The Night Train

By | October 3, 2019
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The Night Train

I can’t sleep on this quiet starry night. I toss and turn and get up and walk around the house. It’s too dark and too quiet. I’m too uneasy, but there’s nothing on this night that relaxes me, nothing that will help me sleep. I look in the refrigerator as if there is something in there that will help me sleep. Milk? Juice? Jam? Leftover chicken?

I decide to make some hot tea and watch TV – surely there is something to watch that would bore me to sleep – there almost always is. I need something droning and uninteresting. I scan the channels and settle on C-Span. Nothing more boring than watching congress in action. But tonight C-Span is showing a group of protesters and they’re noisy and they aggravate me. I flip on the Roku and graze the apps – Netflix, PBS, Amazon Prime, Smithsonian… I click on Amazon Prime and scroll though the offerings. I find one that says “Box Fan for sleep and relaxation”. I turn it on – after all, what could be more boring than the sound of a box fan droning. White noise.

I drink my tea and watch the box fan’s blades blurring and whirring. I still can’t sleep. The harder I try, the more futile it seems – sleep seems like a dream. And if you can’t sleep – a bad dream.

The wind is blowing from the south tonight. When the wind comes from the south – it’s warm. The air seems full of its tropical upbringing. It’s a welcome wind way up here in March and April, but this time of year – autumn – it seems out of place.

The bedroom window is open and the southerly breeze makes the curtains float like ghosts. I imagine myself, a little boy, shaking with fear as the ghosts flutter in the breeze. But now, all grown up, I just see curtains that remind me of ghosts. Only this and nothing more.

I become more and more irritated with my inability to drift off to sleep. I’m jealous. Everyone in my little town is asleep but me. But I know that that’s not true. I’m sure somewhere, some policeman or policewoman is cruising the streets on the lookout for some furtive skulker slinking in the shadows. And I’m sure the gas station/convenience “mart” up on Main street is open. They’re open 24 hours – even on Christmas. But most everyone else is asleep.

But I’m not. I’m wide awake, listening to the wind and watching my ghostly curtains rustle and billow. The wind has too much equator in it – it’s too warm for this time of year. I should close the windows and turn on the air conditioner, but I love the smell of the fresh air and the sound of the wind. It puts me to sleep – but not on this night.

When the wind blows from the south, all the sounds from the southern side of my little town float up this way. There’s a large train yard down there. It’s mostly been replaced with a more modern “AI” controlled facility a couple of dozen miles from here. But there is still some activity in the train yard now and again- and when the wind blows from the south sometimes I can hear the faint clanking and clattering of train cars being coupled and uncoupled.

The wind is southerly and quite brisk tonight and when I listen intently, I can hear the sounds of the train yard on and off. I think that the police and gas station employees and customers are not the only ones wide awake at 3:00 AM on this Tuesday morning. There must be some men and women working in the train yard hitching and unhitching coal and livestock cars.

The train yard is on the verge of closing, has been for years. I wonder what those people think as they hook and unhook the railroad cars. To them, it must seem like a neverending repetitive task – hooking up and unhooking the cars from the groaning diesel-powered electric engines. I wonder if they ever think about the day the train yard will close and their expertise is no longer needed. I hear the new train yard has only a handful of employees. AI-controlled robots do the work that once was done by dedicated and loyal human beings.

While I’m thinking about those poor souls about to lose their situation and watching the warm southerly winds ripple the bedroom curtains, I hear the forlorn sound of the train whistle. This one won’t be stopping at the train yard. This is a passenger train. It’s the 4:08 to New York City. It’s just now pulling into the train station only a couple of miles south of here.

Not many people from my little town take the train to New York City. I guess that’s why it stops here at 4:08. Next stop Cleveland, then Eire, then Buffalo and then who knows?

I hear the forlorn train whistle growing nearer. Its lonely sound carried on the same southerly wind that was born at the equator and softly tempered by its journey through the Tropic of Cancer, and which flutters my bedroom curtains as it plays its soft song for me.

The train is stopping at the station now – I imagine. I realize there are more people awake than I imagined. And I realize that I’m not as alone tonight as I thought. There must be someone working at the station and perhaps a lonely traveler or two waiting for the 4:08 AM train to New York City.

And I know the engineer and his crew are awake. My thoughts stray and waver I’m so tired. I wonder where the engineer lives. Does he have a wife? Does he have kids? Will the engineer end his workday in New York or will he turn the train around and head back to points west?

I think of all the little towns, just like mine, that the train passes through on its nocturnal journey. And I yawn. The melancholy and scarcely audible train whistle sounds again – and I imagine the train just now leaving the station and disappearing into the warm and windy autumn night.

I imagine that the tracks are dark ahead of the train as it slowly increases speed. I can almost see the bright headlight of the train illuminating a narrow yet deep path through the night. It’s kind of like life, I think, as I yawn again.

I can hardly keep my eyes open as the train whistle disappears into the night.

I yawn again. I close my eyes and I wonder…

3 thoughts on “The Night Train

  1. Barb

    My Dad was an engine driver on the old steam trains and now, at 85, I can relate to your story of trains in the early hours. I used to listen to the methodical sound of shunting trains as they stirred up energy and then let it rattle down again as they moved cars from one line to another. My Dad didn’t drive those very often, most of his work involved passenger trains, but trains of any kind still never fail to enthrall me. You could easily drop off to sleep listening to shunting in the night. Unfortunately, that option no longer exists.
    Thank you for the memories.

  2. Norris Kenwright

    I love trains and engines and from a young boy in the early 1940’s travelled everywhere in the North of England spotting engines to write in my “Ian Allen” book of all the engines I saw. One of my favourite poems is the “Night Mail” by W.H. Auden. It has a lovely opening beat to it.
    THE Night Mail
    This is the night mail crossing the Border,
    Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

    Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
    The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

    Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
    The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.

    Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
    Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

    Snorting noisily as she passes
    Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

    Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
    Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.

    Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
    They slumber on with paws across.

    In the farm she passes no one wakes,
    But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

    Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
    Down towards Glasgow she descends,
    Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
    Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
    Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
    All Scotland waits for her:
    In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs
    Men long for news.

    Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
    Letters of joy from girl and boy,
    Receipted bills and invitations
    To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
    And applications for situations,
    And timid lovers’ declarations,
    And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
    News circumstantial, news financial,
    Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
    Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
    Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
    Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
    Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
    Written on paper of every hue,
    The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
    The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
    The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
    Clever, stupid, short and long,
    The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

    Thousands are still asleep,
    Dreaming of terrifying monsters
    Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston’s or Crawford’s:

    Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
    Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
    They continue their dreams,
    But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
    And none will hear the postman’s knock
    Without a quickening of the heart,
    For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

  3. Jackie Keesee

    I love your posts and I hate sleepless night too. Watching the digital clock does not help either. I pray a bit then change positions and get the cool part of my pillow. I did buy a white noise machine at Walmart years ago and it does help. I always crack a the window over my bed and turn the paddle fan on low. All that and I still have sleepless nights, you are not the only one.


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