Chapter two Grains of Sand
“I’m going to run sand through the flues before we get to Lamy,” Angel said loudly over the noise of the locomotive running at full chat.
I had been keeping the throttle open wide, we were making good time and would get to Lamy a little early. Plus I’d be able get out of the cab and give the engine a look-see, with time left over to send off my weekly notes to my editor.
Angel locked open the firebox doors, turned and took a big shovel full of sand from the box on the coal tenders footplate. Turning gracefully, Angel held the shovel even with the firebox threshold. The shovel and sandy contents were illuminated by the fire, or the fire-from-hell, as I call it.
In preparation, Angel had elevated the smokestack to full height and turned on the blower in the blast pipe, which created a draft that sucked the coal dust from the floor of the cab and through the now open firebox doors.
I pulled up my googles from where they were hanging at my chest, and pulled down my grimy engineers cap. I knew from experience, once the sand hit the flues a shower of grit and soot would be blasted skyward from the stack into the quiet night.
A tornado of sand hovered just above the shovel before being sucked, with a great whoosh, into the burning hell in the firebox. Angel deftly held the shovel at the correct height and distance from the firebox mouth to allow just enough of the sand to get ‘sucked,’ at just the correct rate into the fire.
I sat mesmerized envisioning the grains of sand flying off the shovel through the fire and into the flues in the central part of the boiler. I leaned out the cab window and was treated to a display of sparks, tens of thousands of bright diamonds, blasted heavenward, a display that equaled any man-made fireworks.
A thought struck me: the individual grains of sand were passing through the fire like the days of my life, through the conflagration, to rise again as a Phoenix into the dark sky.
“Do you think she will be there?” I yelled at Angel as the final grains of my life went into the fire.
“I asked the conductor on the last trip if he knew who she was. She’s a starlet filming in Los Angeles and she and her boy had the biggest compartment on the sleeper car from Chicago but she may have even originated on the train from New York City. A big greeting committee met her at Union Terminal; plenty of press from prominent newspapers and tabloids. Apparently, the flash from the bulbs in the big press cameras scared her little boy because he hid behind her legs and held on to her with a death grip. Rumor is that she is having an affair with a well-known male star, a married one, you know Los Angeles, anything goes now-a-days.” Angel rattled off the litany of facts as if she was intimately aware of the young woman’s life and continued,“I saw a letter her agent sent to the railroad praising you for your skill as a driver and for inspiring her little boy, who wants to become a railroad engineer, which I bet the superintendent of the railroad will mention in the monthly company magazine, you’ll be the envy of every railroad man on the system.”
I became filled with pride, the pride of the knowledge someone knew about my skill and filled with the pride that comes up with the arousal of seeing a pretty girl.
“I know what’s on your mind,” Angel yelled at me as she threw open the fire doors one more time to check on the fire bed. “I’ll take care of your predicament with a trick I know, once this trick comes to an end.” Angel always had a way with words. “Did you answer your editor’s questions on your progress towards finishing your novels or is your head still in the flue?”
“I have a wire ready to go when we get to Lamy. It’ll bring her up-to-date but isn’t exactly a wire, it’s an email.”
“What’s an e that mails?” Angel asked inquisitively.
“Something only writers can do,” I retorted, “wires are so-o-o 1939-ish. Emails are so-o-o 2018-ish.”
“You got me there big-boy. You can explain it to me when we are in bed, that’s after you complete your assignment with me, you know what I mean?”
I looked over at Angel, who had on more clothes this trip. Or at least I think so because she’s wearing a light blue chambray long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I won’t know what, if anything, is underneath until we get to the boardinghouse after our trick is over.
I want to help her wash the coal dust from her face and neck, among other places. It always amazes me that I can be with Angel that way and still think of another woman. A guy thing I guess.
Angel seems to be able to read my mind. “I don’t want you to wash your hands right away when we get in tonight. I want you to press some of your greasy sooty fingerprints on me. You know, the special places on my body. I can look in the mirror on the bathroom door and see where my man has touched me. By the way, it’s okay if you think of her, I’ll be thinking of her paramour.”
I saw the city limit sign go by and backed off on the steam. The train was drifting now, slowing under its own weight. Down from eighty-five, down below sixty. The yard limit was approaching; I applied the train brake and slowed us to twenty-five and then fifteen mph.
Angel was preparing the fire for the twenty minute station stop. She would have the steam pressure just below the pop-off point of two hundred ten pounds stabilized and ready for our departure when it was time to leave.
We entered the platform on Track One, which was filled with passengers, porters, well-wishers and loved ones.
I searched for her as I rolled to just the right place on the platform. Using the engine brake I gently took up the slack and we came to a stop next to the REA wagons; I gave a quick blast on the whistle notifying the conductors that the train was at a complete stop.
“I’m going to the Western Union counter to deliver my email,” I said in a loud voice.
“You don’t need to yell now, we’re stopped,” Angel answered, a little annoyed.
“Oh yeah, a force of habit I guess,” my ears still ringing from the engine noise and the wind at the cab windows.
“What are you going to tell your editor?” Angel asked softly this time.
“I’m going to tell her how far I have gotten on chapter four of `Michael and Lark,’ how little I got done on the beginning chapter of book two of `Secrets.’ And, alas, how lonely I am.”
“Don’t be lonely,” Angel said compassionately, “you will always have me.”