Entries to our 500 words short story competition celebrating World Book Night

Tricia Coxon

Train Letter To

It was on the 10.46 that dullness left me. The train was busy, only one seat. You moved your laptop nearer to your side of the table. I smiled.

Busy, you said.

Yes. I replied.

Silence. Minutes passed. There are hints of dark amongst your greying hair. Looking up you smiled. Open. I open.

Come far? I asked.

You told me. A town in Yorkshire.

How lovely, I replied.

You know it?

Yes, the gardens, Turkish baths, a rather splendid cafe.

The space opens between my words and your grey tipped head. My hair belies my age, salt and pepper grey, there is no cover up. I am not heavily wrinkled, nor scrawny necked. I am filled out to what I used to be and slower, forgetting now where never before. Dulled with routine. The routine of age with no adventure. No spark, no sparkle. I eat well, and walk with purpose. Your shirt is open at the neck. Jacket sits loosely at your shoulders. I see you glance from me to the window. Laptop is dormant.

Day out? You asked.

An exhibition. Coffee. Probably lunch.

Exhibition?

Yes, the Museum of Modern Art.

I used to live near there, near the Bridge.

 I used to work near there. 

I was a student. You smiled again.

I loved being a student.

Where were you a student?

Backwards and forwards, words. A light opens. It's been dark too long.

Here we are then, you said.

Already?

I will have to get a taxi.

You packed up your laptop.

I thought the train was on time, I said.

It was, till it stopped.

It stopped.

Yes, fifteen minutes.

How? When?  Where? The light was back on. I didn't know it stopped. Then.

Goodbye, have a good day.

You too.

A smile, then a backward glance.

 I peer out a window. No sighting.

Gone. My heart has not stopped. It thumps inside my chest reminding me of life. Of a better life. Then I shiver against this encounter. Too reminding. Too reminiscent of losing control. But this is only for now. Not then, nor forever.

 

How come? Same time, same train. Same compartment. Same laptop..........

Same seat. Red colour creeps up from your open shirt and from my pretty pink jacket, old from East.

Fancy, well fancy, you say.

Hello again.

Hello to you again.

It's personal. Too personal. Impossible.

Meeting?

Aha, Exhibition?

You got it.

Where this time?

National Gallery.

I like the cafe.

Which cafe?

The one next to the Turkish baths.

Bit pricey.

What's your favourite?

Rarebit.

Mine too. What chutney?

Both.

Me too. What exhibition?

Botticelli, I like the colours.

Me too. What time?

Two.

Two.

I stood there at two staring up into the blues and pinks of Botticelli. And my hand was touched and taken and l was led down the stairway into the cafe, facing onto the gardens. Staring. Confused. Then laughing. Open, wide open. Filling up with love. And falling down in love.

 

One week goes by. Same train, this time not opposite. But beside. Turning towards each other, turning our heads to look.

Hello love.

How. How can that be?

I don't know. Just is.

Just is.

I turn away. Confused. How can that be? It feels impossible but it is possible and it is really possible because it was real. I felt the movement of your fingers on my hand. And therefore, not impossible at all.

 

Two at the Botticelli. Cafe at three, Train at four. Then I return to routine. But no longer dull. The spark is fully alight now. It's a fire. I walk with thoughts of fingers touching mine. The birds, the sun, the wind, the rain become no longer a focus for my attention. They now take second place. For I have a love.

The beach.

The beach?

Let's do it.

Off the train early. A walk through streets till there it is, the beach. A long sandy beach. Waiting for our footsteps. A beach, alive with the sharp smell of salty seaweed, with no footsteps but ours. Four footsteps imprinting on yellow sand. A sea. A blue grey sea. With white breakers charging onto the shore. Covering footsteps. Wiping away the evidence of love walk. Rocks, huge boulders bleached by pounding waves. Receiving our words. Slow words. Words unsaid before. Words like wonder, mystery, beyond, wordless. Etched into the memory of the rock, pounded and crushed and washed away to somewhere else. Our words. Floating on the tide. Living on and on and on.

Botticelli. Beach. Beyond. Blown about sand that says forever.

Two. Two became four, then six, then midnight. I'm there, you're there. No life story yet. Did we ever meet? Did we not live in each others souls before we gathered ourselves together? If we did 'meet' it was known between us, you said it. I said it. Long before the train and long before Botticelli. There was a knowing.

I have to go, you say.

I'll wait, I say.

I'll be back, you say.

I know, I say.

Same train, you say.

Same time.

Then I wait. Not concerned. There is no need. But when your message comes to say, same train, I move in a different way to the door. When it opens I move fully in myself towards our love.

 

You leave again. To where? Some strange land of conflict. Tending the children of  conflict. Afraid you say. Always afraid. I hold your fear close to my imagination in wonder. Where are you now? Are you safe? Are you willing me to my door? To the train? Towards Botticelli? To the beach?

