Corona Chronicles: Ghost Train Part 4 – Dinner is Served

Daphne fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her iPhone and IPad and was pleased that this newer car had an electric outlet near the door and across from the sink with it’s own little shelf.

Just then, Marilyn’s head appeared from around the corner and handed her a menu, “You’re getting off in Montana, right?

“Yes, Daphne smiled, “My husband’s picking me up in Havre. He’s got a long drive from the ranch. About 4 hours.”

“I heard from the crew coming from Seattle that the Montana National Guard is checking people’s temperatures at the station when they get off the train,” she said with a shrug.

“Ah, smart of them. The governor seems pretty serious about this flu. But, as I said, I’ve been self quarantined for 3 weeks, so I should be Okay.” Daphne said with as much confidence as she could muster with this bit of news. And then I’m just going to the ranch and self-quarantining again. So should work out just fine.”

Marilyn nodded and smiled and disappeared back around the corner.

Daphne was absorbing this bit of news of armed guards which for some reason made her think of the Russian Revolution in 1917 when the train jerked to a start. She grabbed the doorway. Then careened over to her seat as the train pulled out of the station. It picked up speed and before she knew it she was over the Chicago River. “Darn, didn’t get a picture of that or the Sears Tower,” she thought to herself

“And I will not call it the Willis Tower. Never!” she said out loud to nobody in particular. Then she struck a defiant pose with her fist in the air similar to that French gal in “Les Miserables” and then plopped into her seat.

The Sears Catalog arriving in the mail was a big part of growing up in Chicago along with the yearly Christmas trips to Marshall Fields department store for a fancy white gloved lunch and some of those Frango mints. Sometimes she and her mother would sneak downtown to a big movie like “Bambi” or “Ben Hur”. Dutch Calvinists weren’t supposed to go to the movies and certainly not the daughter of a Christian school administrator. So they had to sneak.

“To sneak is different than being a sneak, ” Daphne thought, but decided that she had to ponder that thought some more as the train chugged its way past the old warehouses of downtown Chicago. “ Being a sneak is a choice to live a certain way of life. And nobody likes a sneak. But to occasionally have to sneak away? To sneak out at night to meet your friends along the creek or sneak to Joliet to see “The Wackiest Ship in the Army”?  Well, that was different. Sneaking could be a courageous act. Yes, courage versus fear. It was sometimes necessary to walk that thin line between being well behaved and being naughty. Or was it really so thin? She thought there might be a lot of wiggle room between naughty and nice.  She felt that she was quite firmly seated in that wiggle room on a train heading west.

“I think this virus is making you think too much,” the invisible Cowboy Clay said softly in her ear.

She nodded and agreed then turned her attention back to the window and for the next half hour or so she watched nothing but empty streets and highways. The train whizzed past an occasional park and she could see people walking very far apart from each other. Then more empty streets.  The train made a stop at “Glenview”. Somebody got off, but nobody got on.

In a few minutes she would pass near where her middle sister had lived and was now interned. It was the closest she had been to this place since that sad day in the fall of 2003. Her sister had lived near the train station. If she looked hard enough maybe she could see her wave. If she was really able to time travel, she might. But she couldn’t. Not really.

She suddenly felt very hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast that morning and only had a protein bar at Union Station not really wanting to venture out of the lounge to find the one lone restaurant in the Food Court. And in answer to her silent prayer, a male voice came out of nowhere. Well, it came out of a speaker on the ceiling that she had not noticed before.

“Hello, my name is Tony and the Café Car will open in 15 minutes. The Café Car is located below the Observation Car. See you soon.”

Again, she felt a bit of fear come over her. This was a new train and she didn’t really know what to expect; but no sense chickening out now. So she sprayed her nose and sprayed her green paisley scarf with her magic medieval mist and wrapped it around her neck. Off she bounced down the narrow hallway past the coffee machine and down another long dark hallway and into a coach car with nobody in it. She felt like a pinball as she ricocheted from seat to seat down the aisle as the train bounced along the track.

She entered the near empty Observation Car. There was a young guy and further down a young woman sitting in the big lounge seats that looked out the large windows. In the center of the car was a winding staircase that she gingerly went down. She discovered another empty car with booths. Must be the Café Car. At the end of the car sat a man in a booth.

“Hi, you must be Tony,” Daphne said. “Can I see a menu?”

