Realisations

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Elizabeth believes she is a twenty five year old woman travelling on a train to visit her dear friend, Anna, whom she has not seen for a while. But there's a lot more to Elizabeth that she has yet discover.

Submitted: July 01, 2014

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Submitted: July 01, 2014

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I don't like train journeys. I’d always found them too long and uneventful, with nothing to do but stare out the window at the bleak scenery, just for the sake of doing something. I had sat at the first window-seat available when I got on the train, after pushing past quite a lot of elderly people and crying toddlers. Tracy, of course, had followed me but all the seats near me had been filled with the disgruntled passengers I’d pushed past. Tracy sighed when she saw me and took a seat further back, beside a shrieking infant, mouthing: “If you need anything, Elizabeth, I’m just up here!” I nodded curtly at her then turned my head in the opposite direction. Tracy irritated me quite a lot, especially when she kept checking up on me. Despite her many good points, sometimes the sight of her round, friendly face and her twinkling blue eyes made me want to hit her.

A slow, deep rumbling below me told me that the train was leaving and sure enough, the train began to grumble out of the station. The hard greys and browns of the dreary train station outside my window transformed into images of identical fir trees, and grey skies. It was a wet December’s day with a biting cold wind and I counted myself lucky to be out of the rain.

I turned my attention to the people sitting around me. A young woman accompanied by her infant son was avidly speaking on her mobile phone. The child was whispering to his teddy bear on his mother’s lap, every now and again poking his mother trying to get her to join in. She looked about twenty five, the same age as me. At least, I think I’m twenty five... Am I twenty five? Yes, I think I am. What am I thinking, of course I’m twenty five.

An old man slowly eased himself down into the seat beside the young woman. When he had settled himself comfortably, he took a newspaper out of his coat pocket and began to read, his brow furrowing in concentration as he did so. His hair was wild and straggly, his clothes were patched and worn, but he had an air of happiness around him. He caught my eye and grinned a toothless grin. I smiled back in spite of myself.

Across from me sat an elderly woman, who was staring back at me. She was wearing a light blue raincoat that looked much too big for her and had large bottle green glasses that made her eyes seem twice their size. Her eyes bore into me so I hastily averted my gaze. The way she stared at me made me uncomfortable.

I turned my attention back to the window. The rain continued to pound down and the angry sky was as dark as ever. I began to feel guilty that I’d left Tracy on her own. She wasn’t all bad, in fact, she was great sometimes. Sometimes I forget what I’m doing or who I am and Tracy’s always there to help me. She’s a good friend, a very good friend at that. 

“Mom! Stop train! Mom!” yelled the infant child beside me, startling the passengers sitting near him. His face was alight with excitement, his eyes wide, as he stared out the window at a colourful playground full of laughing children. “Ok Paul, I have to go,” his mother sighed down the phone. She hung up and picked up her child who began to cry as the train hurtled further and further away from the playground. I stared at it until it disappeared from view. Something about it unsettled me. I felt like I’d seen it before. And then it hit me. Of-course I’d seen it before! I had been there many times with my husband Mike, my best friend Anna and her child, Suzanne.

I was there one summer’s day, not too long ago. I remembered sitting on the playground bench, inhaling the almost tangible aromas of the summer flora and allowing the midday sun to play across my face. It was a glorious day. Suzanne was on the swing set with two other children who seemed vaguely familiar to me, while Anna, Mike and I observed them. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely until the sobbing of Suzanne distracted us. She had fallen off the swing and was now clutching her blood-covered knee, her face twisted in pain.

Anna leaped up and ran to her daughter’s side. We all heaved a sigh of relief when Anna called over to us: “It’s OK! She only cut her knee, she just needs a band aid.” I opened my handbag and took out a bandage to give to Anna for Suzanne's bleeding knee.

As I approached Anna, a uniformed man exited the post office across the road and walked briskly towards Mike, who rose from the bench at the sight of him. After speaking to Mike for a few short moments, he handed him a sheet of paper and marched away. When I returned to Mike, all the laughter had died from his face. He turned to me, and the grave look in his dark, brown eyes filled me with fear. “What happened,” I whispered. He looked down at the sheet of paper in his shaking hands. “I’ve been called to war,” he choked out.

A lurch of the train brought me back to reality. Confusion engulfed me again. Mike had never been called to war, had he? That scene at the playground happened two years ago, when I was twenty three … there had been no war two years ago … So Mike couldn’t have been called to war. Although, now that I think of it, where was Mike? … Oh yes, Tracy had told me he was visiting relatives but would be back soon. He’d been gone an awfully long time though. I shook my head as if to scatter my confusing thoughts and tried to focus on the fact that in less than two hours, I’d be reunited with my old friend, Anna, in her house in Dublin.

A gradual slowing of the train distracted me. I looked out the window as the train wheezed to a stop at another station. A chattering group of people waiting at the station shuffled towards the open train doors, clambering to be first on. Behind them stood the station’s café; a small, pleasant brick building called ‘Chamber’s Café’.

