Ellis thinks of a surprise treat for Gloria.
The following evening I had just finished washing the dinner dishes at home and was relaxing with a cup of tea in the kitchen. I heard the motorcycle pulling up outside and then my mother speaking to Ellis at the front door. My heart rate increased as I waited for him to walk into the kitchen. When he did, he gave me a sheepish half-grin and a slight nod of his head.
"What, are you working lates, or just finished?" I asked, not wishing to make a fuss within hearing distance of my mother.
"I'm on lates, but my overalls are fresh on today; they are clean."
"I never said they weren't. Can you close the door?"
Ellis closed the door and walked to the table. "I'll change." He sat opposite me at the table. "I'll stop drinking if that's what you want."
I shook my head. "That's not what I want. When we go out on our own we have a few drinks and there's usually no problems, but why is it when a gang of lads get together they have to just keep pouring the stuff down their necks, as if the end of the world is coming? Are you considered a weakling or something if you don't drink seven or eight pints a night?"
"I won't do that again, I promise."
"Look, I suppose I could handle the drunkenness, I don't want to, but I have lived with it before. But it's more than that, isn't it, something a bit more sinister? I just can't accept that jealousy you sometimes seem to have."
"Just give me another chance."
"I don't know. I went to school with Eddie; he married my best friend. Ellis, I was chief bridesmaid at their wedding."
"I thought you were necking."
"He always gives me a hug and a kiss when he sees me, but it's a friendly greeting that's all. I had to call round their house at the weekend to apologise. I don't want that, Ellis. I want to be proud of you, not going around apologising after you."
"It won't happen again. I can't stand being without you, and I promise I will make you proud of me, just as proud as I am to be seen out with you. I'm crazy about you, Gloria, really I am. I know you love me as well. I can feel it between us. Just give me another chance. Just let me walk around this table and share a great big hug with you; I'm missing you so badly."
I smiled, knowing it was time to give in. "You better do something really special to make it up to me," I said, as I stood up. "Come here then."
The next day Ellis was waiting outside the surgery for me to finish work. I smiled broadly as I walked out. "I know I said you'd have to make it up to me, but I didn't mean you had to give me a lift home in your working gear."
Ellis laughed. "I want to meet you tonight."
"Aren't you still on lates?"
"I am yeah, but I want you to meet me at the railway station. On the island platform by the footbridge."
"What, will you be on your break?"
"Something like that. You'll have to wear dark jeans or slacks, and flat shoes or sneakers, and a black jacket. Do you have a black jacket?"
"I've got a navy blue suit jacket, or I can borrow Eve's leather."
"Whatever you like, just don't wear anything bright and conspicuous."
"Why, what's going on?"
"It's a surprise, like you said, something special. You must meet me there at half eight. You can't be late, Gloria."
"All right, half eight, dressed in black, on the platform. I'll be there. Will I need to bring a gun or something?"
Ellis laughed. "Get on the back; I've just got enough time to run you home."
* * * * *
I stood by the footbridge on the platform at twenty-five past eight, but there was no sign of Ellis. There were a few people sitting under the station canopy further along the platform, waiting for the diesel railcar to take them home. I looked over towards the locomotive depot, hoping to see Ellis walking over and feeling concerned because it was nearly time and still there was no sign of him. I heard the whistle before I noticed the steam engine approaching the station with six carriages. The people on the platform began to leave the benches excited in anticipation of the treat they were to enjoy. Looks like there must be a railcar shortage and a steam locomotive is covering the service again
Again, I looked over to the depot, but it was almost half-past eight and I realised he must be getting off the train. The train rolled into the station hauled by a big green locomotive, the huge driving wheels clanking the side rods, the squeal of the brakes mixing with the whoosh and puff sound from the funnel. The locomotive pulled up to the footbridge, squeaking and steaming it came to a halt dead on eight-thirty. Some of the carriage doors opened and I stood looking for Ellis amongst the emerging passengers. There was a random series of crashing sounds as the passengers slammed the doors on their way in or out of the carriages, but no sign of Ellis. I looked at the sweaty fireman on the locomotive, wearing a familiar woollen hat and grinning at me from the cab of the locomotive.
"Ellis! What on earth?"
"Well, get on then," he said, after pulling in the hinged cab door. "Hurry up, we won't be here long." He put his hand out. I grabbed his hand and he pulled me up into the cab before crashing the sprung door closed behind me.
It was like walking into another world to me. The round fire hole gave out a glare that lit up the whole cab. Even though I was still standing by the entrance I could feel the heat and not just from the fire, the whole front, pipes, boiler, and an assortment of levers and handles all seemed to be radiating heat. I looked at the driver, a stout jolly-looking fellow. He smiled at me before looking out of the cab, looking back towards the guard. I could smell the steam, the hot steel, the burning coal, the cold coal dust, and the hot oil, a fantastic mixture of wonderful industrial smells, pushing all my senses to their limits.
"Here, Gloria, get your jacket off and put this on." Ellis handed me one of his railway overall jackets and I swapped the jackets almost in a daze. Ellis put my jacket in the locker and then pulled the woollen hat off his head, and pulled it over my hair before giving me the firing shovel. "There you go, put some coal on for me."
