The Train Ride

I breathed a sigh of relief as I slid into my seat, which was thankfully unoccupied. Plonking my belongings on the plastic table with the typical Monday-morning monotony. The familiar feel of the ridge where the seat had worn with time was a strange comfort. As the train clunked into motion, groggy as the bodies inside, my hand pressed deeper into the cushiony filling with the curiosity of a child.

***

Just in time. I catch my breath as the train pulls up. Fumbling for my ticket, a jangle of keys and coins, and relieved sigh puffs from my lips. I straighten it out, smoothing my fingers over the creases.

***


After sliding my glasses back up for the hundredth time, I dumped them on the table, perhaps a little too carelessly. The fuzzy shapes merged together like I’d dunked a painting in water and the colours had seeped into a blurry brown, vaguely resembling the original shape. I loved playing this game at night, driving through the city, watching all of the lights twinkle against the blackness.

 ***

The air is tangy with the scent of stale coffee. I scoot into the nearest seat. Beside me, behind the pages of a newspaper, is a wrinkled forehead. I wonder whether the wrinkles are from concentration or age, and settle for a bit of both. Still, the guy is oblivious to me. I shift my gaze, scanning the carriage like a bored child in search of amusement. Immediately a pair of dark eyes lock on to mine, peeking from under a thick, black fringe. Before I wonder why, my eyes wander to her mouth. Lips slightly parted, the kind of mouth that speaks without words. Just a creeping smile or tentative twist of the lips movement will tell you everything;. Her eyes are still fixed on me. She’s too far away to tell, but there’s a lost look in her. Is she daydreaming? She looks too resolute for that. Do I stare back? A wave of embarrassment flushes my cheeks. I fiddle with the ticket, smoothing out the creases. When I return my gaze she has gone.

***

My glasses bobbed up and down slightly as I hurried down the stairs. Curly black tendrils flew wildly in the wind. I’d missed my stop. A taxi was my only hope to get to the meeting on time. Why did I let myself lose track of time again? Between heavy breaths I let out curses. I needed to pull myself together. And start running.

The taxi driver asked a second time where I wanted to go. As I stared at the stranger in the car, who waited for my answer, forehead creased, I didn’t tell him the office building. Quietly, the name fell from my lips as I remembered. Jake.

***

I am walking. My legs take me to the space she left. It’s only on reaching it that I realise what I am doing. I stare at the seat, torn and faded, with stuffing poking out of the corners. Scratched into the plastic table is a wonky flower. An empty coffee cup and a newspaper. Peeking in the corner of the first page is a yellow post-it note. “Don’t be late for meeting! Bread. Cheese.” Then underneath, crossed out twice, “Break up with–.” Beside it, crossed out once, “Tell Jake.” Poor guy, I mutter. I slide into the seat, examining the long, cursive letters. My foot meets an object on the floor. A glasses case. The same looping handwriting is inside the empty case. Dorothy Poole.

The Necklace from Last Christmas

“Hi Mum, I can’t talk right now. Sorry, I—” he pushes the ‘loudspeaker’ button and drops his phone on to the armrest of the car seat.

“I know about what happened, Jamie. Your sister told me she bumped into Sam today.” She clutches the phone so tightly to her ear that her hands began to slip with sweat.

“She spoke to Sam?”

“Listen, Jamie, there’s something I need to tell you. I know I should have told you this before—”

“Told me what? When?” he turns to the phone, but doesn’t pick it up.

“I saw Sam with Stewart in a coffee shop a few weeks ago.”

Silence.

“Jamie. Listen, I’m really sorry.I understand if you don’t want to talk to me.”

“No, you don’t understand!” the words tear “How could you not tell me? You just let me carry on, thinking that she loved me. For weeks!”

“I know. It hurt me too much to tell you. But I should have found a way.”

“But you didn’t.” A muscle throbs in his jaw.

The words stifle the air between them; two mouths twisted with hurt in two different cities.

“You don’t love her still, do you?”

He hesitates, “Well how can I, mum? After what she did…”

“You know, I didn’t know if you’d even believe me if I had told you.”

He sighs.

Her voice is quiet but presses on with growing strength as her mouth spills words of attempted comfort:

“I was in the loft earlier and you’d never guess what I found,” she pauses her false cheeriness, hoping for his reply. When there is no sound but distant traffic coming through the receiver she continues, stepping p the cheeriness to the next notch. Only, as her her cheeriness accelerates, so does her obvious desperation.

“Your old notebooks. Do you remember all those stories you wrote? And all the cartoons!”

“Mum, I lied.”

Her whole body drops. In those three words she hears the way his face is screwed up to hold back tears. Her arms sag, useless, unable to wrap themselves around him. Unable to catch the tears on her fingertips until they’ve gone.

“I still love her.”

“Oh, Jamie” she whispers.

A small series of sounds, like the whimpering of an animal in pain, are released from Jamie’s lips. Her face is taut, this time to prevent her own tears.

“Does she know?”

“She wants to be with Stewart.”

“Where are you, honey?”

He isn’t listening. His eyes are fixed in a glazed stare.

“Jamie? Where are you?”

He holds the stare.

“I’m in my car. I can see her from here. She’s still wearing the necklace I bought her last Christmas.God, she’s so beautiful”

“No, Jamie, don’t! Don’t do this…please don’t do this to yourself.”

Silence.

“Wait. I’m on my way”