Fear Of Flying – 1

This story starts, as all good stories must, on a Tuesday.

At a railway station, waiting for the working week to begin with a torturous journey to the city centre, the morning passengers are assembling in the same way they had for the preceding days, weeks, months, years and in one case decades. In their heavy winter coats they arrive, nodding at those they recognise, moving into the relative shelter as the snow swirls around them they mournfully anticipate another week of disappointment, bitterness and occasional sociopathic thoughts.

Simon stands among the gathering throng, shivering against the cold, watching his fellow travelers scowling, complaining about the long week ahead and the brevity of the weekend past.

The station is small, a commuter conduit to the inner city, the middle of homologous,  middle-of-the-road suburbia. The double tracks are covered with a thin coating of freshly laid snow while on the platform the shuffling feet of the assembling throng break the perfectly laid topping and create icy patches of well trodden ground. The branches of the trees surrounding the station are heavy, drooping, threatening to unload on the unsuspecting people below, while on the opposite platform the station manager shovels clear any danger and spreads a liberal throw of chunky brown salt on the ground.

The silence is blissful, but for the occasional bout of birdsong or crunch of ice underfoot there is a peace in this gathering.

Simon looks around, to his left is a young girl in her mid twenties, she would be attractive but for the thick layer of makeup caking her face, her brown hair and brown eyes rendered mute alongside her dark brown spray tanned skin. She switches on her music player, and from her headphones perfectly audible thumping bass underscores the scene attracting disapproving glances from her fellow travellers – particularly a large woman with her small dog who mouths expletives before looking away. The girl however is unaware of this, or the fact that in three years time she will have 60% hearing loss, and mouths the words to angry songs out of key and time.

To her left are three identikit businessmen. In heavy overcoats they stand reading the financial forecasts of the day, well-groomed men of business they flick through the orange pages, shaking their head at stocks and equities, occasionally sighing at the news contained within. They in turn are unaware of the large woman’s small dog gently urinating behind them, splashing their trouser legs as they are each individually marked. Nor are they aware than in three months time a catastrophic stock market collapse will cause their company to fold, forcing them to accept that reading the financial section of the paper every morning had little relation to them being able to control their destinies.

Beyond the spray tan girl, soon to be unemployed businessmen, urinating dog and large woman now pulling the dog discreetly away is a woman in her early thirties stood with a thick padded coat, dark-grey fur  hat and brown leather satchel. Her hair flows out from the side of the hat’s ear flaps, blowing in the wind, her light blue eyes dancing over the pages of a travel book she is reading.

Simon watches her as he had done for the preceding five years.

He imagining speaking to her, the witty comments he’d make, how he’d make her laugh, how the hair would blow in her face and he’d move it away, how they’d talk about music, art and literature, the times they would share, happy and sad, but together, he’d imagine how they would fall utterly in love.

This was, however, nothing but idle fantasy, he had never even stood next to her, let alone spoken to her, so with a heavy heart and sense of yearning unfulfilled he turned away. For now she was unaware of his affections, unaware of him and equally unaware of of her future and where it might lie.

“You should talk to her” a voice beside him said.

A old man in a dark grey three piece suit, heavy black over coat and brown suitcase stood beside him, checking a pocket watch briefly before turning to address again. Simon recognised him, the man was always at the station at the same time as him, always stood in the same place, always checked his pocket watch and always remained silence and tight lipped. Until today, this Monday he had chosen to speak.

“Every morning I come here, and each morning you stare at that girl, nearly five years now” staring Simon straight up with slightly red eyes the slight rumble of a train approaching echoing in the distance.

“I’m sorry” Simon replied, slightly taken aback by this change in social convention thrust upon him, thrown off balance by unusually timed conversation. 

“I wasn’t staring…”

“My wife died last night” the man continued cutting him off, a wistful smile half-heartedly crossing his face.

“I loved her every day of the last fifty years, from the day i first saw her on this very platform, to the day we first talked five years later, to when we married a year after that.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that…” Simon stuttered.

“And after that moment, everyday I would go to work and my heart would be heavy because I would be away from her, and everyday when I got off this train she would meet me and life would mean something. And I had happiness, great happiness.”

He paused momentarily, casting his eyes from Simon to the floor and then back again.

Last night I got home, stepped off the train and she wasn’t there.”

The train was closing in now, the track throbbing with changes in pressure and weight, vibrations, tiny at first passing through the rails, a metallic sound of oncoming speed. The man gripped Simon’s hand, his skin thin, eyes tired, hair grey and voice shaking, shivering in the winter air.

“So I walked home and found her, asleep on her chair, asleep. Asleep but cold, holding a picture of us together, a smile on her face, she’d gone in her sleep…”

His voice was cracking now, the train visible in Simon’s peripheral vision, the old man’s eyes gleamed, sadness and joy filling them simultaneously.

I’ve had forty five years of perfect happiness, forty five year of joy, of love, pure love. And it started here. Every time I stand here at the station and see you stare at that girl it reminds me of how lucky I was.”

Simon could no longer feel the cold, he felt blood pumping in his ears, adrenaline pumping, the man gripped him – in any other context with any other man it might have seemed aggressive, terrifying even, but in this moment, this man, he seemed calm, calm but insistent.

The train started braking, squealing as it gradually slowed.

“And it’s that, that opportunity, the chance of perfection, I want you to have.”

And as the train closed in the man released his arm, turned, adjusted his tie, stroked the falling snow from his jacket and stepped from the platform in front of the moving train.

The station master shouts, the large woman screams, the business men look away and the old man stares straight back at Simon as the train hits him at speed.

That would be no ordinary Monday.

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