He checked with his dad, unsure if he was allowed, but his dad was already making his way to the boss man’s desk, completely ignoring him.
“Looks like it’s okay, Marty,” Russ said softly as he put his hand gently on the back of his neck and turned him toward the door.
Once they were outside, he released his breath and relaxed his muscles, startled when Russ ruffled his wild hair and laughed.
“I don’t like being in an office either,” Russ said. “Let’s go climb on some trains.”
Russ took him over to a low slung shed and picked up a couple of yellow hard hats, adjusting one of the smallest to fit Marty, as a workman outfitted him with a red neckerchief. He began to enjoy himself as the workmen fussed over him, pointing out different tools and what they were used for and joking around with him, laughing as the oversized hard hat slid down over his eyes. After Russ adjusted it he steered him toward a large maintenance building and once inside he stopped, marveling at the huge engines being worked on. Russ named each kind of engine as they toured the workshop, even helping him climb up on one, showing him the cab and letting him sound the horn. His head swirled with all the information that he tried very hard to commit to memory, wanting to know more and asking all kinds of questions as the tour continued.
“Does my dad work on engines like these?” Marty asked shyly as Russ handed him a Coke from a vending machine.
“Sometimes,” Russ said quietly. “Your dad’s a welder, but I think he’s trying for a promotion. That’s why he’s meeting with Mr. Warren.”
“Oh,” he said.
“Doesn’t your dad ever talk to you about what he does here?” Russ asked curiously.
“Can I climb up on that engine over there?” Marty asked, ignoring the question as he pointed to a massive engine painted bright yellow.
Russ laughed and shook his head and motioned for him to follow as he led him to the big diesel engine, climbing up a couple of rungs on the ladder and reaching down to grasp Marty’s arm to pull him up. He cried out before he could stop himself, the bruises on his arm still tender to the touch. Russ let go and he quickly dropped back down to the ground, taking deep breaths, afraid to look at the man who jumped down beside him, concern etched on his face. Russ took his hand in his and gently pushed his sleeve up, revealing the grey green imprint of a hand that wrapped around his lower arm, the man’s eyes suddenly becoming dark and full of the anger he was so used to.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Marty whined as he backed away. “I didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“I’m not mad at you Marty,” he said, kneeling down in front of him.
Marty quickly pulled his sleeve down and stared hard at the floor.
“Your dad do that?” Russ asked quietly.
“I better get back,” he replied stoically, looking nervously around for the exit.
“Okay kid,” Russ said lightly. “But you’re gonna miss the best part.”
Marty looked back to see an easy smile on his face.
“What is it?” He asked, his smile flickering.
“Thought you might like to ride on one of the trains,” Russ stood and crossed his arms in front of him. “But, if you want to skip it and go back to the office, that’s okay by me.”
“Really? A train ride?” Marty had trouble containing himself he was so excited.
“Really,” Russ laughed. “Come on Marty. You can help us uncouple some of the freight cars.”
The next half hour was magical to him, delighted when the engineer let him pull the whistle and laughing as the engine coupled with a string of refrigerated freight cars and moved smoothly down the tracks to drop them off to be loaded. By the time the engine returned to the main yard, his father was waiting for him and he knew his adventure was over. He reluctantly climbed down the ladder and jumped down in the gravel, sadly handing his hard hat to Russ. The boss man squeezed his shoulder before handing him a rolled up poster, telling him it was a picture of the big diesel engine he had climbed on earlier and he couldn’t keep the smile off his face. Russ had gone inside the office and returned with a small model of the engine he had just ridden and he was speechless, which his dad pointed out was rare for him. He took a quick look at his dad, grateful for the small smile he saw as they walked back to the car. On the drive home he rattled on about what he’d done and the names and numbers of the engines he’d seen, causing his dad to tell him a couple of funny stories. They even stopped for burgers and fries and his dad told him he might be getting a promotion. All in all it was one of the best times he could remember having with his dad.
When they got home his mom helped him put up the poster and he placed the model train engine on the tiny desk in his room. He would spend hours running his hands over it that first night, adding model trains to the top of his Christmas list before going to bed. The next day, when he returned from school, he found a Thomas the Tank Engine on the desk in his room. His mom was beaming and he rushed to hug her, thanking her again and again for the rare gift. The two of them ate dinner alone and he could tell she was worried that his dad hadn’t come home, both of them knowing what that meant. He played with the trains until lights out, waking only when the door to his room slammed open and his dad came in, stumbling over to his desk and picking up the Thomas toy. When he sat down heavily on his bed, the telltale smell of whiskey fouled the air around him.
“Trains don’t have faces,” he said roughly, twisting the plastic Thomas engine until it broke apart in his hands.
Marty pulled the covers up tightly to his chest, blinking back sudden tears as his dad stared dully at him. He flinched when his dad reached up and brushed the hair out of his eyes, then was surprised by how gently he patted his cheek.
“I’m glad you like trains, son,” he said softly. “Me too, but it’s hell to get ahead workin’ on ’em.”
Marty kept silent, relaxing slightly as his dad patted his leg and stared solemnly at the broken toy in his hand.
“How ’bout I take you over to the hobby store this weekend and get you a real model train,” he said, a weary smile softening his face.
“I’d like that, Daddy,” he answered quietly. “Can I get a red one?”
“Yeah son, you can get a red one,” he said with a crooked grin.