At sea

January 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

It’s not the stopper train, this one, just the slow one. An hour to amble from city to city, always a window seat, always a view. Look down as you pull away from the station, see the garage where luxury cars are cut and shut like supermodels. Further down the line, the sloping fields freshly combed into immaculate green grooves, cleaved by a bristly ditch. Here, the artificial lake where men sit in tents, never closer than five metres apart, staring into the water in hope of an answer.

He gets on at Wakefield. Nondescript, but not the sort you tend to see on a mid-morning train. Electrician’s trousers with reinforced knees and too many pockets, an old polo shirt with a trade counter’s logo. Mid fifties, maybe, with that speckled hair and those glasses whose arms fold in on themselves and into a pouch. No, you’d say he was more of a van man – nothing fancy, something small, with his name neatly signwritten on the side, and a mobile number that nobody ever notes down, because all his work’s domestic and it’s all word of mouth anyway – Pauline down the road, Mrs Thomas two streets up, the lads down the club.

But today he’s on the train.

He sits down heavily in a table seat, unfolds his paper, and begins to read. He’s leafing through the pages, top to bottom, occasionally pausing to read an article, with fingers poised  at the page corner. Galloping past the headlines about luscious lovelies and imagined outrages, the filler pieces detailing incredulous feats and mumbled apologies.

The train is now in a sort of void green space between stations. You’d struggle to name the suburb you’ve just slid through, high on your embankment whilst lives carry on below. House after house after house after house. These are gardeners and these have children – best move that trampoline, else the grass’ll turn yellow – and here, here at no. 42 they’re ever so proud of their new conservatory. They’ve invited half the street round for a look.

He is still reading, but now he’s past halfway. He carefully pulls out the staples and lifts the middle sheet away. One fold, two folds, three folds, and leggy celebs and government scandals become a little vessel adrift on the stained formica sea. And as he reads on, he lifts each page, so that soon the table is littered with a tiny armada, set fast against the chattering of the train over signals, past sidings.

He has timed this to perfection; it seems he’s done this before. As you pull into the terminal station, he pushes the final boat out, then folds his glasses, folding them again, zipping them into their pouch. And he is up, and he is off.


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