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Chasing Trains

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

One more love story before bedtime!

Submitted: May 11, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 11, 2019



We will shortly be arriving at Bath Spa. Would passengers please remember to take their belongings with them when they leave the train. This is the 14:43 Great Western service to Chippenham, Swindon, Didcot, Reading and London Paddington. Bath Spa is the next stop.

I keep a secret. I chase trains. I’m not one of those anoraks standing at the end of the platform spotting trains in the pouring rain. My obsession runs much deeper than that.

Outside, it is twilight. I travel in an empty carriage on a sleek bullet train, slumped in a forward-facing seat. Half-asleep. Watching a lanky man roll his groaning trolley down the aisle in my direction and apply the brake, keen for custom.

He’s old school. He’d remember the halcyon days of steam and diesel, Pullmans, restaurant cars, the rich railway bourgeoisie gorging themselves on silver-served, semi-liquid luncheons.

We smash a tunnel! The lights flicker, twice, then go out. I find myself on a steam train. A whistle blows. Carriages sway. Wheels clack. Steam condenses in drizzling rivulets down my window. He nudges me. I snap out of my reverie.

‘Can I get you anything, Sir? Tea, coffee, cold drink, snack?’ he says, towering over me.

‘Coffee, two milks, three sugars.’ I jerk myself awake, ‘Oh, and a Kit Kat.’

He pumps coffee into a Styrofoam cup. Plastic into the ocean. Our generation’s legacy!

‘There you are, Sir. Careful, it’s hot! Sip it through the lid. That will be £4, please.’

Four pounds!?

‘Is there anything else I can tempt you with today? Crisps? Cake? Biscuits? Gin? No? I’ll be on my way then,’ he mourns, ‘Have a nice day, Sir.’

He vanishes through the sliding door. Strange, the train being so empty. I drift off to sleep and don’t wake until we glide into Swindon.

A West Country burr tickles my eardrum. ‘Mind if we sit with you?’

‘Not at all, go ahead.’

I stare at the strange reflections in the dark window as the fleeting shadowlands pass by in the gathering gloom. He overfills the seat beside me. His stiff, orange anorak scratches my arm. He is short, well-muscled, thick-set. A young albino with blood-red pupils and snow-white hair.

‘Sit yourself down, Ailsa,’ he says.

She sits facing me in her soft tanned leather jacket, short, plump, well-rounded and pretty. Ailsa has strange magic in her face, blushing peach skin, a cute turned-up nose, plummy lips, puppy’s ears, a widow’s peak. Her ash brown hair is curled in ringlets.

She smiles at me and rests her eyes. Suddenly, the youth grabs my hand. I slop my coffee grouts over the table. He asks if I’d like to see his pictures, while I try in vain to mop up the teak gunge with a single-ply napkin.

Ailsa mumbles in her sleep. ‘Look at Vic’s pictures. He’ll only get upset if you don’t.’

Upset? Brushing the hair out of my eyes, I don my red-rimmed readers, nodding at his reflection. Vic produces an ancient mobile with a cracked screen, scrolling colour images. Know what they’ll be! Diesels!

He asks if I chase trains. Shrugging my aching shoulders, I tell him I don’t.

‘Okay!’ Vic says, all enthusiastic, ‘So! This is a Hymek in Brunswick Green.’

I smile. I get that.

‘Warship class, Zenith in standard British Railways livery,’ he boasts, the smug oaf. The Western Fusilier. And he’s in his original maroon. Isn’t he handsome?’

I watch Ailsa pretend to be asleep. Seeing her grin, I make a fuss for her sake. ‘Is that the best you can do, Vic?’

He scowls, he digs deep. ‘Baby Warship, Ark Royal in his original olive green.’

I point out that Ark Royal wasn’t a preserved locomotive. That he was cut up in 1980. ‘Didn’t take that photo, did you Vic?’ I gloat. ‘Weren’t alive then, were you?’

He’s been caught out. We laugh. Ailsa laughs. Vic chases classic cars. He shows me their shiny cars. His blue, her red vintage Austin Mini Metros. We saunter into Didcot. I concede. It’s over. Ailsa opens her amber eyes. We all stand up and embrace.

‘Take care, Ailsa.’

Vic pecks her cheeks like a ravenous crow tearing carrion. She gives him a sardonic smile then sits down next to me, as he vanishes through the sliding door.

Reading is the next stop. But we pull on past and gather speed. Why didn’t the train stop? Ailsa appraises me then extracts a phone, scrolling monochrome images. Know what they’ll be!

She grasps my hand, asks me if I’ll chase with her. I say I will. Electrified, she asks if I’d like her to show me her pictures. I tell her I would.

Inside the train it is frost-cold. Inside, our hearts are ice-cold.

Ailsa shows me a grave in Brunswick Green. I dig deep, until she reveals the awful truth. Vic was killed in a car crash in 1980, cut up in his brand-new Mini Metro.

She shows me the trolley man dripping with blood. ‘Jim jumped in front of The Bristolian near Chippenham, late 1945,’ she admits, ‘Suffered from post-combat stress, poor man.’

Ailsa stares at me morosely, drilling my eyes with her hard, penetrative stare.

‘Like to see my picture now, Iain?’ She sounds wistful.

I gaze at her reflection and break into a cold sweat. ‘Must I?’

‘You know you must,’ she replies, sounding tense. ‘That is the rule we have to abide by.’

I concede. It’s over. I feel very tired. She shows me her picture. She lies in an open coffin, tastefully lit by candles, pinpricks of light, flickering flames, aglow in her eyes. Ailsa, all laid out, swathed in black lace, her face half-draped with veil, beautifully at peace.

We sit in silence, holding hands. I caress her wedding ring with my thumb.

‘I’ll always love you, Ailsa,’

We are now approaching London Paddington. Would passengers please remember to take all of their belongings with them when they leave the train. Thank you for travelling with Great Western. London Paddington is your final destination.

She grips my hand like a metalworking clamp and cries, ‘I love you, Iain, so much.’

A klaxon sounds. We smash a bridge! The lights flicker, then go out. We’re in the dark. Our carriage sways. The wheels lock. The coaches roll. The engines burst into flames.

It’s a game we, the spirits play. A ritual. We keep a secret. We chase trains.

In search of our lives. In search of our love.

© Copyright 2020 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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