A favor is asked on a cold night.
Flickering orange light belied the uncomfortable stillness in the small room. Snow continued to fall as we sat in our aging rockers by the round tin stove. I was warm, but the work awaited my attention. I turned.
"I need a favor."
Murray raised an eyebrow but continued to stare into the fire. Sitting upright, he rested his thick hands on his lap. Murray had no need of a blanket.
"You know that I would be the first to step up if you asked, Murray. You know I would, don't you?" I started. "I'm like that around my colleagues, Murray. With my friends."
My shift-mate's gaze did not falter. He fixated on the flames almost as if he could draw the warmth from the stove into his body directly through his eyes.
"After all, Murray, it is my birthday. My forty-sixth anniversary, my dear friend. You wouldn't want to deny me a small kindness on my birthday. Would you, Murray?"
The wind rattled the threadbare windows. I could make out the trees on the other side of the tracks. The six-foot switch signal and stand were still visible, but the snow was starting to climb. I shifted and adjusted the blanket on my shoulders.
Murray spoke. His eyes remained fixed on the flames.
"Better get diggin'. Telegraph be startin' up soon. Don't pay to have them points frozen when the letters be sent through. No engine master will wait on your sorry scruff to get the Bull Moose turning."
I stared at Murray.
"No. Of course not. I was impolite to ask." I rose from my chair. "A favor is for lovers. I forgot myself, Murray. Forgive me, friend."
I grabbed the shovel by the door and walked out into the storm. The five o'clock was steaming on its way.