When the Train Whistle Blows
By: Stephanie L. Robertson
Folks ‘round here say there’s a ghost that haunts the tracks running through the middle of Athens.
Do you believe them?
I seen her.
They say it’s the ghost of Perlie Gunn, waitin’ for her beau, Gilbert McCall.
Ever time you hear the train whistle on a dark, drizzling night.
1935 and Perlie was the purtiest gal of all at the ol’ wood school house. Just past her eighteenth birthday. Blue eyes and pert nose. Always wearing that blue flour-sack dress. A trip to town for her daddy to get something at that hardware store right over there.
Passed the ol’ Jefferson Street diner, where Gilbert McCall sat at his breakfast of sausage, eggs, and grits. Couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. Jumped right up from his table, fork and knife falling from his high-born hands. Left it to go meet the yeller-haired gal.
Was that little ol’ Perlie Gunn, all growed up?
Diner owner, Buzz Henshaw, just shook his head, wondering if McCall would remember to pay the check, but knowing the feller would fergit. There was no stopping true love.
Folks say Gilbert jogged after Perlie and they fell for each other like a fish for a worm, the minute their eyes met.
But Perlie stood no chance with a McCall.
Oh, no ma’me.
She was from the wrong side of the tracks.
Ol’ Judge McCall forbade their courtship, and her folks knew it would end bad. They knew a grimy-faced pig farmer’s daughter couldn’t land a high-falutin McCall.
But folks saw them two sneaking to meet for picnics or out and about Athens. They saw Gilbert, looking all moony-eyed, slipping out of the courthouse where he clerked that summer he was home from law school down in Tuscaloosa. They’d steal a kiss behind the drug store, when ol’ Judge was inside, fannin’ hisself from the summer heat.
Story goes that they were s’posed to meet down by the tracks at dusk. Run off an’ marry, they was, in McCall’s fine, red Ford coupe.
Something put Gilbert late. He heard that train come flying down them tracks and saw her standing and waitin’ on t’other side, her clothes in a beat up ol’ box. Musta slipped in them heels she borrowed from her Cousin Maylene. Ankle stuck fast in a gap twix the metal rail and wooden tie.
Train man near ripped the town apart with the sound of his brakes sliding towards Perlie. It was too late. They say that train drug her nigh forty feet afore Gilbert could blink a eye.
I heard tell Gilbert never went back to Tuscaloosa after that. Ended up somewheres over in Georgia. I never seen him since.
But I seen her walkin’.
Still wearing that blue flour sack dress.
Still looking for Gilbert after all these years.
On wet, foggy nights.
Walkin’ on the tracks when the train whistle blows.