The Train – by Steve Luckham

An early morning start in late winter. The stars are shining. The engine of my small car stutters into life. The drive through my village wakes me up. It’s one of those villages on an old Roman road with cars parked on each side making it difficult and exciting to negotiate. I think about Roman invaders, what they would have done about traffic control and the early morning aggression of fellow travellers. Off the A2 with an easy right turn followed by a fiddly right turn on a bend and then a further right into the station car park, up the ramp, and into my preferred space, good for an easy exit. A short walk to the ticket machine. Back to the car to place the parking ticket on the ledge close to the windscreen, lock the doors and onto platform two. My day begins.

But today is different.

The train carriage is brightly lit looking bland and familiar. Closer attention reveals a plethora of notices, furniture and equipment arranged in an orderly and precise fashion. The view outside is muted in semi darkness with the prospect of a golden sunrise. Out of habit I get a table seat and place my small bag on the grey luggage rack overhead. I notice for the first time that the sheets of glass supporting the luggage make it possible to see passengers who are otherwise invisible reflected as if they were suspended on the ceiling.

My reading glasses cast elongated double circle shadows on the table. No need for them today. No paperwork to complete or emails to send. The rhythm of the train facilitates sleep and as I drift off I am aware of scattered conversations. Bubbles of audio in clear space.
I remember a dream that has been recurring over the past few weeks. It is not a repeat in every detail but involves many of the same characters and a ‘dream place.’ I have visited a number of dream places over the years but this one is new. It is difficult to remember them when awake. Even now in half sleep the details are vague. The dream place is an underground passage, always a surprise discovery. The passage is a short cut or an escape from something. It starts in a house, either in a cellar or behind a wall, and is plain, sometimes made of dug-out earth, crudely constructed. There is an undefined danger involved and it is a relief to enter but possible to get lost.

The train clatters along, not yet very full, comfortable for those who want more space than their allocated single seat. The sunrise that wakes me is gorgeous. Clouds clear on the horizon, filtering and refracting greens, oranges, and purples with shafts of red. The river creates sparkling points of light on its surface pulsing like Morse Code. My gaze searches beyond the surface light discerning rows of boats suspended in the haze. The passengers talk, click and tap mobile phones, work computers, listen to music through earphones, and sleep. The sounds of the train lessen as it slows and the synthetic voice announces the next station with perfect clarity but odd modulation and word separation.

The purpose of my journey returns to me as more passengers get on. My daughter, Maggie, said she’d be wearing a bright red scarf. She had something important to tell me. I hoped against hope she had come to her senses and was ready to leave that ghastly group. A longing grew in me to hold her in my arms, to be close like it was when she was a child, happy days before Emily passed away.

These thoughts are too painful to bear. I focus on passengers. A man sits opposite me reading a yellowed paperback about the War ‘On the Other Side’ by someone called Hans Helmut Kirst. His hair is dark and wavy with some grey, combed straight back from the forehead. He stinks of tobacco smoke and is sweating, drinking coffee continuously from a steel flask. He regards me through dark eyes sunken in folds of fat under thick eyebrows. I look away noticing his large pudgy hands with no rings, and manicured nails.

My paperback reader has turned his attention to a woman in her late forties or maybe older. Her blond straight styled hair shows traces of black roots. Her attire is smart and conservative, a blue striped shirt, white linen scarf and black jacket. Heavy foundation is layered on her face and her eyes are made up with mascara and eye shadow. A dull red lipstick burdens her lips above a large double chin hanging from a chubby round face. Black nail varnish and two heavy gold rings on the ring finger of her left hand are visible when she adjusts her hair.

‘Would you like your coffee strong sir?’
After a pause the officer speaks. ‘Yes, make it strong.’
A smile is shared as the cardboard mug is exchanged. The policeman is tall with very short hair where his skull is not bald. After a while he stops drinking seemingly staring out of the window. I can see he is looking at me in the reflection. I feel uneasy. He looks very fit for a policeman.
‘Just take it easy,’ I think feeling self-conscious in the beam of his stare. A monk in cassock and hood walks between us and the spell is broken.
I arrive at my destination and look up and down the platform. I walk up to a bench with a scarlet scarf on it placed next to a young man.
‘She left it in my safe keeping,’ he says as I pick it up smelling a familiar perfume. For a moment I am washed with happy memories.
‘I must return it to her.’
‘Then you must take me with you,’ he says as the tall policeman discretely slips on the handcuffs.

May 2013

One Reply to “The Train – by Steve Luckham”

  1. Ian asked me to revisit this story and write a version in the third person for the next Five Writers London meeting.
    I had almost forgotten this story and have not looked at it until now for about five years. It will be an interesting re-write which I will publish on the site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *