The Night Train

by Tony Houghton

Appears in Other Voices #37

Some winters ago Maurice Edelman, a well-known Toronto lawyer, plagued by three nights of feverish dreams, threw some clothes into a grip bag and took a taxi to the Union Station. He could not easily contemplate a fourth night alone in his city apartment above the ravine, tossing and turning so that in the morning the sheets were rumpled and the mattress pad pulled off; his temperature was already one hundred and four, and the moment he shut his eyes he seemed to hear fragments of lucid conversation. If he stayed at home he might, and cold-bloodedly, kill himself, pull open a window and throw himself into the trees. Instead, he would take the night train to Montreal. He had no business in Montreal, but he needed the metal, mechanical certainty of the night train to get him through the dark hours and deposit him in the safety of daylight. Night trains only incidentally go to places: their true destination is tomorrow.

The night train to Montreal left Toronto at eleven-thirty, though it awaited connections from the west, and sometimes lingered until well after midnight before moving stealthily out of the dimly-lit station towards the snow-blotted suburbs. Maurice did not care how late the train was. He boarded the sleeping car at eleven-fifteen, having fortunately secured the last available bedroom. It was, in that confined space, very hot, so he switched on the electric fan and splashed cold water on his face in the little washbasin. Then he headed for the bar car. This had been coupled three cars away from his sleeper, towards the front of the train. The lawyer stalked through the ghostly vestibules: two sleeping cars, then the day-niter, where tousled youths in jeans and backwards-worn baseball caps were trying to arrange themselves into sleeping positions. Other passengers were beginning tentative conversations; some were reading; there was an elderly lady half-way through a fat Danielle Steele; a young man held a library book, perhaps stolen, close to his face. Both peered at the pages under their bright reading lamps, with the single-minded intensity of people determined to read the night away.

The bar car was full; it smelled of Molson beer, warm out of cans. But it was good to be in it. Maurice Edelman was able to seat himself at a table otherwise occupied by two men in the dark olive uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces and a young woman wearing a short leather skirt and a black sweater. All three held cans of warm beer. The woman asked Maurice for a light for her cigarette but did not otherwise bother him. He ordered a brandy, and as he sipped it he noticed that the train was moving. He glanced at his watch: the night train was on time. Connections from the west had not delayed its departure.

He felt the woman’s eyes on him, and drank his brandy, watching the snowbound suburbs glide past. There seemed to be few lights still on in those ghostly houses, only occasional blue flickerings from a television set; the occupants of the houses early-to-bedders, apparently. What else could one do at night in the suburbs of a Canadian city? What else could one do at night anywhere, unless one rode the night train? For the night train, its lighted windows briefly illuminating snow-banks, back-yards, garages, parking lots, was surely the only evidence of civilization left in the world. Only those who, like the lawyer Maurice Edelman, had had the foresight to purchase tickets on it had a chance of surviving this night.

The plot of the nightmares the lawyer was suffering was this: his daughter, who was thirty and whom Maurice adored, was to be executed for murder. Dreams baffle chronology, especially recurring ones, but his were vivid enough for the dreamer to piece together, in the penetrating reality that precedes full wakefulness, a sequence of events. Aboard an airplane, as it waited for clearance to take off from some hot, foreign airfield where ancient DC3s sported logos like Ingrid Air, Key Lime Airways, and World Cargo Inc, a figure in a poncho (yes, a poncho) had uttered obscure threats. He had reached out a bony wrist. Sofia, the lawyer’s daughter, wearing a calf-length cotton skirt, produced from the beige folds of it a gun, and shot the man dead. The body toppled gurgling to the floor. The lawyer was shocked, though his daughter had been clearly provoked, even fingered. A steward dragged the body to the back, leaving a thin trail of blood, pushed it into the lavatory compartment, and shut the door. The aircraft took off; the shooting, it seemed, almost forgotten. Sofia was cheerful: she had not given the death a second thought. She knew these people; she lived among them. Maurice took hope from the indifference of the other passengers. Perhaps the whole incident was as trivial as everyone seemed to be treating it. Perhaps, from now on, Sofia would be able to spend more time with her father. Her mother, who lived in Florida now with a former international squash player, cushily installed—at Maurice’s expense—in a Pompano Beach apartment overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, had ceased to be a problem. Maurice had bought himself a house on a country hill, in Ontario, with wide views.

