The hail hits the roof of the tipple as if on a mission to destroy it. “This give you an idea of how loud it would have been up here,” I shout over the noise, barely heard by the two people who have paid for the tour. Normally I would say a lot more but the noise is too difficult to compete with, the yelling tearing my voice. I should learn to project better, I think as I glance out the window to the ground 45 feet below where the train is rolling away through the dense mist of falling water and ice.
The train is rolling away.
I feel the instant need to stop it, to run down and stop it before it rolls off the end of the tracks and ruins itself, but there’s no way I can get down there – it’ll take me at least 8 minutes to get to the tracks and by then the train will be a heap of twisted muddy metal. As resignation slides over my body like icing over a cake, I notice the person huddled on the drivers seat, squished as small as possible as if he can fit in the space between the raindrops. His sweater is soaked through, making it the same colour as the train. I almost laugh with relief but instead pressed my hand to my heart – poor S., he’ll be soaked through for the rest of the day. Why isn’t he wearing a coat? But I don’t have time to wonder. The two people are looking at me expectantly and the hail has stopped. Time to talk again.
S. is sitting next to a heat vent when I walk into the interpreter’s building after the tour. His shoes are dark with water, resting on the floor beneath his feet. Just looking at his socks I can remember the feeling of wet clothes peeling off my body some summer long ago and I scrunch my nose. Ick. “Are you okay?” I ask.
“I’m soaked,” he replies.
As I touch his shoulder I realize it’s not just a phrase – he’s living that memory of gritty cold wet clothes against his skin. “You’re going to get sick,” I say. “I’ll take your next tour.”
He refuses my offer and instead makes me go get his spare shoes from the trunk of his car. It’s still raining outside, and I hunch your shoulders against the drops. Why do people do this, I wonder. Hunching your shoulders doesn’t get you less wet. But I continue to the car, get his little rubber shoes and come back. He doesn’t change his socks before thrusting his feet into the shoes. He doesn’t have socks here to change into.
“Where’s your coat?” I ask.
“At home,” he says. “I didn’t bring it.”
“I’m taking your tour.” I really don’t want to. I want to sit and eat my lunch and read my book, but there’s no way he can go out again into that weather. If he gets pneumonia I’ll never get rid of the guilt.
He pulls someone’s rain coat off the wall and ignores me, heading out into the rain. I hesitate at the doorway, as if he’ll suddenly change his mind and come back although I know that isn’t true. He’s too stubborn. I should have been more forceful, I should have suppressed my hunger for food, my hunger for words, for warmth, pushed it down out of sight. It probably showed and that’s why he didn’t let me do his job. But as I sit and open my book I feel a guilty happiness that it isn’t me out in the wet and cold.