The Train Wreck

Prompt: Writing Prompts App by
Place: a cafeteria (cafe)
Character: a train engineer
Object: a tin watering can
Mood: wary
Draft: final
Proofread by: R.L. Campbell

The engineer entered the cafe unaware of the mornings news. It was one of those old time cafes in the heart of any-town, USA. He expected to see the one waitress and a short-order cook. Even the game trophies hanging on the wall. A small television, the old style CRT, not seen often these days, sat on the far end of bar counter.

As he made his way to a booth by the front window, the waitress stood up and crushed out her cigarette in the tray next to the tube. The only other person, sitting next to her, also stood, but made no move to the kitchen door. He wore the white but dirtied apron identifying him as the short-order cook. He just stood there watching the news unfold, and breathed strongly from his cigarette, brow furrowed.

The engineer slid into the booth, and glanced out the window. Across the street, the business door beneath the flattened tin watering cup opened. A woman exited the flower shop. She greeted another woman on the way in. The two talked for a moment then embraced. Even from across the street, the engineer could see at least one of the women was shaking, as if laughing, or sobbing.

“Tragic, isn’t it?” The waitress said as she placed an empty coffee cup on the table before the engineer.

“Sorry?” he asked, taking his eyes away from the two women hugging in the doorway of the flower shop, and focused on the waitress’s face. She was pretty, in her middle years, if he had to guess. Seeing her attention was being held by the water cup she now filled, he stole a look at her ring-less hand. It was instinct, or habit, and meant no malice. He had to be way too old for her.

“The train crash this morning,” she answered catching his eye, and slipping the menu from under her arm, sliding it along the table top to him.

‘Train crash,’ he thought, ‘what does she know?’ He quickly looked away as flashes of a gruesome scene flashed in front of him. ‘No,’ he screamed in his mind. ‘God no’. Out of the train window he could see the station wagon stopped on the tracks. He reached up and pulled the air release tether. The deafening sound of the engines horn blared out. He activated the brakes, even though he knew it would not help at this distance.

“Coffee?” He heard the waitress ask from outside his thoughts.

The engineer gave a shutter and opened his eyes. His verbal response was involuntary. “Decaff,” he said.

“Okay sweety,” she said. He could tell by her hesitation she wanted to say more, but with her sigh, he felt more than saw, her turn and walk away.

‘Calm down,’ he told himself. ‘She cannot possibly know. She cannot.’ He focused his mind enough to look out the window. He concentrated on breathing steady, and hid his shaky hands in his lap.

Out the window he saw that the two women were not standing in the doorway to the flower shop anymore. One of them, perhaps the woman who had come out of the shop, stood holding on to the drivers door of a modern SUV. Her shoulders shaking, and he knew she was sobbing openly now.

‘I did this,’ he knew in his mind as he watched the silent proceedings in the street out the cafe window. ‘They know it was me, but how?’

As he watched the woman sobbing at her car door, a running man in an apron appeared from his side of the street. The man in the apron ran from some business out of site and crossed the street to the sobbing woman. He held her, and she seemed to collapse into his arms. From inside the cafe, the engineer could faintly hear her wails of grief.

“That poor woman,” A gentle voice declared beside him. “Is that… Oh no, that can’t be Mrs. Jones. The news hasn’t listed names, just the numbers.” She paused. “Oh dear, if she’s crying like that… Oh no, oh no God please not them.” The waitress dropped a bundle of utensils wrapped in a napkin next to the now filled coffee cup, put a hand to her mouth and jogged back to the cook who was still standing by the television set.

‘What have I done?’ The engineer thought as he watched the waitress talk quietly with the cook. He glanced at the news footage broadcasting through the television screen. Aerial footage portrayed a devastating scene. ‘I know this, I cannot escape it. It torments me for months!’

