Sunday, 1 December
|T r a i n M a n
Everett lived in a caboose at the end of a long train. He had been a railroad man serving the great Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe for many years. He had a number of duties, none too taxing, and he performed them reliably and well. People might say he spent his whole life serving the railroad. In his own mind, though, Everett saw himself as being a witness to the world that traveled past his window. It was a vast panorama, populated by diverse people going about their business, creating their own stories, and all seen by Everett from a respectful distance. He felt he knew and understood any number of them and he often spoke of their personal desires and trials while in long, thoughtful conversation with the favored people that populated his mind. They would sometimes pose questions so that they might better understand the characters he saw. Mostly the voices he heard were those of long-time friends but there were also a few adversarial types that questioned him more critically about the information he offered. They found him most often prepared with well-considered opinions and a few colorful anecdotes to back him up. They might appear a bit rude in the tone of their inquiry but it was perfectly alright with Everett because it kept his powers of observation sharp.
The person he most enjoyed speaking with was Diane. He’d met her long ago while at an unscheduled stopover in a small town outside Albuquerque. The train was parked on a sidetrack until the following afternoon while repairs were being made. Everett had only time to kill so he walked over to a café on the road that paralleled the tracks. It was a very small place with a short counter and only a few small tables with two chairs apiece lining the windowed wall. This must be a family business he thought as the cashier looked to be the daughter of the old man doing the cooking. Everett chose the eighty-nine cent breakfast of two eggs, toast and coffee included. He was a bit surprised to find they didn’t ask how he wanted his eggs or coffee. They just handed him scrambled eggs, wheat toast and coffee with cream and sugar. He wasn’t about to fuss. He was sure it would be good.
Everett first saw Diane when he turned to find a table. She sat in a corner partially obscured by shade, an empty coffee in front of her.
“Bring me a fresh coffee and come sit with me,” she said.
Everett had the cashier pour a fresh cup and carried it on a tray with his food, sitting down across from her. She smiled and casually took the cup from him. They exchanged names. Everett barely heard her say the name Diane as he was caught up in appreciating her eyes and her full, deep-colored lips that accented her dusky-scented skin, which elicited for him an image of Sicilian olive groves and hot-blooded women in peasant scarves. Everett suddenly felt very pleasant and offered to share with her his eggs. Diane made some comment about how bright the desert sun was this early in the day while she reached for the fork and began to eat. Her attitude made it appear as though they were old friends picking up a conversation from the previous day. It was as if she already knew all that there was to understand about him and this might have irritated Everett except for the fact she had spared him the embarrassment of having to explain himself to her. Ceremony and formal politeness often left him tongue-tied.
Between carefully selected bites of egg she briefly mentioned that there was a bit too much salt on them for her taste. Diane talked at great length of desert snakes and birds of prey and of poets she liked and of the poetry she wrote, all in silver ink on dark paper that reminded her of papyrus. Finally she said the only poets of any worth were all women. She paused to study his face. He thought she was overly opinionated but he felt captured by her soft, teasing approach and animated manner. The color of her lips was a natural, deep maroon and he kept wondering how they must feel. What? She had asked him a question.
Everett smiled weakly and said, “I haven’t read all that much poetry.”
“Of course you haven’t. What do you do with yourself Everett?”
“I’m with the railroad. That’s my train over there. I live in the caboose.”
“Really! That must be interesting. Where do you go?”
“Well most everywhere between Chicago and Los Angeles really - so long as there’s a track.”
“Well Everett that makes you a man of the world, doesn’t it? I’m impressed. Have you a stove and all in that caboose of yours?”
“I’ve actually got most everything you could ever want inside. There’s an old pot-bellied stove, a table and a couple of chairs and a bed, of course. I’m gone most all the time. I have to sleep somewhere.”
“I so envy you. Your home is on wheels. You mind that I come and see it?”
Everett spent the remainder of the day enchanted. Diane proceeded to make herself right at home in Everett’s world and he couldn’t have been more pleased. She was royalty walking through his threshold. It flattered her to have his undivided attention and she grew fond of him, teasing him and gently toying with his emotions. His heart positively began to race as darkness fell and she showed no inclination for leaving. They had become very comfortable together. Everett found a long-lost inner voice he could share with her as they lay together in the darkness. There truly was beauty in the world and his heart captured it all as he felt the warmth of her breath against his ear. He dared to think of taking her off to Timbuktu and making sure he had her all for himself. Eventually she would drift off into sleep but Everett was too enthralled with her at his side, his mind alert to her every move. A cool light fell on them from a window and revealed to Everett a sky rich with stars. He listened to the soft breathing of Diane’s slumber before, he too, finally lost consciousness and they passed together into the night.
There was the bare inkling of dawn when Everett awoke. Diane was pressed up against him. Her right leg draped over him, holding him to her. He carefully laid his hand upon her thigh.
“You awake?”, she whispered.
“How did you sleep?”
“Hardly at all.”
“You like me.”
“I love you.”
“Oh! I love you, too – a little.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I love you, but – I have to leave.”
“Why? Because I have a boyfriend.”
Everett was silent.
“He’s far away. I’m going back to him today. This morning. Very soon.”
“You’re not fair.”
“Love isn’t fair, Everett.”
“I need you to stay with me.”
“I like you. You’re a good man. We’ve had our time together. Now you have my memory. That will have to do.”
Diane insisted on walking away alone, before the sun fully shone. Everett stood watching, fighting the numb; fighting the anger.
Everett managed to frequent the café outside Albuquerque a couple more times, hoping without any real hope that he’d once again meet Diane there. Then the café closed. It was soon nothing more than a derelict shell amidst the creosote and sand. He would occasionally glimpse the deserted hollow from his window on the passing train and it would faithfully revive the memories of that one day.
Everett lives in his caboose. He speaks of the world passing his window. And Diane listens.