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…