Sofia herself, on the flight that had begun so inauspiciously, had studied the inflight magazine, completed the crossword puzzle, and memorized the various routes flown by the airline, only to be arrested upon landing by men wearing dark glasses and gold braid epaulettes, the pilot having radioed ahead that there was a problem. Her father had been at his daughter’s side throughout the public part of her trial, though not at certain private interviews; and now she was to be killed. She was, with the cool unreasonableness of nightmare, undismayed; showed little concern; and if she gave any thought at all to her coming ordeal (the manner of her death had not been prescribed, but there was a possibility of garroting) she never betrayed it in her careless conversations with her father.

The night train was slowing down for its first stop. Three motor cars were held up at a railroad crossing; their headlights blinked in Maurice’s eyes. He drained the last of his brandy. His table companions did not look as if they intended sleep: the green fellows from the Canadian Armed Forces were still swallowing beer, and the woman in the tight skirt blew moody cigarette smoke through her nostrils. The successful lawyer ordered another brandy. The train was already moving; nobody, as far as Maurice could see, had climbed on; and nobody was allowed off. The night train only boarded long distance passengers.

The woman said, “I’m going as far as Cobourg.”

The lawyer said kindly, “I have a cousin who lives at Cobourg. Perhaps you know him. His name is Stephen Edelman.”

“I don’t think I do,” the woman said. She was, Maurice realized, about the same age as his daughter. He saw his cousin Stephen only once a year, at a Passover seder. Most of the day trains passed Cobourg at speed; there was a factory, with a hundred lights, and at one point, where the tracks swung along the shore, you could see the two rubble-work jetties which reached out into the silent lake. At night, red and green lights winked from the stubby light-houses perched on the ends of the jetties.

“You’ll arrive home at an ungodly hour,” Maurice said to the woman.

Ungodly! Yes, ungodly, but all hours between dusk and dawn are ungodly. Only sailors, tossed on invisible ships somewhere out there, beyond the red and green winking lights on the jetties at Cobourg, would get through the night in godly fashion. All others, including this daughter-like girl in the tight skirt, would stumble at ungodly hours into lighted doorways, interrupting the night’s slow advance, trapped by it into more or less regrettable decisions.

“About two o’clock,” she said, the woman, the girl. “Mum will be waiting up for me.”

“Will she?”

Maurice looked at her. He’d been aware, he supposed, of something fleshy and wanton about her, but she had a mother waiting up for her at two o’clock in the morning, in Cobourg, which gave her an innocence which the short, tight skirt, and the full lips, and the cigarette, and the beer, all seemed to belie. He wondered if she’d told the two fellows from the Canadian Armed Forces, who stared out the window in silence, holding their half-crushed Molsons, about her mother in Cobourg. Maurice suddenly felt a great desire to protect this unlikely innocent. He had a sleeping car ticket in his coat pocket; he could invite her to his travelling cocoon three cars back, rocking through the night unoccupied, but this would be misconstrued, and Cobourg, anyway, was not that many miles ahead.

Unless, of course, Cobourg, by some celestial trick, had vanished from the earth, its factory lights put out forever by the thickness of night; or unless the night train, through some human forgetfulness, or unannounced change of schedule, failed to stop there.

