The shrieking of my wheels on the tracks as I pull into the station, so like your screams when you realized what they’d done.
The hiss of my brakes, my body slowing as my heart began racing.
But could not; eyes on meters, release valves turn lest all their work be in vain.
Has no one told you?
An engineer’s mind in a cast-iron skin.
My heart a coal-powered furnace that aches for your flesh.
It cooled when you asked the steward, “Where is my husband? They telegraphed he would arrive today.”
I felt Dr. Leonard’s footsteps hurrying down the aisles, through the coaches, descending the steps.
“Mrs. Danforth, I – ”
“What is it? What’s wrong? Where is my Reginald? He promised he would come back to me.”
How you ran when he explained, fleeing faster than I could lay down tracks to follow.
Armstrong’s student and Cooper’s apprentice, I designed the machineries for the self-laying track.
But that day in service to my country, I stoked the engine, shoveled the coal, two cars of munitions, of soldiers, six, following the rails to enemy lines, to the front, into their territory as they scurried, Rebels in retreat.
Their shell missed. Meant for munitions and men behind the tender, but we slowed fearing they’d sabotaged the track.
How my likeness has sabotaged your heart. You no longer want me. Care. When you saw what they did.
Dr. Leonard, the marvelous surgeon who’d made so many other men whole. What could he do?
A genius, yes. He saved my life.
But at what cost?
To take what he found and encase it in steel, power it by steam, to bind me to the machines of my own creation, my heart burns for you but to touch my skin your hands would sear, your flesh burst free of your bones.
What a shell could not do now a switch in the engineer’s station could do as surely as a bullet.
Or that last look in your eye.
So I am become a thing, serving out my days forging new rail lines, intelligence in an iron shell, serving my country ’til my last coal is ashed, never to feel you again, never to bounce the children on my knee, never to feel your touch on my brow now so hot buckets of water burst into clouds to keep me cool.
My lungs are bellows, my heart a double-stack boiler, my brain powers switches to keep me on tracks others laid down, taking me to where new track must be laid, carrying the bodies Dr. Leonard could not fix, my eyes light the night but never you, never you.
Only your screams, realizing what they made.
To save my life, they encased my soul in steel,
And made me a thing.