The man got up and went behind the counter and handed her a menu. She perused the menu then chose a hot dog and a can of lemon soda. He silently put it in a microwave and prepared a small box. (Tony was the silent type and not at all like Tony Curtis).

When the microwave dinged making the only sound besides the clickety clack of the train on the track, he placed the hot dog in the bun with some packets of mustard and mayo. Daphne handed him her credit card. He inserted and then handed it back.   Daphne made a mental note to wipe the card when she got back to the room. She added a tip and then signed the receipt.

“Thank you. I’ll be taking a break, so if you want to order something else, you might want to do that soon,” he said a little wistfully.

“Good to know,” she said. She wondered if that might be the only tip he got all afternoon.

2 People in Observation Car to Milwaukee

This was very strange.

With some difficulty she made her way back up the narrow staircase and back into the Observation Car where she chose one of those big seats so she could observe as she chomped off a bit of hot dog and swigged some soda. Her friend Joanna had said that the bartender on her trip on The Empire Builder had made a great Bloody Mary. But the bar up here was closed and this was definitely not the kind of trip to “enjoy oneself” by having a drink on a day off or because you were on vacation. Every day was off now. Really off. And this was no vacation. But it was starting to feel kind of homey. As she took her last bite, she wondered if it might be nice to just stay on this train forever. To go all the way to Portland and then head back East. Just keep going back and forth and back and forth.

The train lurched around a curve and she snapped out of her reverie without Clay having to tell her to do that. Looked like they were heading into a city. Must be Milwaukee.

After a short stop in Milwaukee where the two people in the Observation Car got off and three adults and three children got on and sat in the coach section of the Portland end, the train sped North. Even though she had the whole car to herself, she started feeling a bit exposed, oddly enough. So she decided to go back to her room.

She ricocheted her way back through the coach car; passed a young guy and the family; bumped through the roomette car and back down the hall to her room. She settled in to her seat and watched the farm country of Wisconsin whiz by. The train made stops in Columbus, then Portage before reaching the Wisconsin Dells. Many times her family had stopped in The Dells on the way to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Minnesota. One of her favorite childhood pictures was of her on a stuffed buffalo and her sister Deb on a bunking bronco.

Nostalgia overwhelmed her at times. This was turning into quite a trip down memory lane. But wasn’t that one of the reasons why she chose a train and, in particular, this train? If she was going to succumb to some virus, she wanted to retrace her steps. She wanted her life to literally flash before her eyes out the sleeper car window. She wanted one last glance at Chicago and Wisconsin and Minnesota before she pulled that “Emergency Exit” lever.

“Well, aren’t we the drama queen today,” said a voice that wasn’t Clay’s or Olya’s. Must be her Cassandra that slapped her silly this time.

Actually Marilyn was standing in the doorway, “I said have you decided on dinner?”

Dinner Menu on Empire Builder

“Ah, yes. Let me see…” Daphne grabbed the menu and gave it a glance.

Then she laughed and said, “I think I’ll go big and have the ‘Land and Sea’ combo. Seems appropriate.”

Marilyn laughed too, “ Yes, and it’s very popular.”

“I’ll have the half bottle of white wine.”

Marilyn nodded and said, “Let me know if there is anything else.” And off she went.

Daphne broke out the deck of cards she brought and thought it might be time for a game of solitaire. Whenever she felt anxious, she liked to play games. And for some reason she was feeling a bit untethered.  Maybe it was the way the train was swaying back and forth like a fish’s tail. Odd. Or was it? Nothing about this whole trip was really steady.

After a couple of lousy hands, Marilyn appeared with dinner. She had her mask and gloves on and a big bag.

“Probably best that you take things out and then when you’re done put them back in the bag and throw it in the trash can at the end of the hall,” she said and placed the bottle of wine and a plastic cup on the tray table. “Except for the silverware. I’ll pick up those and the napkin up later.”

Daphne was pleased that on this train she had a nice linen napkin and real utensils. No plastic except for the cup for the wine. And so she began her meal. She ate three bites of the flat iron steak and two bites of the crab cake. Then a bit of potatoes and what looked like the ubiquitous vegetable medley.

And then with a whoosh she felt very sick. Her stomach had a bad feeling and she thought she was going to throw up.