Sofia, throughout Maurice Edelman’s nightmares, had remained blithely unrepentant, a fact which the prosecutor, an army officer, had not failed to point out to the court. Yes, there had been a threatening gesture. The figure in the poncho had certainly muttered curses, as was confirmed by witnesses; but they had been, surely, no more than the generic menaces of the poor, and aimed at Sofia only as a convenient representative of the rich. It was impossible to imagine such a lowly, oppressed creature actually rising from the tin-ribbed floor of the World War II aircraft and offering a beautiful white woman physical violence—and what kind of violence? Grapple her with angry claws, perhaps, the poncho falling off and disclosing a skull? Violate her, on a crowded plane? No. Impossible. Sofia had shot him down, simply; and Maurice, her own father, a lawyer himself, had found himself urging her, even after her sentence, to show some sign of regret. The amazing ting was that she displayed absolutely none, though she acquiesced perfectly with the decision of the court. Yes, she agreed, she had shot the man, no question, but it was as if her simple acknowledgment of the fact cleaned her conscience white, as if she was morally, while awaiting death, as innocent as the day she was born.

But how long could this state of grace, for so Maurice conceived it, last? As her execution drew near, would she not fall from it? Wouldn’t dread gruesomely possess her? Wouldn’t she, at some point, cling to her father (the authorities, with surprising generosity, allowed the condemned woman almost limitless time with her parent) with terror and tears?

Her father’s obsession, of course, was to save her, not from execution (there was no possibility of appeal), but from this fall. Somehow he must help keep up her spirits; lead her, as once he had hoped to lead her to a waiting bridegroom, to the dread swing-doors beyond which, presumably, he would not be allowed and where, somehow, they would kill her. And Maurice was so racked by fever that he hardly realized the absurdity of this last demand on him as a father. The child he had been handed, once, by a grinning nurse, fresh from her mother’s womb and bawling, to prance up and down with in a hospital corridor; the urchin he’d staggered up at four o’clock in the morning to feed, watching the little mouth slug down Formula and hoping harder than he’d ever hoped anything before that she’d keep it down, not throw up, in which case he’d have to begin the process all over; the little person who’d held his hand so tightly yet so cautiously, the first time he went to see her after her mother quit on him; the angel-face he’d waited at school for every Tuesday and Thursday, his access days; the blossoming friend who laughed so much as she recounted her adolescent adventures; this beautiful, giggling, grown-up daughter of his, with the sun-bleached hair, whom every maitre d’ took to be his mistress (and what pride that had given him!) And now, with the unforeseen suddenness and ridiculous finality of a highway accident, she’d killed a man, some irrelevant peasant on a jungle airplane; and the only thing left to him, the father’s one remaining, unperformed duty, was to lead her cheerful to her executioners.

Maurice choked, and covered his face, sitting there bolt upright in the bar car of the night train, opposite this waif from Cobourg, and the grizzly soldiers of obscure rank noticed him, gawking over their beers.

“Is there anything wrong?” the girl said, baffled, sympathetic.

“No. No.” And drying the burning tears with his fingers he said, “Where are we?” One of the soldiers glanced out the window. The night train was snaking between interminable snow-drifts. The boys must ride the train frequently, the lawyer supposed, between the city and the Armed Forces base at Trenton, where presumably they’d get off.

“Must be getting near Cobourg,” the soldier decided, though he could not have based his guess on anything topographical, as the white landscape illuminated fleetingly by the night train’s windows was featureless.

So there was no question of asking the girl to accompany him to his fan-cooled, speeding sleeping car for ten minutes. The thought was laughable. He took out his wallet and placed a twenty-dollar bill on the table to pay for his two brandies. He stood up and with a nod at the soldiers turned and walked in the direction of the vestibule. It only fleetingly occurred to him—another laughable thought—that the girl might follow; but he lingered on the chilly platform between the bar car and the day-niter until he was sure that she wouldn’t; then made his way heavily along the corridors now illuminated by blue light-bulbs. As he opened the door of his sleeping compartment, a hand touched his elbow, but before he had time to imagine that it might be the girl the bar car attendant handed him his change.

“You forgot your change, sir.”

“Oh thank you. Thank you. Ah—for you.” He handed the man a crushed two-dollar bill.

“Thank you, sir. Good night.”

“Good night.”

