Adèle shifted – yet again – in her seat. Her neighbor had apparently given up glancing and humphing at each of her movements. She glanced at him. His forehead was against the window. She wondered if he had succeeded in falling asleep. She wished she could.
Her eyes ached. It seemed to her that the ache came from the surrounding darkness. And that darkness also seemed to ooze out the cold that gauzed her legs. Adèle wished she hadn’t worn a skirt. Even though a skirt went best with the new bottines that she was so proud of. She pondered taking off her coat and laying it upside-down over her, to allow the fake fur of the collar to warm her ankles. She decided against it. It was not done to wear one’s coat upside-down.
A snore rose from the end of the car. Long, sonorous, enthusiastic. It began a regular rhythm that would have been lulling in any other sound.
From the other end of the car, a small flashlight beam arrived, angled to the floor. A felted voice gently displaced the silence.
“Monsieur l’Agent, n’y a-t-il aucune nouvelle?”
“Sir, is there no news?”
“Still none.” Adèle recognized in the answer the adenoidal voice of the gray-haired conductor who had stamped her ticket when the train was moving, how long ago?
The other voice rose again. “But we’ve been here how long?”
“We have a delay of five hours,” the conductor articulated in a characteristic professional tone.
The voice muttered indistinctly. A female one muttered back. A “Shh!” resettled the silence.
The beam walked forward. As it arrived at her seat, Adèle spoke.
“Excuse me, sir, is there no way to have some little heat?”
She felt the conductor bend over her, and smelled again his bizarre after-shave. The beam slid to the waistline of her coat, then down her legs.
“Sorry – madame? mademoiselle? – but the entire train is electric, and we can have no heat until we reestablish the current.”
He bent farther down, and spoke still more softly.
“But I’m sure I could find a way of warming you.”
Adèle’s cheeks tingled.
“Thank you,” she replied coldly.
The conductor straightened, the beam walked on. The snore was interrupted by a swallow, then recommenced.
Adèle humphed to herself.
She began to feel the need for a toilet. But she wasn’t sure if the toilets could work without electricity. It wasn’t done to use soiled toilets.