The occasional train rumbled through the backyard of Louisa Herndon. No tracks ran there; there hadn’t been tracks in fifty years, ever since the spur that served Glendonton was discontinued. The railroad had come by and ripped up the tracks and ties and there was some talk about paving it as a bike trail, but for the time being it was a slightly raised and overgrown line that hunters occasionally used.
She didn’t know that trains were not supposed to run without tracks… she was too young to understand how rails and wheels fit together.
The Friday night of the full moon, Louisa knelt up on her bed and stared out the window as the steam engine, silver in the mist and moon, slowly slid through the yard, between the tire swing next to the stream and the laundry line out near the blackberry bushes. Father had left the sheets out after dark and they glowed in the headlights of the engine, and waved as the train stirred the breeze.
She had never watched the train before, only heard it as it rumbled past. It had never seemed to stop before either, but as she watched it slowly came to a halt. A man in a uniform and cap stepped out, put down a stool, and reached back to help a lady off the train. She stood on the grass, hands clutching a valise in front of her and the conductor reached back in and brought out an old suitcase. He tipped his hat to the lady, picked up the stool and reboarded the locomotive. A hiss of steam and the train pulled out, accompanied by half dozen passenger cars and a long line of freight.
The yard was eventually empty again, except for the lady passenger. She was dressed elegantly, even though the clothes seemed funny to Louisa, coming from a time that she also knew nothing about. She had a wide brimmed hat on, with elegant feathers fanning out from the crown, a cinched-in waist and full skirt with bustle. She turned her face up to the window Louisa watched her from and as the moonlight caught her elegant features, her eyes locked gazes with the child. She didn’t smile and something in her face frightened the girl, who dove under her covers. A few minutes later, she had summoned enough courage to peek outside again.
The lady was gone with her suitcase.
The next morning as Louisa was eating her cereal, she asked her father who the lady was she had seen get off the train. He wasn’t really listening, answering with an absent I-don’t-know. If he hadn’t been preoccupied with trying to get the boy ready for school, pack lunches, remember the errands he had to run after work and making sure Louisa was taken to the day care center, he might have asked her what she meant, what train, what woman. But since his wife passed, John Herndon had no time for anything but the basics of running a household and holding his family together.
Louisa’s big brother Geoff was involved in his own world and would only have called her a baby or stupid if she had asked him about it. So she turned her attention back to breakfast.