Whistle stop


The hobo wandered up to yard, looking a little dazed and hungry. It was too hot to be sitting in the stuffy dark boxcar in 90-degree weather on this spring day.

Why was the train stopped anyway? It didn’t look like the rail yard. Far from it. But the crew was probably clearing something from the tracks, or waiting for another train miles down a connecting track get out of the way.

He hopped off before he melted.


“This is a mistake,” he thought, as he scooted down the gravel incline into the tall weeds. Old single-story houses lined the tracks on this side, all quiet, save for the barking mutt three yards down.

His bottle was nearly empty. He would need a refill before nightfall, even if it wasn’t going to be cold tonight.

His tattered army coat was making him sweat, but he never took it off, even on the hot days like this. It kept him respectable, somewhat.

The faded green hose snaked through the patches of dirt and grass in the yard before him. He walked through where the gate door would’ve been and traced the hose back to the rusty spigot atop the pipe sticking out of the ground near the house’s corner. Turning it on, he ambled back to the now gurgling end, which he picked up.

The water ran cooler and cooler as it poured over his dark rough hands. He splashed his face with the left hand, but didn’t drink it — he knew better than to mix water with his whiskey.

The visitor dropped the hose, never bothering to shut off the valve. He climbed the three stairs to the deck and pulled out an iron chair to hide in the shade under the large patio umbrella.

Mrs. Johnson had a good mind to call the cops. A strange man was sitting on Mrs. Carlisle’s porch, in broad daylight, causing Lord-knows-what kind of trouble and making Boingo the bulldog bark his fool head off.

She eyed him intently, keeping the curtains mostly closed for protection, in case he looked her way. She wished the phone was nearby, but it was all the way on the other wall of the kitchen, and she dared not leave her spot, not even for five seconds.

“Henry, call 911!” she whisper-shouted. But her grandson wouldn’t be home from school for hours.

A loud click and whir startled her. It was just the air conditioner coming on.

She had long misplaced her two-way radio for neighborhood watch, ever since the batteries died the night she left it on because the TV said carjackers were on the loose two towns over. The man at the drugstore tried to sell her the correct batteries, but she would have none of it because she knew they were the kind that would wear out too quickly.

Anyway, Mrs. Hoover, who had the other two-way radio, had moved away to a retirement community months ago.

Mrs. Johnson squinted at the prolonged exposure to the bright sun. It couldn’t be any good for her pale freckled cheeks.

“Shoo, shoo, get out of there,” she said to him, though he couldn’t possibly hear her.

They both turned to the shouting up the tracks. The engineer was sounding the all clear horn. The unscheduled stop was over.

The hobo pushed himself away from the table, not eager to resume the ride in the hellish boxcar. He hopped off the deck and shuffled out of the yard, still hungry, still loopy from the heat.

Mrs. Johnson maintained her gaze on the stranger, in case he decided to molest her newly planted petunias. But he wandered by, oblivious to everything except the hot sun, the still air, the nearly empty bottle he fingered mindlessly in his jacket pocket.

No one saw him jump the train once more, save Mrs. Johnson, safely trapped in her tidy air-conditioned kitchen. As the cars pulled away, she let the curtains fall back into place.

That was enough excitement for one day.


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