“Oh no,” she thought, “I’m going to die on this train. I have the horrible plague and I’m going to expire and Mike is going to have to pick up a dead body instead of the live me. Will they haul my dead ass off at Minneapolis a few hours from now?

She was trying to deep breathe but that wasn’t helping. She decided she had best call Clay as he was used to talking her down from her bouts of hysteria. She punched in his number.

“Hello”, Clay said in his usual way.

“Clay, I’m really sick. I started eating dinner but then felt like throwing up. I thought you could talk some sense into me,” then she added hopefully, “Maybe it’s motion sickness? But I feel pretty  bad and I’m scared.”

“You’ll be Okay. I’m sure it’s a combination of traveling and the rocking of the train. Just lay down for a little and try to relax.”

“Ha, Ha, Ha, relax?” she moaned.

“Maybe drink some water, but don’t eat anymore for awhile. You’ll be fine. Don’t talk yourself into being sick. You will be here soon and things will settle back to normal,” he said in his usual matter-of-fact way.

She sighed and said, “Okay. Goodnight.”

With that she began putting the food out of sight and back into the large plastic bag saving the roll and butter and the chocolate cake just in case she wasn’t dying and might need something to eat later. She woozily got up and staggered down the hall and threw away her dinner and then staggered back. She sat on the edge of the seat and stared at the tray. There was the bottle of wine. She hadn’t even taken a sip. She really must be sick.

Marilyn appeared at the doorway, “Are you finished?”

Daphne did not want to let on that she was ill and worry Marilyn so she said, “Yes, I threw everything in the trash. Thanks. ”

“We have a fresh air stop coming up in about 10 minutes. I think it would do you good to get out and get some exercise. So let me make up your bed now, so you can get some sleep after that,” she said.

“Okay,” Daphne said weakly.

Marilyn quickly pulled down the upper berth and got out the mattress, sheets, and blanket then yanked the upper berth back up. With a swoosh and whoosh she pulled out the sofa into the bed, plunked down the mattress with the sheets and put two blankets on the end of the bed and plumped the pillows. She whisked away the silverware and napkins under her arm.

“I’ll be back in ten,” she said.

Daphne put on her sweater, her coat and hat and waited.  In a bit, Marilyn came back as the train ground to a halt. They both went down the winding stairs and out into the cold air.  Down the way other passengers were getting out and some were lighting up cigarettes. Ah yes, that woman in the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago had complained about not being able to smoke on the train and how she had to wait for the inappropriately named “fresh air stops”.

Fresh air. Daphne breathed it in and walked up and down the tracks. She saw the sign that said, “Winona, MN”.  She had crossed another border. She was very weak but she made herself walk and tried to carry on a conversation but couldn’t really think of much to say. Marilyn talked for them both. She asked Daphne  if she wanted tea and Daphne said yes and did manage to mumble something about the air freshener in the room being a bit intense.

Daphne squeezed into the thin space between the bed and the sink area. She took her coat and sweater off and changed into her sleep things. She eyed the bottle of wine. It looked a little better. She eyed the roll and butter. They didn’t look any better.

Marilyn appeared with the hot water and said, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Yes,” Daphne said and hoped that was true.

She put her Nighty Night tea bag in the hot water. Then she eyed the bottle of wine again. Maybe a sip. Hmmmm? That was not bad.  She took another.  Lo and behold, she felt even better. Maybe the fresh air had done her good.  So she had another sip. She felt a lot better. She leaned back against the pillows and sighed. She was going to be Okay, just as Clay had said. It was stress. It was all in her head. “Well, yes, of course but that doesn’t make it less real,” she always answered him.

She harumf’d at this ongoing back and forth that she and Clay had about anxiety being a real thing.  But he never got it.  She sipped her wine and decided to write down some notes about the events of that day before she forgot.  She had been in some strange waiting area.  Where was she now she wondered?  She looked out the window.  It was twilight and it looked like a Grimm’s fairy tale outside.  Yes, much of the last 24 hours had been like a fairy tale or a tall tale of some kind.  She wasn’t in Kansas, that’s for sure.  Or New York.  She was heading into the lakes and woods of Minnesota and the land of the Dakota.  She reached for the sleepy time tea and it was warm.  She began to fall asleep. Within minutes she had crawled between the sheets and pulled the blanket up to her chin and was soothed once again by Mother Train who settled in to a gentle rocking to and fro…to and fro…to and….

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