The train is near the end of its journey. The cars rattle along in the predawn. By the time they reach London, the sun will have risen. Thompson rubs the sleep from his eyes, pulling the chain to announce the train’s crossing through another intersection. The buildings gather ever closer to one another; only thirty minutes until they reach the lumberyard. Thompson calls out to the new boy to shovel more coal into the engine—he still has to be told what to do and when to do it, but he’ll learn in time. The boy finishes his duty, but before he can return to the coal car, Thompson stops him.
“Have you seen The River before, son?”
“Yes, sir, my uncle lives not five minutes from it.”
“Well—hang back for a minute longer.”
The train comes around the familiar bend and, mere seconds before the train’s front wheels touch the bridge, the sky and London break open all at once. Everything is bright: the river, the banks, the buildings in the distance, the train tracks gleam in the new light, the coursing sky is a perfect reflection of the Thames. The boy’s mouth doesn’t fully close until they are well into the city. Thompson loved the night shift.