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  • The funicular, the almost vertical streetcar that takes you up the hill above St. Gallen, is built over a cascade. An unfortunate place to put it, but ruining natural beauty might have looked like progress in 1906, the year, according to a sign in German, of its construction.

    I was standing inside the waiting room, looking out of the big windows at the churning pool of water below. It had been raining all morning and the water was spilling down the mountain, over the rocks. Attracted by the sound, passers-by would stop and come up to the railing to look down at the water. Two little girls were racing about, thrilled by the sunshine and the roaring waterfall.

    A woman in her early fifties with red hair, striking in a simple skirt and blouse, came up to the railing, smiling an easy smile.

    A boy, about 11, came up slowly from behind her. He was bald and, under the bright sunshine, his perfectly round head looked as golden as fine wax. I could see even at a distance that his face was plumped out, that his clothes seemed to swell around him as if they were inflated, as if there was no body underneath. Not the way most little boys fill their clothes. He stood by the woman, his mother or perhaps she was his grandmother, and she smiled her smile and pointed at the water. The boy looked down.

    The little girls were now dropping leaves into the water and laughing as they swirled by.

    The woman and the boy watched the leaves in the rushing water, the woman smiling and talking to him. After a time, she moved away and sat on a bench. The boy stayed, watching the water. He reached down and picked up a small rock. Hanging over the railing as far as he could, he let go of the rock. It fell the several meters to the water and made a small splash. But there was no sound over the roar of the cascade. The boy stood for a long time watching the spot where the rock had disappeared, his round head bent almost to his chest. I could not see his face.

    The funicular arrived with a clang and I entered behind a woman pushing a bicycle and an elderly couple dressed in hiking shorts and leather boots. I went to the back of the funicular to stand by the windows so that I could see the water from above as we rose. As the streetcar pulled away slowly, I saw that the boy was now sitting on the bench next to the red-haired lady, leaning into her. She was putting her arm around him, always smiling. Then, he laid his golden head in her lap.
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