Kate Krautkramer

The Train

It’s March and something’s wrong with the baby, Jilly’s baby. The little girl isn’t going to survive, the doctors say, but they don’t say how long things will go on, either. Lucy turns it over in her mind and sips the last of her Sanka while the train comes up from the north. She hears the blows–long, long then short, short, short at every driveway and county road crossing. The first whistle she can hear is at DiNapolis’, then four more sets before the lead engine reaches their place. It only takes a couple of minutes when the train’s coming from the south and empty–whole nother, long slow story when it’s coming uphill and full of coal.

Lucy gets up from her coffee, opens the front door then the storm door, loose on its hinges, and steps out onto the front deck without a jacket. She puts her arms around herself. Even though it’s not very cold today, it is still winter. There’s plenty of snow left, and likely plenty still to come before real spring sets in about mid-May. That’s normal for around these parts, but in the whole country things haven’t been too normal. In January it snowed in Miami. After that there was a blizzard to beat all in Buffalo, only people with Ski-Doos could get around. She and Harvey learned it all from Walter Cronkite; there were pictures on the Evening News of people digging tunnels to get to their front doors.

On the deck, Lucy has to close her eyes things are so bright, and getting brighter all the time. Daylight savings will come in a month and screw things all up anyway. Whoever got the notion to mess with the hours of sun God gave, she doesn’t know about that. As it is here in the Rockies, the snow banks have piled up to the front deck and made a nice place for the cat to scurry and shelter when he likes. The wind when it blows can’t touch him under there, and he sure enough seems to be finding the mice and getting after them because she hasn’t seen or heard one in the house all winter.

Lucy squints through her lashes. At the edges of the valley, the mountains rise up, and she feels like they’re sheltering her, feels like they have been doing that her whole life long. Plenty of the folks around have given up their properties and gone to places with more people and big Safeway stores where they can get groceries every day if they want, but Lucy’s never leaving, likes it here with lots of space where she’s close to the sky. In the far section of pasture a cow bawls. Adjacent the house, the hay meadow lies white and bright, turning hard as glass from melting a little in the day then freezing up again at night. It’s what they used to call a three-wire winter, with the snow piled up over the top strand of the fence. Seems like mostly every winter hits that mark, meaning mostly every spring they have to fix fence all up and down the pasture, poking themselves full of holes trying to mend everything. Anyway with snowshoes or skis looks like she can get right over the barbed wire and into the wide open, where she wants to be.

It’s like the engineer’s tooting at her when the train finally makes their place, even though it’s the law he’s got to blow every time he goes by. Lucy’s glad for this everyday reminder to stay out of the way. The engineer gives a wave from on high, the engine gone before she can really wave back and the tracks bending under each car. Someday she’ll take pencil to paper and figure about how many hours she spent in this life worrying about what never happened¾her girls Jilly or Pauline somehow getting hit by the train. All that iron coming at 50 miles per hour through their property, just about.

Pretty quick the sun drives Lucy back inside, but not before she figures more or less what she wants to do. Jilly and Bert will come in a few days with their boys William and Zane and the baby, Alexandra. Such a pretty name, and the poor child will never get to be a grown up big enough to fit into who her parents thought she might turn out to be. But Lucy stops herself from thinking about it too many ways. It’s generous of Jilly and Bert to be coming home when things are so hard, gas is up to 65 cents a gallon, and any comfort’s bound to turn cold.

“There’s nothing you can do, Mam,” Jilly had told her. Lucy knew Jilly thought she could keep others from pain if she kept it