My stomach lurched and my breath caught in my chest. I knew this café. At least, I think I did. It reminded me of the café I had worked in when I was twenty, which had been at a train station. It had been called ‘Coffee for a Journey’. Was this café before me my old café under a new name?

Then I noticed the little red bench perched below the window of the café. I had sat at that little red bench every day for a year to eat my lunch when I worked there. This was it, my old café. The café where I had met my beloved Mike.

A memory engulfed me once again. It was four years ago during a deliciously hot summer. The sun was like a giant yellow yo-yo above me, glimmering in the azure blue sky. It was seven AM and I was working an early shift. I had just tied my apron around my waist when the bell above the door tinkled to signal that someone was coming in. A crowd of chattering tourists entered the café and approached me.

I immediately set about taking everyone’s orders and I poured countless cups of tea and coffee. When I had finally served everyone, I wiped the sweat form my brow and leaned against the counter to rest. Five minutes later, a young man with a mop of curly chestnut hair and hypnotizing chocolate brown eyes approached me. “Can I help you, sir?” I asked, smiling. He smiled back. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered, in an English accent, leaning against the counter beside me. “I’ll have a strong cup of coffee please.” I turned away to begin when he said: “Oh, and before I forget, I’m going to marry you some day.” He turned on his heel, leaving me stumped as to what to do next.

For the next few months, the man returned every day and every day he told me he was going to marry me. He even introduced to me to his friends as his “future-wife”. I laughed whenever he said it and rolled my eyes, but secretly I enjoyed his attention. I learned that his name was Mike, he was an English soldier and was moving to Ireland to begin a new life, away from the memories of war.

We married a year later. It was the happiest day of my life.

The clattering and groaning of the train as it pulled out of the station awoke me from my memory. Panic began to hit me as I reflected on my memories. Where was Mike now? Why did those three years in which we’d been married seem impossibly long? I took a deep breath and assured myself that Tracy would explain everything to me later when we were safe in Anna’s living room.

I tugged up the sleeve of my blue coat and checked my watch. It was four o’clock and we were due to arrive at our desired station at five. I sighed loudly and decided that the hour would fly by if I took a nap for the duration of it. I folded my arms and leaned back in my seat. The last thing I saw before my tiredness overwhelmed me was the old woman across from me closing her eyes too.

 

* * * * *

 

The train was clanging its way to a stop when I eventually rose from my slumber. The other passengers were already standing up, their eyes locked on the exit, desperate to get off ad go about their lives. Tracy was making her way towards me, speaking loudly on her mobile phone. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying but I caught a few words like “train” and “confused” and “taxi”.

Anyway, I’d decided that I wasn’t going to rush due to the fact that I’d lose things if I did. I made sure I still had my phone, my wallet and my bag before sitting back in my seat and waiting for everyone to leave. The old woman across from me didn’t budge either. Tracy scuttled over beside me and explained how she was going to get my suitcase and that she’d be back in a few minutes. I nodded and looked away.

It was exactly quarter past five which meant we had fifteen minutes until we got to Anna’s. I allowed myself a little smile as I thought about seeing her smiling face. And Suzanne! I hadn’t seen her in a while either, yet I couldn’t remember how old she’d be now. I’d find out soon enough.

Five minutes passed and nearly all of the passengers had left. I looked out the window and saw Tracy waving at me frantically, signalling for me to get off the train. No, I thought to myself. She said that she’d come back for me and I won’t move until she does.

Five more minutes passed and I was getting more and more disgruntled waiting for Tracy to come and get me. I was just about to give in and leave the train when a young man entered the carriage, slightly scruffy and very thin, with lazy blue eyes. He smiled wanly at me. “Eh, the taxi for Jenkin’s Nursing Home is here,” he announced, holding the door open. Ah, I thought. That’s for the lady across from me. “Excuse me, your taxi is here,” I declared loudly, in case she was hard of hearing. As I said the words, her mouth moved to the same words, as if she was mirroring my movements. I frowned in confusion.

She frowned too.

Something wasn’t right … I raised my right arm.

She raised her left.

I opened my mouth in shock.

She did the same.

The young man was staring at me fearfully. He slowly backed out of the carriage and I was left alone. It felt like my heart had slid into my stomach as I realised what had happened. There was no old woman sitting across from me. I was sitting in front of a mirror. I was the old woman.

With that realisation came others … Mike was dead due to an accident at war … Anna was living in the nursing home I was travelling too … Suzanne was grown up with a family of her own … the other two children in the playground were my own children, who stopped visiting me in the nursing home when I stopped recognising them …

As the tears rolled down my face, I closed my eyes. I remembered the playground and the café. I remembered my beloved Mike. I remembered a life without Alzheimer’s disease. I remembered the sun playing across my face, the life of laughter I once lived, saying my vows to Mike at our wedding, going to my first dance with Anna in our brand new dresses ...

I do not open my eyes again.


© Copyright 2017 Emily Burke. All rights reserved.

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