“The most terrible things happen to the best people. The kindest people. Most of the time it isn’t for any reason at all. It’s just stupid luck.” – Joe Hill, The Widow’s Breakfast
For a handful of years now, Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts has held a place on my bookshelf. I haven’t read all of the stories inside, but the ones that I have been lucky enough to settle into have largely been very good. Hill, the son of Stephen King, has the same knack that his father does in conjuring older days. “The Widow’s Breakfast” casually demonstrates what I am referring to, as we meet a traveling hobo who hops trains as a means of traveling across the open country and through the steep mountains.
This particular story is told from the perspective of Killian, a man who has found himself suddenly alone after the loss of a companion. As Killian goes where the trains will take him, he ends up on a track that has run out of options. The only destination is the terminating stop for the train, and Killian is fearful of the law enforcement there. He jumps from the train while it is still moving quickly, and ends up limping to a cottage that stands alone in the trees.
Killian is growing desperate. His shoes are battered, his clothes torn. Feeling completely lost, he puts himself at the mercy of the woman who lives in the cottage, and what he experiences there leaves him with a newly formed perspective on his position. He learns that maybe the final stop, both on the tracks and in life, is not as scary as the rumors have suggested.
And maybe, if we are all headed there anyway, we might as well ride the rails until the train stops, and enjoy the ride before seeing what awaits us at the end of the line.
It might not be as bad as we think.
“The Widow’s Breakfast” was originally published in The Clackamas Review. I read the story in 20th Century Ghosts, a short story collection by Joe Hill.