Gone Missing – Home at Last Chapter 8

We never got a ride. We walked in and out of the shadows along the dusty road toward town. I kicked at drifts of larch needles in ruts and pot holes. By mid-afternoon some of the kick had gone out of my walk. Charlie’s tail no longer waved like a flag but drooped like an old rag. Shortly before seeing the first roof top I noticed the shadows had disappeared. The temperature dropped and I pulled my over-sized coat tight around me. Did I see a few flakes mixed with the occasional larch needle falling in front of me?
“We’ll have a warm place to stay tonight, Charlie. I’m sure of it. And we’ll have something hot for dinner, even you. I promise.” I had to smile and was glad Charlie was not a child who would hold me to my promises. My confidence was waning the closer I got to town. We finally passed the first of the Great Northern buildings on the outskirts of town, the round house and a work shack. Ice houses bordered the tracks on the north side, long gone in my time. I perked up a bit, from anxiety or anticipation I wasn’t sure. Finally we came to Main Street. No train was seen or heard and the streets were quiet. I knew whatever an early dinner cost I was buying it. It seemed a long time since that cold biscuit and square of cheese. Charlie ducked under the doors of the Steel Rail Café and I followed, enjoying the old-fashioned swinging doors. I quickly took a seat near the front window and guided Charlie under the table and told him to stay. He deserved this break as much as I did and I didn’t want him thrown out. A young gentleman wearing a crisp white apron came over with a menu.
“Can I bring you coffee while you decide, ma’am?” He asked.
“Bless you. I can’t think of anything I want more at the moment. Well, maybe a glass of water too, please.”
“And I’ll bring a little bowl for your friend.” He winked at me and headed toward the kitchen.
The menu would be worth studying later, for entertainment. It was printed with cute little drawings of train engines and simple sketches of mountain goats and squirrels. And the prices would make me laugh later, too, but for now I scanned them with the seriousness of the moment and breathed a sigh of relief to see that coffee was 3 cents. Oh, chicken pot pie, perfect, and only 30 cents. Things were looking up. The nice waiter was adorably discreet when he came back with a tray carrying one cup of coffee, one glass of water, and a little bowl of water that he sloshed out a bit when he handed it over. I scanned the faces of the few folks having early dinners or leaning up at the bar and no one seemed to see or care about Charlie. And no one noticed the happy slurping noises that came from under my table. I almost slurped myself I was so thirsty, and I was grateful to be sitting down with a cool glass of water. After rolling my shoulders a bit and oozing into the shape of the chair, I was finally able to relax and take a few deep breaths. The coffee tasted better than any I’d ever had. I tickled Charlie’s ears while we waited for dinner, and studied the bar and the people coming and going. Yep, like a movie. A few people nodded to me as they passed by, faint smiles. Would I fit in? I suspected my clothes were a bit outdated but if anyone noticed I didn’t see it in their faces. Too tired to change my boots before coming into town, I smoothed my skirt down to hopefully cover my feet. I was glad they couldn’t see the tied up bundle of clothes I’d laid on the chair next to me. What would they make of that? I looked like a tramp with a scruffy dog.
In the jargon of my time, the chicken pot pie was to die for. I snuck chunks of chicken under the table that were taken from my fingers by an eager little mouth. I snuck him a couple of carrot bits. I don’t care for peas so he got those too. I would have asked about dessert but it was getting late and I didn’t want to miss Roger. I paid and thanked my kind waiter friend and stepped out onto the boardwalk. Lights were coming on up and down the street. It had started to snow. There was a dim light shining in the newspaper office and one in the little apartment upstairs. What would my new roommate be like? Would we be best friends someday? I hoped she liked dogs. Crossing the road I carried my bundle of clothes like one would carry a stack of books, rather than dangling from a string like a poor hobo’s bindle. I stalled a bit by looking at hats in the millinery shop’s windows. I was going to need something warm very soon to cover my ears. Charlie followed me into the newspaper office, a little bell above the door announced my entry. It was dark but for a light coming from a room in the back where I could see a young man operating a press, the pulley whirring and all the parts moving back and forth, rhythmically producing a single piece of newsprint at a time. The man looked up and stepped into the front room.
“May I help you?” He asked.
“Yes, please. I’m looking for Mr. Dawson.” I felt a moment of panic. Maybe Roger wasn’t here. He might be out at his cabin, he could be anywhere! Before the man could answer Roger was standing in the doorway, taking off a pair of glasses. He was backlit by the warm yellow light but I could see he was smiling. Charlie ran around the front counter and jumped on Roger. Bending down to give Charlie’s head a good tussle, Roger’s eyes never left mine. I wasn’t lost in time anymore. Roger’s smile told me I was home.

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