It was hot, still, in the sleeping compartment, in spite of his having left the fan spinning all this time. He should take an aspirin, try to get this cursed fever down. How fast was the train going? A hundred and four miles an hour, perhaps, corresponding exactly with Maurice’s temperature. He took the aspirins, swallowing them down with cool water out of one of the little cone-shaped paper drinking cups that it was impossible to put down; then he stripped off and let his clothes lie in a heap on the floor. He climbed naked between the sheets, and pushed up the blind with his toe to see if there was anything discernible outside. There was not. Only snow-drifts. But then, way out somewhere, a flashing light. He thought at first that it must be some farm building or other country light, appearing and disappearing between invisible, snow-draped trees; but then a shaft of moonlight shone on water, and the winking light proved to be a light-house far out on a reef. Maurice watched it intently until a high embankment obscured it from the train window; and at the same time he felt the brakes come on, tugging at the pounding bogies as the train lost speed. Cobourg was still some twenty miles distant, he reckoned; the soldiers in the bar car, however frequently they rode this route, had been somehow deceived; and Maurice stretched with momentary pleasure, in the moonlit privacy of his rattling room.

There was a faint tap on the door. The lawyer sat up in bed with a jerk, banging his head on the unoccupied berth above him, and covering himself with the blankets. The tap on the door must have been his imagination—but no, it came again. The sleeping car attendant? No: the attendant would press the buzzer; as he would, in a few hours’ time, to announce the train’s pending arrival in Montreal with the offer of scalding coffee and a sweet roll on a paper plate.

The tap again.

The lawyer swung his legs off the bed, and flicked various light switches before he found the blue ceiling light. He stepped into his pants and pulled them up, then he opened the door.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you up?” said the girl from the bar car.

“No. I’d only just gone to bed.”

“I wondered, do you want company?”

The lawyer from Toronto blinked at her. Company! Nicely put. Did he want company? He tried to weigh the question. No, of course he didn’t want company.

Instead he said, “Aren’t we nearly at Cobourg?”

They stood facing each other in the narrow doorway of Maurice’s sleeping compartment as the night train trundled through the snow. The girl shrugged.

“I’m not sure where we are,” she said. “All places look the same in the dark.”

“So, you’re not really headed for Cobourg.”

“I could get out at Kingston and take the train back.”

“We don’t arrive at Kingston until three thirty-five. It’s where we pass the west-bound night train. You could cross the tracks and transfer to it, but you wouldn’t be home before five o’clock in the morning. And your mother’s waiting up for you.”

“I don’t have to get out at Kingston.”

“I think you should get out at Cobourg and go home.”

After a moment she said, “I’m terribly sorry if I disturbed you.”

She mentioned it as a prelude to departure, but she remained there long enough for him to say “Come in,” under his breath. He stepped back from the door so that she could enter; and she kept her eyes fixed on him as she advanced into his narrow cabin, shutting the door behind her. He had a curious feeling she’d pull out a gun, like the daughter of his dreams, and thought, what a way for a lawyer to die, shot to death on the night train by a hooker from Cobourg.

However, she did not pull out a gun; instead she stood there, reaching out a hand to steady herself against the rolling of the train.

“I don’t have to stay,” she said. “I’ll leave at once if I’m troubling you.”

“No. No, it’s all right.” Maurice took a step forward, hit his head on something hard. He was suddenly awake, and drenched in sweat in spite of the aspirins he’d taken. His head throbbed. He realized he’d been dreaming again. The train had stopped, and he had no idea how long it must have been standing there.

“Where are we?” he wondered.

“I don’t know,” the girl would have said, if she had really followed him back to his sleeping compartment. “Why do you always have to know where you are?”

“I just wondered whether we’d got to Cobourg yet.”

“I have no idea. The whole point of the night train is that you don’t know where you are, until it’s tomorrow.”

And he was asleep again.