His thoughts take him back to the brakes. He knew they could not do anything. He looked toward to the station wagon he was barreling toward. The crash was imminent. This time, the driver door was open and a woman was waving her arms frantically, not at him though. He watched her run to the drivers-side passenger door and open it. He gripped the air-release tether and pulled, not to warn, not to save the woman and her passengers. He grabbed it out of protocol yes, but also to embrace the inevitable, and brace for the impact he knew he wouldn’t feel.

The engineer watched as, like magic only a mother could perform, in one motion the flailing arms of the driver opened the passenger door and scooped out the tiniest baby the engineer had ever seen, and the woman ran. For just an instance, he knew he was witnessing the only woman NFL quarterback in history to make a sixty yard touchdown in mere moments. Her image was as crystal, yet she blurred in agonizing slow motion. The woman was fast and the engineer hoped it was fast enough. As the train bore down on the wagon, the engineer’s view nearly looking straight down, a door opened. The passenger side, rear-passenger door flew open, and an Indian dashed out! No, not an Indian, a child, a baby in nothing but a diaper! The child ran hard. Yes, it ran away from the vehicle, yes, it ran away from the train… but, it ran along the rails!

‘This is past!’ his inner voice yelled. ‘It is done!’

Like blasts from the defibrillator, the mind-voices screamed to be heard. He was not an engineer any more. That career was over decades ago.

The hugging in the street had increased. ‘Look at this, it’s different!’ He looked. Everybody in town needed or wanted a hug. Everybody on the other side of the cafe window were hugging; taking one from another, and taking another to another. Those images were different from the television pictures, which showed death, destruction, and terror. In real life, the engineer saw comfort and love in the embraces on the other side of the window.

And understanding combined with hope.

The engineer turned back to the tearful waitress and short-order cook comforting each-other. He could see their emotions. They comforted in one another.

He left the booth and joined the two around the television set.

The television was airing an interview with a bystander. It was live. In the background and to the side like all ‘news’ programs. But the engineer’s thoughts were on another interview. There are things you see in life you can never forget, it is as if the images of what you saw get written in memory with permanent ink. Those memories are like scars for the mind, and sometimes haunt. They haunt like the memory of a child in diapers running gleefully away from danger, yet gleefully into death.

The engineer closed his eyes. In the train there were no tears, it was all part of the job. In the aftermath, there were no tears, he knew he could do nothing. In the moment that it happened, his eyes teared and he closed them. His last image was of the tiny Indian running before the train warding off possible deaths.

In the cafe, he looked upon the recent local damage. This was not his fault. The waitress and the cook beside him knew nothing of the crash he drove into.

“That poor engineer,” he said. Unnoticed and away from his mind, both the waitress and the cook nodded solemnly. He did not notice. Instead, he remembered a news interview from twenty years ago…

“Goodnight, and welcome as we welcome an amazing story of the miracle of a mothers love for her children…
“That sounds so scary. Your car dead on the tracks, a train hurdling toward you. You’re stalled out, what did you do?”

“Well, I didn’t think about it much. I knew without the motor running, [the automobile] was stuck. I just went back to Issy, ah Isabelle. She was the closest in the back seat. While I unbuckled her I simply told Jacob, ‘remember how I told you to never run in parking lots? He nodded to me, smiling. I told him ‘forget it! Open that door and run!” She teared up but tried to smile for the cameras. “By that time I had Issy unbuckled, so I turned and ran.” The woman burst into tears. “I’m such a bad mother!”

“No, no. It’s why you are here today. The warning bar failed. You had no idea there was a train coming. And then your engine stopped. You did the only thing anyone could do given the time it all took. Your story is a miracle. Now tell us, when did you first know about Jacob?”

“Thank you.” The woman in the interview smiled. “I only took what was maybe three or four steps..”

“Don’t kid us Maybell, we’ve seen the destruction zone,” the interviewer says. “You were cleared by forty feet or more, when it was all done.”

“I know, when I watch that footage, it baffles me… with, you know the car between the rails and the canal. . .” The woman continues. “But, it’s true, that’s what I remember, I took a couple steps and looked back. Jake was just standing there on the bank of the canal. I waved for him to come over, and he did. I cannot explain it, but here we are…”