'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 12 June 2015

KBR Short Story: Steam and Coal-smoke

by Jo Staker

“What’s your name, boy?” the train driver asked.

"Ben," the boy said.

"Well come on Ben. Climb aboard!"

The boy looked at his Mum. This was embarrassing. There were people everywhere. He looked down at his feet.

"Go on," his mum smiled apologetically.

Ben walked slowly, dragging his feet and flopped down on his seat behind the driver.

"Me too!" his little sister cried.

Ellie was only 3. She loved this train ride they took every Sunday afternoon.

"Of course little Miss, on you get," said the driver as he took off his cap and waved her on.

He turned around and smiled at the boy and girl.


"Yep, ready" they said together.

 Ben looked around at the crowd of people, nobody was paying any attention to them. He felt relieved. He stared at the back of the driver’s neck. Why hadn't he noticed before that the deep lines on his skin looked just like train tracks, heading north, south, east and west. There were soft wisps of white hair escaping from under his grey cap.

A train whistle sounded. Woooooo Wooooooo.

Only it wasn't a real train whistle, it was Ben's Poppy Jack making the noise with his mouth.

“Off we go!”

Poppy Jack never remembered who they were when they came to visit every Sunday afternoon, but the nurses said that after Sunday lunch, he always got his train ready. Three chairs, one behind the other, like somehow he knew there would be two passengers arriving soon.

Ellie made the noise too, "Woooooo Woooooo"

Ben was sure people must be staring now, but no, they weren't. The families that came to Monterey Hall every Sunday to visit their loved ones were used to seeing Poppy Jack driving his train with his two small passengers seated behind him.

Poppy Jack closed his eyes and stuck his nose up in the air and breathed deeply. "Mmmmm, can you smell that steam and coal-smoke kids? There's nothing that smells better than a steam train!" he cried.

Ben sniffed the air. It smelled like old people he thought, but kept that information to himself.

That was the last Sunday Ben and Ellie got to ride with their Poppy Jack on his train. He died the next day. Ben's mum gave him Poppy Jack’s train driver cap to keep. Ben sniffed it. He thought he could smell steam and coal-smoke.

Now when Ellie asks him to, he takes her on a train ride, in their kitchen. He lines up three chairs, one each for them, and one for Poppy Jack.

"Mmmmm Ellie. Can you smell that? Nothing smells better than a steam train"

Jo lives in Sydney with her husband, four children, and four very fat chooks. She loves books, writing, and growing backyard veggies. She hopes to finish the world's longest running Arts degree this year. She sometimes blogs at Jo Digs.  

KBR Short Stories are a way to get your work ‘out there’—and to delight our KBR readers. Stories are set to a monthly theme and entries are due in the 25th of each month. Find out more here.