I laughed as I pushed the shovel into the tender, half filling it I shuffled around and tipped the coal just inside the firebox. "Flipping heck, it's so hot," I said. "It scorched my skin."
Ellis laughed. "Don't linger," he called. "Don't tip the coal in; shovel it in.
I began to sling the coal into the box, all the time a huge grin beaming across my face. We heard the whistle from the guard. Ellis took the shovel from me and pointed to a lever at the top of the boiler. "Give a blow on the whistle, Gloria." I reached up and pulled the lever down, the loud screech of the whistle startled me and I immediately let go of the lever. "Sorry, shall I do it again?"
"No, that was fine." Ellis took hold of my arms and moved me towards the window; he pulled down a small wooden seat and sat me on it.
There was a rush of air as the driver knocked off the brake handle, he pulled up the regulator handle, and we started to move forward. He eased the handle up further and the huge wheels slipped, spinning on the rails, rocking the cab as the side connecting rods clanged. He eased back on the power and turned on one of the small handles giving out a loud hissing sound.
The wheels gripped and the throaty intermittent chuff was like a magical sound to me as the blend of exhausted steam and smoke punched skyward from the funnel, drawing air forcibly through the fire bed with every blast. I watched as Ellis shovelled coal into the fire, his hot sweaty body swivelling almost artistically from the tender to the fire hole, the blade just entering the firebox and stopping abruptly, every time expertly sending the coal to the exact intended spot in the enormous box. I was fascinated, my face glowing, my heart pounding with excitement, all my nerves and feelings became aroused both physically and mentally.
Ellis took hold of my hand and pulled me up from the seat. He passed the shovel to me again. "Your turn," he shouted. Although successful, I found it difficult loading the shovel this time; swaying with the movement of the engine, the tender rocking and jolting separately. I turned slowly, trying to keep balance, and shovelled the coal just inside the box where the glare from the firebox became intense, looking like a vision of hell. After six shovel loads, I looked over at Ellis. The sweat ran down from my hair and behind my ears and my whole body seemed to be flowing with warm sweaty dampness.
"That'll do for now." Ellis was sitting on the wooden seat and he put a foot on one of the fire doors and pushed them shut, causing a large crack sound as the two doors slapped together, cutting off the glare from the fire. I put the shovel down and swayed almost like a drunk I went over to him. I sat on his knee and put my arm around him before reaching up to kiss him, the air from the window cooled his skin, and it felt a pleasant contrast to the hot glowing sensation of mine. I could taste the fine coal dust on his lips and the salt from his dried sweat, but it just added to my excitement. He gave a gentle slap on my thigh, a signal to get up. I dropped back on the seat when Ellis got up and I sat watching him as he coaxed the injector to transfer water from the tender into the boiler.
The driver closed the power and started to apply the brakes sending out a whooshing sound from the vacuum brake handle. I looked through the small front window and saw the lights from the station ahead.
"Blow the whistle, Gloria," Ellis called, "only give it a while this time."
I jumped up and hung on to the lever, the blast from the whistle seemed to vibrate through my body and scream into my head.
"All right, all right, that'll do." Ellis laughed as I sat down with a smile of obvious excitement across my face. The safety valves on top of the boiler erupted with a high-pressure screeching discharge, startling me momentarily before I gave a short uncontrolled laugh and placed my hands over my ears. Ellis took hold of the handle on the firebox doors and he slung them open as the driver began to bring the train to a squeaking halt.
Ellis looked across at me. "Ready for the next round?" he shouted.
"I love you, Ellis," I whispered. He knew what I said though he could not hear the words.
We had three more stops before arriving at the terminal station where we left the carriages and turned the engine on the station turntable before setting off back to the depot, light engine.
We began to slow down as we approached the station near the locomotive depot. Ellis took my jacket from the locker and gave it to me. "You'll have to wait for me at the station entrance. If the shed foreman sees you on the engine we'll get into trouble." He pulled open the sprung door as the engine came to a stop halfway along the platform. "Leave the woolly hat on for now, you'll need it when you get off, it'll keep your head warm."
I stepped down onto the platform and we stood gazing at each other as the driver set off for the shed. I stood watching the locomotive as it crossed the tracks towards the sidings, and then it reversed back onto the shed where the shed men were waiting to prepare the engine for its next task. I was making my way to the station entrance to wait for Ellis. The moisture from my sweat caused streaks of coal dust down my face, neck and hands; the grubby woolly hat still pulled down over my hair. I grinned at the look I received from the porter and knew I had been through an experience most people could only dream about. My thoughts of Ellis were strong; this was the man for me, I now knew that. Maybe it was time to move on a little, maybe our relationship should become more adult and I began to give some thought about giving up on my stand against sexual intimacy before marriage. In these modern times was I really the only girl with high morals? I thought about an answer for a while; no I was not the only girl. I knew many girls who thought like me. It would be wrong to move against my beliefs and my conscience. He would just have to wait; I would have to wait; we would both have to wait until the time was right, even if it meant waiting until we were married. Marriage had never been mentioned, but I thought if we did get married, then it would all be worth the wait.
I suddenly gave out a huge grin. On the other hand.