I don't usually go in for those replica railways, with their restored engines and funny little cars from the last century, that provide at best a short loop ride starting from an ancient station in dire need of repair and chugging through the brush and over a few gorges on rickety bridges deserving condemnation. They exist as an excuse to charge great sums to take the nephew on an outing and another large fee for the scanty box lunch.
Yet somehow I recently found myself a passenger on one. It progressed by fits and starts, sometimes slowing down, then jerking back into motion, only to stop dead a few minutes later to offer a photo opportunity that was soon digitalized by the countless cameras on board. Never did we manage to make over 30 miles per hour as we chugged along in the midafternoon sun, yet it seemed an ideal day for such an outing, and I was enjoying the slight breeze on my face in spite of the smuts wafting through the open window from the smokestack up ahead and the bruises inflicted by the rock-hard wooden bench beneath me.
This, after all, was God's country, just a few miles south of the Canadian border but still well within the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Inside the packed railway carriage passengers swayed and nudged one another, pointing out the scenic views -- except for me, of course. I was sitting alone, perhaps the only person on the train unaccompanied by a nephew, and the seat beside me was vacant.
Suddenly a commotion arose at the head of the car as the passageway door banged open and a majestic figure clad in bib overalls and a red bandana neckerchief strode through it and on down the aisle. Cameras swung toward the new arrival and started clicking, but he never paused until he reached my seat. It was the engine driver!
"Kin I use your window, sonny?" he uttered, leaning halfway into the vacant bench beside me. He was a giant, aglow with that physical fitness so characteristic of the American laboring man. Shirtless under his bibs, his brawny arms and knotted muscles gleamed in the bright afternoon light. As he brushed past me I inhaled the rich scent of honest toil, and the hair in my nostrils fluttered.
Awestruck, I slid even further away from the open window, giving the mighty giant all the room he cared to take. He leaned forcefully over the window sill, heedless of the black soot and flying embers cascading from the engine at the front of the train. Momentarily I froze, suddenly aware that if the driver was here beside me, then who was operating the train? But my momentary confusion was abated as he turned to me and placed a massive hand on my shoulder. Hot blood coursed through my entire body at his touch, and I nearly failed to hear his words as he spoke.
"Look up there, sonny!" He pointed with a magnificent greasy digit into the sky. I craned to see past his immense frame and could barely peer over his rock-like shoulder, which I could not help noticing was smothered in patriotic tattoos involving eagles, flags, and the word ‘Mother.’ I continued to inhale his heady aroma as I attempted to discern the object of his scrutiny.
"Doncha see them damn geese?" he bellowed.
Aha! I nodded mutely, but since I was behind him he did not see my response.
"Well? Cain't you see 'em?"
I finally managed to clear my throat and croak "Yes, sir."
"Would you say those were American Geese or," and here his voice fell to a harsh whisper, "Canadian Geese?"
"Hmm," I managed to choke, still overwhelmed by my circumstance, "they appear to be Canadian."
"Damn straight, pilgrim!" the incensed driver thundered in my ear, "Those are forrin birds here in the U.S. of A.! Those are illegal immigrants!" he roared, and his vise-like fingers clutched deeply into my shoulder. He was embracing me! With a grunt I collapsed onto the bench, my entire right side blazing with pain. I looked up and found that I was staring directly into the engine driver's bibs, at his waistline. I could see nothing but alabaster skin! He Was Not Wearing Any Underwear! HE WAS COMMANDO!! I fainted.
I found out much later that I had been unconscious throughout the onboard riot that followed upon the engine driver's pronouncement. The very next day war was declared against Canada, following the evidence given by the heroic engine driver accompanied by a few ticket takers clad in their period costumes and presented to our national Congress assembled in joint session. The feeble claim by the Canadian government that the geese in question had been on their way to Ottawa when they had been blown off course was laughed off the floor of our venerable legislative chamber. The vote for war was unanimous. Although I had been called to testify, my deposition was not required.
Try as I might, I have never been able to return to that bucolic railway, since the entire scenic location is well within the war zone and off-limits as our guns continue to pound away at the endless flocks of Canadian geese intent upon winging their illicit way into the United States. So I never saw my brave engine driver again, alas. Such are the fortunes of war.
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