He walked arm in arm with his daughter, along a white, sandy trail lined with soughing casuarina pines. From far away came a long drawn-out whistle, either a distant train (if they had trains in those latitudes—perhaps some narrow-gauge antique hauling freight cars loaded with sugar cane) or a sleepless owl of some tropical species. He had begged to be allowed to see Sofia; had begged; yes, actually begged. And the officals, very troubled, and sympathetic, had agreed. She had stepped out of the back of a car; two men climbed out after her but did not follow as she ran to embrace her father. The men would saunter along, of course, at a respectful distance, lugging their automatic rifles, exchanging an occasional word. But they kept at such a respectful distance that Maurice began to wonder whether a sudden run for freedom mightn’t be successful. He said nothing to his daughter: there must be no false hope of escape. Sofia, chattering blithely about her childhood, and cheerfully resigned, still, to die soon, must not be allowed to glimpse the possibility of futures. As they reached a kind of cross-roads—the sandy track at this point forking right and left, with another faint trail joining at right angles—the lawyer glanced quickly about him for potential escape routes. There were none. Some way down each trail, under the casuarinas swaying to the sturdy easterly trade winds, a guard strolled, quietly enjoying the tropical peacefulness of the spot, the sandy footfalls of his boots and the occasional clunk of his well-oiled automatic weapon the only sounds above the wind’s murmur.

The night train had begun to move again, leaving Cobourg—if that had indeed been Cobourg—behind in the silence; the train’s hundred wheels ringing like cracked bells past rows of apparently abandoned freight cars. The girl in the tight skirt would have got off now; was probably slumped in the back of a taxi full of stale, small-town cigarette smoke, on the way home. Maurice Edelman was alone on the night train with a temperature of one hundred and four; and Sofia, his daughter, was spending her last night on earth in a tropical prison cell. Warm night sounds would drift in through the bars of her cell window: the wind in the casuarinas, an owl, frogs, cicadas, jaunty music played on radios—tangoes, rumbas, sambas, cha chas, merengues. A gray-uniformed guard would peer through the window of Sofia’s cell door, from time to time, but Sofia was sleeping peacefully; she would sleep through her last night alive as calmly and untroubled as she had slept through her first; she had never woken up her mother, had been as admirable a baby as she became a charming child.

Maurice sat up in bed, banged his head again on the berth above, and got up, fumbling for the blue ceiling light. He took another of the little cone-shaped paper cups that became soggy unless drained immediately. He ran the faucet in the hope of getting cold water, but unavailingly. He drank tepid dregs. The train was moving at a fine pace now, its powerful twin diesel locomotives blasting through the night. Snow-covered plains, brooding woods, shimmering, moonlit lakes coasted by. The lawyer glanced at his watch: surprisingly, it had stopped. This was unimportant, because the point of the night train was not only that you didn’t know where you were, you also had no idea whether the train was on time or not. Then Maurice understood that his daughter was due to be executed just about the time the train rolled into Montreal Central Station. The next time he slept, he would dream her death. He must not sleep.

He washed himself, tugged his pants back on, pulled a sweater over his head. He stuffed his wallet into the back pocket of his pants and lurched off through the darkened vestibules in search of the bar car. He had no idea whether it would still be open; but he must stay on the move so as to remain awake; must, if at all possible, seek company of any kind, anywhere.

He reeled through the day-niter, clutching the backs of seats for support, to emerge, once again, into the brightly-lit bar car. The only occupant was the woman in the tight skirt. The Armed Forces men had gone; all the other Molson drinkers had quit, either got off the train at one of its frequent nocturnal halts, probably Trenton Junction, or curled up in the day-niter to snore the remaining miles away.

The woman was sitting exactly where he’d seen her last, facing Maurice as he came in. She nodded, but absently. After a moment’s polite hesitation the Toronto lawyer sat down across from her.

“Are they still serving drinks?”

“I think so.”

“You didn’t get off at Cobourg, then.”

“I never seem to get off at Cobourg,” said the girl.

The bar car attendant appeared and Maurice ordered another brandy. He took a Kleenex and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he told the girl. “I think I may have drifted off once or twice, but every time the train stopped I woke up. In the end I gave it up as a bad job. I needed to find out if there was anyone else alive on this train.”

