Friday excerpt from River of January.
She found a berth facing a woman and her child. Unable to generate a polite smile, she looked out the window. Chum stood below on the platform wearing the same gloomy expression.
Throwing aside her decorum, Helen passionately placed her right hand onto the window. He responded to her gesture with a sad smile, and raised his palm on the opposite side. They both continued to press the window, even after the train shuttered forward. Chum jogged a few steps, gradually pacing to a stop. Helen dissolved into grief. The lady in the opposite seat quickly produced some chocolates and oranges, distracting her gawking son with the snack.
After nearly two hours of bumpy travel, a puffy-eyed Helen was abruptly jolted awake. She looked around, momentarily disoriented. Then she and the other riders detected a distinct whining, mechanical, hum rising above the din of the train’s thundering locomotive.
Alarm spread, passengers in the car raising a panicked chatter. Shouting at once, the riders moved chaotically about the train car, most rushing to the windows. At the same time a porter burst into the car, rushing down the aisle, shouting in both Spanish and English, “Please return to your seats. All is well; nothing is awry with the equipment. Please calm yourselves and quickly sit down!”
Frightened, Helen searched out her own window looking for smoke or worse, fire streaking past the glass. Instead, a deep sense of wonder spread through her being, replacing any fear of danger. She caught sight of a lone Waco Cabin biplane soaring above the trees and power lines parallel to the speeding train. Both of her hands now caressed the window, as an enchanted smile lit her surprised face. Then, as though he knew she was watching, the pilot waggled his wings in hello, soon pulling up, gaining altitude, and then Chum looped back toward Rio. Helen, her heart full, sat back, marveling at the power of her cascading emotions.
Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January