 

When the obituary appeared it was brief. A sniper. Left behind, a wife and a son. And me, I say to the bleak newsprint. Without passion. Without protest of anonymity. With slow falling tears, salty, like the sand in the sea that carried away our footsteps.

 

I'm back on the train my love. The 10.46. Coach F Seat 7. I shall stand at the Botticelli and imagine your hand.

 

Entry 1

Train Letter Two

Same time, same train. Same compartment. Same laptop..........

The minute I see you the dullness leaves me. You are walking down the crowded aisle laughing and joking as you apologise for bumping into a misplaced leg or elbow.

Funny. Engaging.

You sit opposite me. How to begin? I smile, try a ‘busy’. A ‘yes’ then silence. Minutes pass as I pretend to work on my laptop. I steal glances. Your clothes fit you well, you look after yourself, you have that healthy glow of someone who spends time outdoors, perhaps you garden or walk or cycle. Not too much make up, and hair naturally greying. Natural. No need to hide age or experience. No wedding ring. I sound like one of those men who are always on the look-out and feel ashamed. I’m not one of those men. Am I?

I smile again to open and you open. We talk of this and that. The town where I lived and you went to university. I imagine you as a student, long hair flowing as you cycle the cobblestone streets by the Minister or lying in the riverside parks with friends, perhaps a boyfriend, talking animatedly about some Arts House film or cult novel. These things were so important then, weren’t they?

You seem disappointed when I make to shut my laptop and gather my things. You didn’t realise that we’d stopped for fifteen minutes. A whole fifteen minutes of announcements and passengers shuffling and complaining and calling on their mobiles. My heart lurches like a teenager. I am flattered.

I get off the train. It takes all the self-control I can muster not to look back into the window, to see if you’re looking for me too. Such adolescent silliness!

I look at my watch. I hope I won’t be late for the meeting. I go through the turnstile and head straight for the taxis. I’ll call the office once I’m on my way.

In the queue, I remember when I missed my stop because of a conversation with another charming stranger.

A stranger who became my wife.

Another time. Another train. Another compartment. Another life.

 

Entry 2

Same time, same train. Same compartment. Same laptop..........

The train was busy, only one seat. I moved over and settled into your space. I took out my knitting. Something easy, straightforward, comforting and reassuring. Head down, familiar territory, gentle rhythm, soothing, settling. Restoring balance.

I left the charger.

You’re  back. Standing there. The train gathering speed. I’m confused and tangled, drop a needle, lose a stitch.

The laptop? I left it. In the socket.

And there it is. A length of cable, a connection. I’d not noticed.

And the seat’s still free?

Yes. I smile

I bundle the yarn into my bag, pushing it down. The zip catches the wool and snags, leaving the bag half open.

 

Our positions have changed. I’ve moved from outside to inside, something I’m not used to. I breathe deeply and again and again. In my head I keep up the rhythm of the stitches in time with the train, knit one purl one, knit one purl one, knit one purl one.

It roots me in this space, in this time, now.

 

Tickets, please.

The conductor moves through, stopping and checking tickets, people paying, chatter. I have mine ready.

Two more stops and that’s you. A day out?

I explain. Museum of Modern Art, first free day for a while. Then its your turn. You explain.

 

Got off, then jumped back on, remembered charger left in socket,

I hold it up as evidence, corroborate the story and we are drawn into a partnership.

Oblivious, he rattles on.

Happens all the time. We’re always finding them. Folk jumping off last minute, leaving them behind. Lucky it’s still there. Next stop’s another ten minutes. You’ll have to pay.

I look out the window, holding my breath.

Two stops works better for me

Suit yourself.

It’s sorted. I look across. You smile.

 

It makes more sense. Next stop’s the middle of nowhere

 

I nod. I know that place. The middle of nowhere. I’ve been there for too long. I don’t know how I got there or even when.  A bleak, flat landscape with closed doors, no signs, no exit.

And yes, here we are. The Middle of Nowhere.

 

A short stop. A young mum gets on with a buggy. A child eating a sausage roll. They stay  in the corridor. In that small space, confined by the gently swishing doors opening and closing as other people move through. On the train, but not.

 

But that is not me. Not today. Today I have a seat on a busy train. Going somewhere with something to do. A grand day out.

 

Who’s dropped a needle?

The conductor hold up the knitting needle. I shrink in my seat, keeping quiet. But you raise your arm, without even looking at me.

Here. it’s here.

You hand me the needle and smile.

I’ll have a scarf, please.

And I laugh, for the first time in quite a while.

 

Yes, I can knit a scarf. It will be warm and will suit you well. And I will knit one for myself.

Did you know?

We hope that you enjoyed sharing World Book Night digitally with us this year on 23 April.

We loved seeing what you were reading on social media. Reading for pleasure can be relaxing and sometimes offer a much needed escape from the world.

Part of our celebrations included a short story writing competition and Newcastle Libraries author Tricia Coxon penned the first part of Train Letter To... we asked you to finish the story, and here's a couple of the entries, along with Tricia's own version.

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