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A Railroader's Wife
written by: A. Goddard
She flipped her phone, peering at the screen. Nothing. No word from her husband in seven hours. With an agitated growl, she flipped it back over and tried to emerge herself in the show playing on the television. The kids were asleep, taking away the only distraction she’d had to keep her mind off the last text that came through.
‘Tunnel collapse. Late night. Will text or call when I can. I love you.’
The words replayed in her head over and over. Seven hours of silence. He was headed into the tunnel to clear the train tracks so the mainline could move again. Parts of Baltimore were shut down and the reporters were on the scene like flies on a fresh pile of dog poop. They only made things worse at big events, getting in the way and sometimes getting a worker injured.
“He’s fine,” she whispered to herself. “He’s fine. If he wasn’t I would have received a call. Everything is fine.”
She hopped off the couch and headed for the kitchen, empty wine glass in hand. It thunked hard against the counter making her flinch. She grabbed the bottle and popped the reusable cork from the top before pouring a generous glass. A small sip. A small distraction. Anything to keep her mind off the minutes ticking by.
She settled back on the couch, staring blankly at the television. Another sip of wine to calm the nerves. It wasn’t working. Nothing was. She needed a text or a call, something saying he was okay.
She nibbled her lip as she stared at the remote, thinking about the reporters swarming the scene. It was in the middle of a major city, so it would be fully covered. She shook her head and tried to watch the sit-com playing on the television. Her husband had always told her to never watch the news during derailments. The reporters always had it wrong and made it sound worse than it was. Derailments happened all the time, tunnel collapses didn’t.
The phone vibrated on the couch, sliding over the cushion. She snagged it and looked at the caller ID. It was her father, not her husband. After sucking in a deep breath she answered the call.
“Have you seen the news?” Her father’s voice was calm, but tinges of concern wiggled through.
“No.” It was the only word she could get out.
“You need to turn it on. He’s there isn’t he?” It was a question he already knew the answer to. It was his terminal and there was a major track issue. He was there.
“He told me not to,” she whispered.
“Turn it on,” her father barked.
She reached for the remote, heart pounding. It must have been bad. Three-button clicks and the channel changed. It looked like an earthquake had hit the area. Workers were scurrying about like rats, disappearing and reappearing from dark holes in the earth. They were soaked from their waists down. That meant the tunnel had flooded too. Ambulances and fire trucks with flashing lights covered the area in an eerie red glow. The words ‘Another collapse. Workers trapped inside’ scrolled across the screen.
“Are you still there?” her father asked.
The words continued to scroll, each time seeming slower than the last. She stared in silence at the scene deteriorating before her eyes. Water exploded from the tunnel in a gush, shoving a group of workers out with it. They were barely visible where they were scattered in the mud, water streaming past them. Their high visibility shirts rendered useless. The ground started to shift, closing off one of the holes the workers had been running in and out of. Another collapse.
“Another partial collapse caved in one of the access tunnels. More workers are thought to be trapped inside. No one can say for sure if the tunnel can be stabilized or if the workers can be extracted.” The reporter sounded too cheerful for the news he was reporting. It sounded like he was smiling behind the camera while talking about people who may not make it out alive.
The sound of call waiting beeped on the phone she’d forgotten was still against her head. She pulled it away to look at the number on the screen. She didn’t recognize it, but the word ‘Baltimore’ underneath made her stomach drop.
“I have to go,” she said to her father before switching over.
“You and the kids alright?” It was her husband. He was okay.
Emotions tore through her, making it hard to hold onto the phone. Silent tears streamed down her face blurring the awful images on the television. She gasped for air before the loud sobs started. Her whole body shook with overwhelming relief.
“What’s wrong? Are you and the kids okay?” He sounded frantic.
“Yeah,” she barely choked out through the sobs. “We’re okay. The collapses. People inside. The reporter.”
He let out an annoyed groan into the phone. “Turn off the news. I told you to never watch the news during stuff like this. We’re fine. We got out before the second collapse. Everyone’s out. Structural engineers are reviewing the area to see if they can stabilize it. They need to cut off the water. That’s what’s causing the issues. One of the main pipes burst. I doubt we’ll be going back in before they send us home and the next group comes in. We’re doing twelve on and twelve off.”
“Okay.” She tried to stop the tears flowing down her face, wiping at them furiously.
“I’m okay. The whole crew is okay. Please breathe. I’ll be home before you know it. I know you and know you won’t sleep until I get home, but turn off the news. They always have it wrong. Got it?”
“Doing it now,” she said as she flipped the channel to black and white reruns.
“Good. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
“I love you too,” she said before the call ended.
She grabbed the wine glass, ignoring the purple-red liquid she’d sent cascading out of the glass and onto her hand. After two large swigs she sighed and leaned back against the cushions, trying to sink so far back that it felt like a hug. She desperately needed one in that moment, but didn’t want to wake one of the kids to get one. He was okay she reminded herself as she wiped away more tears. He was safe this time.