Jemima Argues with Steph the Vain Engine

 The smile on the engine’s improbably large face widened as two men in overalls rushed forward carrying large metal buckets, brooms, and what appeared to be enormous powder-puffs, and hurried towards it.

''Hurry up, you,'' said the engine in an imperious female voice, the effect of which was made rather less impressive by its distinctly West-Country accent. ''Yeah, but I'm in a hurry to get to my next... engagement, you know. Hurry, boys.''

Jemima looked at Patricia, as if to say, What's going on here then... but Patricia was looking a little pale and had sat down on a bench on the platform. Jemima stepped forward. She watched the two men, who seemed to be applying blusher to the engine's cheeks.

''What's that stuff then?'' she asked one of the men.

''Brick dust.'' he replied, and was immediately interrupted by the engine.

''Yes, but not just ANY brick dust. MY brick-dust blusher is produced in the highest of high-class salons, in Gay Paree.''

Jemima looked at the two men, both of whom had just raised their eyes heavenwards.

''I don't wanna argue with you, whatever your name is...''

''Stephanie. Pleased to meet you, little girl.''   The engine smiled, showing large, gleaming enamelled teeth, behind her sliding metal lips.   Jemima found herself wondering how those worked. Was there a button somewhere in the cab? Was the voice on some kind of mp3 player?   Where were the speakers?

''But, even though I have never been to Paris myself, I doubt they would make makeup for... for... steam engines,  I mean to say!''

''No, you silly girl.'' Stephanie said, giggling, little puffs of steam rising from her valve gear as she did. ''They do NOT make cosmetics for steam engines. Why would they? I am not a steam engine. I am a locomotive. A Pacific locomotive. I, in fact am one of the finest, most beautiful locomotives in the world. My classification is 4-6-2. Look at my coupling rods, my steam dome, inspect my footplate...oh no, you won't find a finer one anywhere. And as for my whistle...'' she giggled coyly ''It's as a whistle.''

She turned her eyes away from Jemima, fluttering her eyelashes at the two men.

''Hold 'em still, Steph!'' said one of them. ''We're about to do yer mascara.''

Jemima peered into the other bucket, which appeared to contain soot mixed with engine oil. It certainly smelt like it. As she watched, the men dipped their brooms into the mixture, then swept it up against Stephanie's eyelashes.

This is mad, thought Jemima. It was about to get madder, though. The men went into the station building, and returned, carrying the most enormous mirror Jemima had ever seen. They carefully propped it up between them, while Stephanie did more eyelash fluttering, pouting, and smiling at her own reflection.

''Fine. Beautiful. Now, just buff my buffers and my tender behind and I'm ready to go. Oh. Boys?  Where is my engagement today. anyway?''

One of the men exchanged a wink with the other, as he replied:

''Down in Barry, Steph.  Wales. Place called Woodham's. You'll love it there... You'll probably want to stay forever.'' He turned away, his shoulders shaking.

''Oh, lovely,'' said Steph. ''Peep Peep, off we go. Goodbye little girl...''

Jemima watched as Steph moved down the track, the two men now sitting in the cab, laughing.

She sat on the bench next to Patricia.

''I wonder what was so funny.'' she said, turning to Patricia. But Patricia did not reply. Patricia had disappeared. In her place sat something which looked very similar to Patricia... at least, from a distance. But it was made of plastic, with a nervous looking plastic smile on its plastic face.

Jemima felt a tingling in her fingers, looked at her hands, and gasped. Her fingers were starting to stiffen and turn bright pink. What was happening to her?

The End

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