Notes and Disclaimers: This story is based off an idea by a friend, and then completely changed as I wrote it. It is dedicated to Bruce and anyone who loves trains and Yuri.
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Whistles in the Night
Completely altered from the original concept by E. Friedman
Rina hunched down under her umbrella, angling it against the driving, nearly horizontal rain. Her legs, already soaked to mid-calf, felt cold and heavy. When she shifted the angle of the umbrella, the water unerringly found its way down the back of her neck. This was an expensive suit – her favorite, picked up when she was last in Hong Kong – and now it would be ruined. She was cold, wet, and wondered why the hell she had come out on a night like this.
The fluorescent lights in the entrance of the bus depot buzzed audibly. Running the last few steps, Rina shook her umbrella out into the night and shook herself a little as well. The air in the depot was heavy with moisture and the warmth of human bodies. There was a vague scent of sewage, which she tried not to think about.
Why did she want to meet here, Rina wondered, as she scanned the rows of cracked, molded plastic chairs. If she had been looking for somewhere depressing, she could hardly have chosen a better…
“Ah.” Rina waved a hand, as she spotted Manami over by the departure board. But Manami didn’t respond, nor did she even seem to see Rina. Rina watched as Manami put her hands to her temples and rubbed gently, staring off into some middle distance. With one last shake of her umbrella, Rina entered the depot and headed towards the big board.
After some number of steps, Manami saw her. Lifting a hand, she waved at Rina with a tired smile.
She looks as tired as I feel, Rina thought gently. We’re both getting old. Too old for this, certainly.
“Hey,” Rina called out while still a few meters away.
“Hey back,” Manami smiled for real now, putting her hand out to gently squeeze Rina’s arm. “Thanks for coming out to meet me.”
“Always a pleasure,” Rina began warmly, “But, why here…?”
Manami interrupted, “Do you remember when we met? We were working the ticket office here.” She laughed at her own answer.
“Of course I do. That’s why we decided we’d never ever work with buses again.” Rina laughed. Sobering quickly, she continued. “You look terrible, Manami. I heard that tourism was down again. Why don’t you upgrade? Steam railways will never again be more than a curiosity, you know that. Nowadays people want…”
Holding up a hand to interrupt the flow of words, Manami snapped, “Let’s not get started on that again. You know my feelings about your modern electric railways. They have no life, no style, no soul. They all look the same. My line might be small, but when passengers see the steam trail and hear the engine whistle…”
“…They have a feeling of beautiful nostalgia, yes, yes. You’ve said all that a thousand times. But look – you had to give up stopping at another three stations, didn’t you? Not enough interest?” Rina didn’t mean to sound as critical as she sounded. She tightened her lips against saying more.
“Rina, please.” Manami’s voice was exhausted, teetering on the edge of tears. “I don’t want to argue about it. As long as I’m alive, the Kurosaki Railway will survive.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right.” Rina put a palm out to signal peace. “I’m so used to having to be overbearing every day, dealing with all those self-important asses.” She blew out a frustrated sigh.
Manami nodded, then, “I’m sorry I skipped the association meeting today. I couldn’t deal with another agenda filled with discussion of shared track and voltage standards.” She smiled, “Although, I do love listening to you all complaining about the Shinkansen tracks.”
“Do you remember,” Rina said, “when we took our first rail trip to Hokkaido?” Her voice softened.
Manami’s eyes shone. “The Amemiya. It was so beautiful there. But you liked the sleeper car on the way home better.”
“Well, I can’t help that I like the new trains best. Besides,” Rina let her gaze drop down Manami’s body, “the sleeper car had pleasant scenery of its own.”
Manami laughed, blushing. “It’s been too long, hasn’t it.”
“Much too long.” Rina turned, her fingertips momentarily brushing the other woman’s. “Now, can we get out of here? I’m not enjoying the sense of nostalgia this place gives me at all.”
Manami laughed as she took out her umbrella. “As it happens, I’ve found the perfect place for us tonight. That was why I wanted you to meet me here.”
Rina’s eyebrows lifted as she followed Manami towards the depot entrance.
The two women raised their umbrellas to ward off the once-again vertical, but no less tempestuous, rain. A sea of umbrellas passed them, creating an unreal sense of anonymity. Not even people anymore, they were just two more umbrellas wading through a sea of other umbrellas. Two splashes of color, moving along a river of color.
When they had moved past the lights of the bus depot, Manami took Rina’s hand and led her along towards the rail line that ran behind the warehouses to either side of the depot. They could hear the sound of a train approaching. The whistle grew loud as the train sped through the night. Rain flashed in the shining beam of light as it grew closer, then disappeared into darkness as the freight train passed.
The two women watched in silence, holding hands, listening to the beating of their hearts against the unsteady rhythm of the rain.
“I’ll never get tired of it.” Manami said quietly. “No matter how hard it gets, Rina. I’ll never give up.”
In answer, Rina dropped her umbrella, pulled Manami into her arms and kissed her.
“It’s perfect.” Rina looked around at the hotel, which had to have occupied this spot for 100 years. Outside the occasional thunder of a passing train shook the building, and the whistles echoed through the black night. Inside, the faded red walls bore equally faded black and white photographs of early 20th century trains. “How did you find it?” she asked, taking off her sodden coat and hanging it up on the wire frame coat hanger in the corner of a just-as-faded room.
“‘Tarou. He had to come back this way last summer to see his parents over Obon. He saw the sign and came in to see what it looked like. He couldn’t stay then, but he knew I’d want to see it.” Manami held on to the discolored brass bedpost of the western-style bed, as she pulled off her stockings.