The girl parted her lips as if she was about to say something, but didn’t. It occurred to Maurice that she might be on drugs, because she had the vacant, pensive look he’d sometimes seen in court-rooms.

“Do you know people in Montreal?” he said.

The girl looked at him, but still said nothing.

“I don’t know anyone in Montreal either,” said the lawyer. “Though I always appreciated the city. I do know some good restaurants. If you don’t have any plans for lunch, I should be pleased to invite you.”

The woman looked surprised, but kept silent.

“There are some good sea-food restaurants. Do you like sea-food?” said Maurice.

The woman reacted neither positively nor negatively to the notion of sea-food restaurants.

“I have a house down south,” the lawyer tried. “It’s on the ocean, with three hundred feet of ocean frontage. Pure white sand beach, casuarinas. Eat a lot of sea-food down there. I go out fishing with one of the locals. Big black guy, strong as a bear. We catch grouper, yellow snapper, barracuda. Shark, sometimes. Can I buy you a drink? Another beer? How many have you had?”

“Only two. No, thank you.”

Seeing that she had not got off at Cobourg, and thereby lost the right to innocence, there was really no reason he should not invite the girl back to his sleeping compartment. He sipped his brandy, contemplating the wisdom of doing that, and the night train, at speed, thundered across flat white country. It crossed frozen rivers on hollow steep bridges that echoed like waterfalls. It curled past snoring farms and townships, its enormous headlamp probing the blackness. The brakes came on.

“Now where are we?” the lawyer wondered, but the girl only shrugged. She was right. On the night train, you don’t know where you are, at any time, and it doesn’t matter. It is the irrelevance of things that would normally be taken for granted, like knowing where you are, that makes the night train a time capsule, hurtling towards eventual daylight.

Maurice shook himself. He was dozing, which he must not do. His daughter’s life depended, now, on her father’s staying alive, on the night train, somewhere in a snowy country; and his staying awake in its turn depended on this woman in a tight shirt talking to him, except that she wouldn’t, or couldn’t. What other desperate measures could he resort to? Suppose he got off, next time the night train halted? Stumbled into some anonymous station, blinking in the glow of one meagre electric light bulb, and stayed there as the train moved off, taking light with it, and girls in tight skirts, and waiters who brought you brandy, and sleeping car attendants who would appear if you found the right button to push, and wakeful engineers in striped caps who sat up there, hour after hour, gazing into the blackness beyond the immense, unflickering headlamp. And the lawyer would be left on his own. He would have to try and telephone for a taxi, but everything and everywhere would be shut. There would be no answer, the telephone would ring repeatedly in the cold. In the end he’d have to doss down on mail-bags, in the station waiting room, unless they’d locked it, and sleep. And dream his daughter’s execution. No. He must stay on the night train. He must talk to this woman.

“I have a daughter of about your age,” he said.

He had hardly hoped that she’d show interest, but she said, “What’s her name?”

“Her name is Sofia. It’s a Spanish name. Her mother was from Cuba.”

“What does she do?”

Maurice was taken aback by the unexpected questions. He put down his brandy glass, then picked it up again.

“She’s a reporter.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yes. She works on assignments for magazines. She spends a lot of her time abroad. At the moment she’s in Honduras, or perhaps Nicaragua.”

“I don’t have much idea where that is,” the girl said frankly. “I was once in Cancún.”

“Well. That’s in Mexico. Same part of the world.”

