Wondering Along the Nile
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The train hasn't stopped
But the poet hasn't moved in a while
There's these pale see-through ladies
Looking through me, as we ride along the Nile
The clackety-clacking of the running gears and the wheel sets sprung into piston motion. Chuffed-up fire-tube boiler dragged the locomotive along the tracks. Chug. Chug. Chug—and the steam scream from the horn whistled out a warning, out onto thousands of miles of flat desert land. Echoes of metal thudding and chugging bawled throughout the deep velvet interior. There, inside, the seats and back rests were button cushioned and soft. The rich carpet, emerald hued, was lined with gold-coloured stripes.
The arid air whistled into the carriage once the little window squeaked open. Never as good as fresh air, but better than the increasingly choking heat. Until dust and specs of sand flew into the carriage, almost blinding her. The Lady closed the window. She snapped her fan open, and with a flurry waved it at herself. It had hand-painted silk leaves, a hand-painted scene of a verdant, fertile green tree behind which were brooding grey mountains under a bright blue sky, it was pearl and ivory ribbed, inlaid with silver and little round rubies, with the rest of its monture of a deep oak: the guards, the sticks, the pivot and head all. She waved the fan about her face, whipping up the dry air cooler, and she sighed.
Desert stretched for hundreds of leagues to her left. A faint, glimmering brightness drew her attention from her right. But discerning the details of the shining line across the horizon proved to be an exasperating effort. Instead, she looked about the carriage, left, and right, forward and back. There were five rows in front of her, stretching towards the far end of the carriage ahead, and three rows behind her. But from her seat, there was no living soul to be found aboard.
Another locomotive screech made her jump up in her seat, nigh letting out an improper gasp. Covering her mouth with her gloved hand, she remembered there was nobody around to hear her. Though there was no telling if someone or something hid behind any of the backseats further down the carriage.
Moving along her seat row, she reached with her legs and bustle dress into the middle aisle. It was a pathway cutting through the entire car. There was a door at the back, leading into another carriage towards the back of the train, and a door on the opposite towards the front. The floorboard rattled beneath her feet while standing up. Looking through the windows, the exterior was of vast plains of yellow dust and sand, and otherwise empty space. There was nothing to help gauge the speed at which the train moved.
Leaning on the backrests of the seats for balance, the Lady shuffled up the aisle.
The muffled, quiet chugging and chugging from the engine echoed still throughout the place, it made her feel somewhat peaceful, comparing the noise to a heartbeat. While her thoughts lingered on the heart, her hand raised over her breast. She noticed a man sitting near the front of the carriage, four rows ahead. Moving forward, something inside her chest sank. She plumped down on the nearest seat, in the row across the aisle from where the man sat. This way she could see. She could watch something other than the flat wastes, at least.
The seat row opposite her was empty.
When the train drove towards it close enough, the shining brightness to her right turned out to be a river, flowing, its waters a deep grey liquid steel against the brightness of day. Patches of grass grew along its banks, even a palm or two reached for the heavens across. The train chugged along the tracks, parallel to the flowing river.
Maybe the man could talk to her? But the thick raven locks of hair on his head never fell upon his large forehead. His eyes were closed. He was draped in a double-breasted black vest, underneath it a white buttoned-up shirt with a black necktie looped into a loose knot around his high collar. But his eyes were closed.
With her fan in hand, she whipped it open, waving it about her face, covering herself from the man for she felt a blushing rush to her cheeks. And her fan had hand-painted silk leaves, a hand-painted scene of a lifeless tree, behind which were black mountains, under a starless indigo sky.
‘My dear, best well to leave it alone…’ A nasal wavery voice of a woman came from the row opposite her.
The Lady’s gaze abstained from the man. Along the row to her front there were three pale-blue see-through ladies, all in fine dresses and with large, feather plumed hats.
‘…Especially since thine art such a dead wretch, and he a man of words has yet to wake back into the living world.’
‘Goodness,’ the Lady started, ‘You must be mistaken, I am not dead.’
The three ethereal ladies all whipped up their fans and covered their mouths—enough that their faces became a faded blue haze—and though she could not hear or see the giggles as their heads bopped about lightly, their eyes felt sharp with mockery.
‘Soon it won’t matter.’ one of the ladies whispered.
‘No, not in the end.’ another one added.