Rina looked at the pictures on the wall, stopping in front of a photo of a young man who wore a conductor’s uniform. “The owner? His father?” she wondered out loud. “Maybe.” From behind, a cold hand was laid upon her neck and she jumped.
“Shower?” Manami gestured to the bathroom with her head. She was already naked, her lips a little blue at the corners.
“Get in first, I’ll join you in a moment.”
Rina stared at the photo on the wall for another second. With a quick nod of apology, she took the photo down and laid it face down on the dresser.
The bathroom had been very stylish when the hotel had first opened, she had no doubt. Glass and chrome – now tarnished – must have conveyed an exotic sense of modernity at the time. The overhead light had been removed, leaving only some dangling wires, and the early 20th century fixtures on either side of the mirror now had only a few working lights, but Rina was completely enchanted by this aging beauty queen of a hotel.
She slid the curtain back and stepped into the small shower behind Manami, pressing herself against the other woman’s back. Manami leaned back on Rina, warming the other woman up against her. They stood, not moving for a long moment, letting the water run down along their bodies.
“Manami?” Rina said, her face pressed up against the other woman’s back.
“Let’s buy this hotel, sell our lines and live here together.”
Manami’s body shook with laughter, but Rina said, “I mean it.”
Turning around so that she faced Rina, Manami pulled them out of the stream of water. “You would never. You love Cho-den as much as I love Kurosaki. But,” she sighed. “It’s a lovely idea.” Manami threw her head back, looking up at the ceiling. Rina moved in to kiss her neck.
“Maybe we could retire here?” She said, then sucked lightly on the pale skin in front of her.
“Like we’re ever going to retire. Silly. Face it – you’ll probably die at your desk, working on the newest upgrade to your hover trains, and I’ll die trying to arrange a supply chain for coal in a world that no longer uses fossil fuels.”
“You’re probably right.”
Taking Rina’s face in her hands, Manami lifted her up. “I told you,” she said, her eyes dark, “I don’t want to talk about work.” She kissed Rina deeply and for a long time.
“You know what today is?” Rina had thrown her blouse and skirt over the heater, and was sitting by the window in her underwear. She lit a cigarette, handed it to Manami, and lit another for herself.
“No idea,” Manami answered happily from the bed where she lay, still naked and flushed after lovemaking.
“My first day off in eight months.” Rina stood, then sat beside Manami on the bed, stroking the other woman’s legs.
“Oh that. My last day off was…oh…ten months ago. And I just know that while I’m here, something has become a crisis. I love Shimizu-san and ‘Tarou, but I swear that every time I even think about taking a moment off….”
Rina nodded. “After Murasaki-kun left, you know, I don’t really have anyone I can hand the reins to. There’s a promising division president in Kyuushu right now, though.”
They smoked in quiet contemplation.
“Rina?” Manami sat up and stubbed her cigarette out. “Why don’t you join me and my company? It’s not as competitive as a major railway, but we could be together, instead of seeing each other once a year like this.”
“And what? I’ll write the promotional posters for fairytale trips through the heartlands?” Rina’s laugh was harsher than she intended. Immediately she regretted her words. “I’m sorry. I just…can’t.” She finished her cigarette, blowing out the smoke towards the window. She could hear the rain pouring down outside. “But, it’s a lovely idea.” She leaned down over Manami, kissing her gently.
“How are you getting back?” Rina asked. They stood in front of the Railway hotel. The sky was crystal clear. Each leaf on each tree shimmered with drops of water that reflected the sunlight dazzlingly.
Manami smiled. “How are we getting back, you mean?”
“I’ve called for a taxi. I have a meeting in the city today. How are you getting back?”
Manami shook her head, still smiling. “I cancelled your taxi. I have a surprise for you.”
Just then the scream of a steam whistle cut through the air. As Rina watched in amazement, one of the Kurosaki Railway engines came around a bend in the track towards them. It fairly flew along the curve, unenecumbered by any attached cars.
Manami raised her hand and waved hugely. An answering wave was returned from the window of the engine. It slowed, and came to a stop just in front of the hotel, as the entire staff crowded the door to see what was happening.
“Care to join me?” Manami climbed up on to the embankment, holding a hand out toward the other woman.
“Manami, what on earth?” Rina stared at the engine, and the hand that Manami held out to her.
“She has to go in for some maintenance, and the yard is just south of the city. I fiddled the schedule a bit. May I give you a lift?”
Rina laughed. “All right.” She put her hand in Manami’s and allowed herself to be handed up to the engineer who bowed her into the engine. He assisted Manami up, then waved to the former conductor, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and their son all of whom stood there in the hotel door as if blasted with a stun gun. The young boy, maybe two or three years old, started to clap his hands and shout, The engineer tipped his cap and moved back into the engine. The train wheezed and whistled and slowly got under way once again.
“I’m sorry!” Manami shouted over the noise. “There’s nowhere to sit.”
Rina grinned at her, looking out the window. “It’s okay! Thanks for the ride.”
They hardly spoke during the entire ride, each leaning out the window as far as they dared, to catch the bright sun and the clean air filtered through the freshly-washed countryside.
At the station, they shook hands briefly.
Rina turned away then immediately turned back.
“Yes?” Manami hadn’t moved.
“Next time, let’s got for a ride on one of mine.”
Something flashed in Manami’s eyes. “It’s a lovely idea.”