I’d been out of work almost a year.
My wife cried at the train station. I’d said my goodbyes to the kids back home, and that was hard enough. It about killed me when she started crying. She’s a strong country woman; doesn’t cry easy. Not like some. I almost turned around then and there.
But sometimes a man’s just got to do what’s right.
My brother’d said maybe he could get me on in Terra Haute. They do rubber work, tires and that sort of thing. He said it’s dirty, but it pays all right. That’d be fine with me. He couldn’t promise anything, though.
“Excuse me, sir. Is this seat taken?”
I’d never been outside Oklahoma in my life. Went so far as Tulsa with the family, but that’s all. My wife liked it, but honestly, I didn’t care for it. People talked faster; they seemed a little more worldly there.
“Are you heading on up to Michigan?”
“No, I’m getting off at Terra Haute.”
The woman next to me, early forties, I’d guess, seemed a little nervous. Probably first time on a train. Folks get a little chatty when they’re nervous, especially women.
“Oh, isn’t the scenery beautiful?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is.”
“Are you from Texas?”
She shifted in her seat and stared at her red-painted nails. She seemed nice enough, but wore too much makeup, in my opinion, especially for a gal her age.
“Do you have family in Terra Haute?”
“That’s nice. How long will you be visiting?”
“Well, that depends on if I can find a job.”
The woman didn’t have anything to say to that. What could she say? She clung tight to the handbag in her lap and gazed at the scenery.
After a while, her tongue got the better of her.
“What kind of work do you do?”
I shrugged. “About anything. I was a foreman at Anderson Grain, back home, till they went under.”
“Nothing to be done about it.”
“You have family?” she asked.
“Yep. A wife and three girls.”
“Must have been hard to leave them.”
“Yes, ma’am, it was.”
“You seem like a nice man.”
I was getting kind of tired and settled back to rest when I happened to glance over and saw her staring right at me with full, almost frightened eyes. I glanced around outside and then looked back. She was still staring.
“My husband made me promise not to do this again.”
“I swore I wouldn’t. I promised.”
“But I can’t help myself.”
“I don’t think….”
“Why don’t you come on up to Michigan with me?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t think so.”
“It’ll be all right. A good, strong man like you….”
“No, thank you.”
“You’d be well paid….”
“Try it a while. Maybe you’ll like it.”
She turned her head, finally, but her eyes remained wide open, fixed on the seat in front of her.
Now, I’m not normally one to judge too harshly….
“Just as well. Last time I did this, it didn’t work out.”
“In fact, it’s never worked out.”
“Now what’s that tell you…?”
“My husband’s probably right, I expect.”
“I expect so….”
“The good ones are already taken.”
“Yes, they…,” I hesitated. “Pardon?”
She looked at me. “No offense. I’m sure you’re a hard worker….”
“There’d be some reason. You’d be simple, or couldn’t get up in the morning, or you’d be like that bum from Freeport with a drinking problem. One way or another, you’d be there a week and then gone. Happens every time.”
“Ma’am, what exactly were you offering me?”
“A job, of course.” She shook her head and whispered, “simple,” under her breath. Then she paused.
“Why? What’d you think I was offering?”
I turned toward the window, no doubt beet red.
We sat in silence up through southern Indiana until we pulled into Terre Haute.
I began to gather my things.
“Sir?” she asked quietly, almost timidly.
“You really do have a wife and kids…?”
“Of course, ma’am. Of course I do.”
“But…but if you hadn’t…?”
“Oh, well…,” I sighed. “I guess I’d have made a bigger fool of myself than I did.”
Sometimes a man’s just got to do what’s right.
She smiled faintly. “Thank you.”
“God bless you too, ma’am.”
“Clara. My name’s Clara.”
“God bless you, Clara.”
“God bless you, too.”
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