He felt wide awake. Glanced out the window. An incomprehensible blackness drifted past. Not much south of Cancún, where this bland, tight-skirted girl had spent a packaged vacation (made love to nightly, perhaps, by drunken fellow-countrymen or lucky locals), the lawyer’s daughter slept quietly in her cell. There’d be a quiet smile on her face, and she’d look peaceful; peaceful as when, long years ago, her father had tucked her up in the pink sheets of her little nursery bunk bed. There had never been a small sister or brother to occupy the top bunk, unfortunately, because Maurice and his wife had gone their separate ways before that could happen. Sofia slept, and dreamed—perhaps—of bunk beds, while the guard squinted at her through the bars of the little window in her cell door and marvelled. Not many of his wards had slept through their last night on earth so soundly; she must know, this one, beyond a shadow of doubt, that she would very soon be in Heaven; imagined herself, perhaps, already there. Which she as good as was, hobnobbing with the Virgin Mary and all those saints. The guard found it difficult to picture this slumberer as a terrorist, which is what he’d been informed she was. His tongue slipped around his lips. It would be an easy thing to unbolt the door and slip into the cell, straddle her in her little cot. Comfort the girl, maybe, on this her last night. The guard muttered a prayer to his favorite saint, shut the little sliding window, and resumed his pacing. No. Let the gringa go to Heaven a virgin, if virgin she was; she would not go defiled by her jailer.

Maurice Edelman gripped the table. He had been almost asleep. Or was he asleep already? No. It was night still. Up ahead, the locomotive’s gloomy whistle blared at a railroad crossing. Maurice looked sharply at his companion in the tight skirt. He got to his feet.

“Come with me,” he said. “There are two berths. You can stretch out. It’s better than sitting up all night in the bar car.”

She gazed at him.

“What did you say? I’m sorry—but what did you say?”

“If you want company, why not come with me?”

The girl tried to stand up, but nearly fell. She hung onto the lawyer’s elbow. The bar car attendant came by; Maurice gave him another twenty-dollar bill and told him to keep it.

“Thank you, sir.”

“There are two berths,” Maurice said again, as the girl held onto his arm and he piloted her through the dim blue vestibules. She needed to go to the bathroom and whimpered outside the door.

“It’s all right. We have a private bathroom.”

He opened the door to his compartment and pushed her inside. She saw the bathroom and disappeared. He turned down the bedclothes on the top berth for her. He slipped off his pants and sweater, climbed into the bottom berth, leaving the lights full on so that he’d stay awake.

The girl, after a long time, lurched out of the tight bathroom, still fully dressed.

“What am I doing in here?”

“Climb up into the top berth. You’ll feel better if you lie down. It’s difficult to sleep sitting up.”

“What do you think I am? A tart?”

“I don’t know what you are. At first I thought you were, then I thought you weren’t. I don’t care. It’s not my business. I won’t touch you. Just climb up there and go to sleep.”

She climbed up the ladder, her legs disappearing from Maurice’s view. He could hear her rummaging about, supposed she was taking her clothes off.

“I’ve never been in a sleeping car before. Just look at this. There’s a little tin cupboard for your shoes.”

“It opens into the corridor. If you want him to, the attendant will get your shoes out of the cupboard and clean them during the night.”

“That’s cool.”

More rummaging, and then her light went off.

“How long is it until we get to Montreal?” she wanted to know.

“I don’t know.”

In a few minutes the girl began snoring, and the place smelled gently of used beer. Maurice felt himself falling asleep, and panicked: he sat up hastily, hitting his head, as usual, on the bottom of the berth where the girl was, but not, it seemed, waking her up: the snoring continued. Maurice was sweating again. The brakes came on: once more, the train was slowing down. How could a man be expected to sleep, with all this stopping and starting? When the train finally came to a standstill, with three huge jolts, he got out of bed and pulled on his clothes again. He went out into the corridor and strolled to the platform at the end of the car. The door was open. He peered out into the night. They were at Brockville, where the train was divided, the last three cars eventually proceeding to Ottawa. The train, as stipulated in the time-table, would stand here for half an hour. It was cold but Maurice stepped down onto the deserted station. He stood there, looking up at the height of the train. Steam from the heating pipes billowed out from under the darkened cars. He paced the platform, counting the cars. There were more than he had imagined, sixteen cars in fact, including the baggage car. A small switcher was in the process of pulling back the Ottawa-bound cars at the rear. Maurice walked the whole length of the platform. A thin yellow light glowed in the cab of the leading diesel locomotive, and he glimpsed the engineers talking to each other, sipping hot coffee from paper cups.