through the window when I’m standing on the sidewalk, Charlie. I don’t know anything except that the fish is never on my plate, Charlie. And I’m beginning to think that the loud feller with the stern face was telling me the opposite of the truth, and doing it on purpose. That’s why he made it hurt. That’s why he left a mark. To keep me rubbing it over and over like a tender spot but not looking at it for fear of it. Like when your tooth is gone you put your tongue in the spot it where it belongs over and over but you never want to see it in the mirror because no man wants to know he’s ugly.
“I’m beginning to see that we’re walking in a world where fish on your plate is a sign that the Devil himself knitted your net. No one has nothing they deserve, Charlie. If you got it, you got it in some underhanded way. Money is the mark of the Devil in this world. What do you think of that, Charlie?”
“I never went to church so I knew it all along.”