PostHeaderIcon Train Whistle Blowing

by Jael Strong

I know the sound of a train whistle blowing.  I have always known that sound. As a child, I would sit quietly in a hot bath and listen to the distant cry of the engine as it passed along the river, through our town. At any moment, I can close my eyes and hear that sound.

My sister, Minerva, doesn’t know the sound of a train whistle blowing.  She doesn’t know any sound.  When she was just a baby, the fever came and burned through her, leaving her deaf.  She can close her eyes, but I don’t know what she hears.

We were all desperate for Minerva to hear.  My father stared at her when she was small, imagining that if he worked hard enough he could buy her ears to hear with.  He worked longer and longer until he worked so hard that he died at the age of fifty-two.  My mother channeled her desperation differently, teaching Minerva to be practical, to achieve an inconspicuous life in which perhaps no one would notice that she was deaf. 

I loved Minerva, and I only wanted her to hear the trains pass because I could hear them and I loved hearing them.  So, when I would hear the train chugging, I knew the whistle blow was fast approaching. I would rush to Minerva’s side, and as the train would blow I would blow a gust of air into Minerva’s face.  She would giggle and laugh, as baby’s do, as I tried to make her hear the howling of the train.  Everyday, I did this.  And as she grew older and began to walk, I would walk with her along the tracks so that she could see the machine that made such a gust of wind, and know the sound of the train as it passed.

I kept this ritual for many years, until the odd stares of passersby made me stop. Minerva was old enough too to notice the stares, but it didn’t matter.  When she saw the train, she would wait for my warm breath to wash over her.  Her blonde curls would bounce in the wind and a smile would spread across her face as the train whistle warbled in my ears and I passed the sensation on to her. It was a melancholy time when I became too self-observed to hear the train for my sister.

When Minerva was fourteen, she decided that she was going to become a starving artist.  From then forward, my mother and I would find odd items strewn about, splashed with red paint or slashed with a carvers blade.  Minerva would set these on display in the front yard for the neighbors to ogle and hopefully buy. 

My mother wholeheartedly disapproved of Minerva’s choice to be a starving artist.  I could see what she felt, a gnawing feeling that the world would not support a deaf  artist.  Or worse than that, Minerva might not hear the jeers of the world.  Or worst of all, the world might see that she was a deaf, starving artist.  The battles between them were dark and loud, but Minerva couldn’t hear them and I hid from them, drowning them out by immersing myself in the rumble of the passing train.  I felt that I should help Minerva to hear the train, to distract her, but I was confidant by then that she no longer had any interest in the long, loud whistle of the train.

It wasn’t too much later, when she was barely sixteen, that Minerva took off with Peter, the charming and rustic twenty-something neighborhood boy.  He bought a broken down camper that announced itself soundly whenever he approached, and one day he drove up to the front of the house, Minerva ran out with a small bag of her belongings, and they disappeared.  Regret filled the intervening years between Minerva’s disappearance and the eventual letters that she sent.  The silence made me lonely and my mother quite old.

I imagined Minerva often during those years trying to understand the world around her.  Peter, despite great intentions, wouldn‘t know how to help.  She wouldn’t hear the clinking of glasses or the crashing of colliding cars.  A blaring horn would be lost on her.  I saw Minerva clearly lost in the mayhem of a chaotic, clamoring world.

When Minerva’s first letter arrived, I was terrified of opening it, and for a long time it stayed in the pocket of my jacket.  Then, one day, I sat alone in the house, and I opened Minerva’s letter.  As I read, I could feel the train chugging toward us and anticipated the whistle blow that I had never stopped loving. They had traveled all of those interposing years throughout the country, camping at times, renting at others, and so often sleeping on the side of the road in the back of the camper.  She loved the sight of the stars away from city lights, and she loved the smell of the ethnic foods mingling in the city, but she loved most, she said, riding on the open roads in between.  There, as Peter drove along, she would put her head out of the window and feel the wind flow over her, and as she would close her eyes she could hear the sound of a train whistle blowing.

About the Author
Jael Strong is a writer for TheWriteBloggers, a company dedicated to creating professional blogging content for increased internet visibility.

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