Five-thirty Freight


 

I

 

It was a cool morning with a soft northern breeze blowing across the lawn. Nancy shivered and drew her housecoat a little closer as she listened to the wail of the 5:30 freight climbing the hill across the holler. She shivered a little from the cold, but mostly from the excitement and joyful anticipation.

Bud had told her he would return only on the 5:30 freight. So, she knew exactly when he would return. That train came through on the second Friday of each month so it was easy to tell the time of his arrival. Or so she thought two years and three months ago when he left. Twenty-seven times, chilly and warm, she had waited like this for him.

She had received only two letters and one postal card from him. It wasn’t much, but her love for him had refused to die. She had lain awake many nights wondering what Bud was doing, wondering if he had a good job, if he had enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. But most of all, she hoped that he hadn’t found someone else to love. The city was a scary place.

Nancy rose and stepped lightly to end of the veranda. She ran her fingers skillfully through the loamy soil of a flower box. Absentmindedly, she plucked the tender blades of grass from around her prize pansy plants.

It’s only a ten-minute walk from the tracks to the front gate. If he’s coming he should be here soon.

Ten minutes … how well she knew. How well she remembered the times they two had spent hours on that trail. Especially just over the hill, in the woods by the little creek where they had eaten many Sunday dinners. She could almost smell the wieners roasting and the taste of egg-salad sandwiches.

A warm salty tear trickled down her cold cheek and splattered over a pansy leaf as she remembered the day she found Bud crying his heart out down by the creek. It was the first time she had ever seen Bud cry. It was the day his dog Butch had died; the day that he became a man and discovered that life has its sorrows.

It was almost three years ago, when they were coming back from one of their moonlight strolls, that he had dedicated his favorite song to his favorite girl. Green Sleeves. The following Monday he had bought her this very housecoat, with its green sleeves, no less.

 

Well, guess he isn’t coming. One more Friday of disappointment,” she muttered as she cast one more longing glance over her shoulder toward happiness, and sadly pulled open the screen door.

 

 

 

II

 

Bud was thinking hard as he sped along in his new MG; thinking about the last two years and the success he had gained.

He smiled to himself as he remembered the night he had left home with only eighty-three cents in his pocket, most of which he had borrowed from Nancy.

He looked at his watch … 4:40 a.m., he’d have to hurry to get to Sylvan Station before the train pulled out. After all he had promised Nancy that he would return on the freight, just like he left. If he missed it now there wouldn’t be another one for almost a month.

Of course, he could drive the last three miles to her house. He pressed the accelerator, he’d rather keep his promise.

The train was just beginning to move as he swung in behind the station and killed the motor. He snatched his jacket and sprang from the car.

Just in time,” he mumbled as he climbed aboard the third car from the end. He waved at old John, the switchman, who was shaking his finger at him. He remembered the last time he had seen John, He had tried to talk him out of leaving. Finally, he had given up and wished him luck and success.

Bud wondered if Nancy would be waiting for him this morning.

He looked around, “A beautiful morning!” he thought, “And I’ll bet the trail looks neat with all the Fall leaves lying around.” He wondered whether their little spot by the creek had changed much since he’d left. They were approaching the hill that slowed the train down enough for him to make a safe exit or boarding.

“The ground is still hard,” he mused. His jump confirmed his suspicions.

It had been a long night’s drive to be here on time, but it was worth it. He raced down the hill to wake himself up a little. The cool breeze across his eyes felt good.

The creek hadn’t changed. 
He paused over Butch’s grave and felt a twinge of grief as he remembered. His thoughts took the form of a rhyme.

 

The morning wears it’s usual look,

The heavens show no change.

Water flows on Elder’s Brook,

And only I am strange.”

 

He turned, crossed the creek and started up the hill toward the Smith’s farmhouse, where he was sure Nancy would be waiting for him. He remembered the night he gave her his favorite song. Involuntarily he started singing in his clear tenor voice:

 

I’m in love with the girl in the green sleeves, the green sleeves.

I’m in love with the girl in the green sleeves, she stole my heart away.”

 

III

There was a shriek, “That’s Bud! He’s back!” The screen door slammed behind Nancy, as she fairly flew to the gate. In a moment she was across the field and in his arms with passion flying high. The 5:30 freight had brought more than passion, more than love … it brought togetherness.

 

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