End of the Line

End of the Line
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We are sitting on the train, London to Glasgow. I don’t know where we are or how long we have been sat here.  It feels like there is still a long way to go.

We are sat opposite each other, a table between us. My bag is on the seat next to me, a new black canvas suitcase. You don’t have a bag. The carriage is almost empty, we are almost alone. I can see an old man asleep, his head fallen uncomfortably on one side, his mouth open, snoring gently. A woman is sitting somewhere behind me. I can’t see her, but I hear the bleep of her phone and her whispered hurried conversations.

You haven’t stopped talking, not since you joined me on the train in London. Your voice is excited and loud. It fills the carriage, but you’re not self-conscious, you don’t care. You talk about the past, the things we did years ago and the things we did last month, trips and chores, films we watched, things we said, jokes we made.  Worse, you talk about the future, the holiday we will take next year. You like the idea of Wales, of cosy cottages and real fires. I breathe deeply when you say this and bite back the tears. You don’t notice and I am glad.

I like hearing you talk. I am happy you are happy. I am happy you are here. Sometimes I listen and nod and smile, you don’t need me to say anything. Your words become indistinct, a colourful, comforting blanket that covers me gently. I wish I could reach out and grab each word and put them in my pocket to bring out later, to keep them safe and near.

And all the time I am reminded we are getting closer to the end of the line. A physical thing in the pit of my stomach and the back of my throat. I try to ignore it, but it won’t leave. I feel as though it will eat me from the inside. Swallow me whole. And you don’t know. You can’t see it. You think it will all be OK when the train stops.

Now you are talking about Christmas, how we should have everyone over to our house. We will make eggnog and mulled wine and buy a tree from the farm like we do every year and I think my heart will break all over again.

I turn to look out of the window so you won’t see. Outside the world is grey and flat. Grey sky falls into endless grey fields. There are no birds or trees to break the view. It’s as though we are caught under a dull metal dome. Trapped. Rain falls. It hits the window but we are moving too fast to let the drops race down the pane. Instead they stay there, still, stuck and I notice my reflection. A half-formed face distorted and flickering in the glass, ghostly.

I know there will be pitying looks when I arrive, sidelong glances and whispers when they think I can’t hear. It’s inevitable. People don’t know what to do. I am a delicate thing made of fine china that may shatter if the wind blows wrong. I worry bits of me will fall away when I am there, as if all these years haven’t passed. I am tired. Heavy and foggy but I don’t want to sleep.

”Are you listening?“ you ask.

I turn away from the window and look at you. You are handsome, perfect, and your voice is deeper than I remember, softer. You are frowning slightly, your forehead creasing, fine lines crinkling around your eyes. You are concerned for me. I notice details I haven’t seen before, or not for a long time, the small mole on the side of your neck, the way your right eyebrow flicks upwards. I suddenly want to hold you, or hit you.  I stare at your face trying to commit every line, mark, hair, every pore to memory, afraid it will all be forgotten. And still we keep moving forward.

“Are you ok?” you ask.

“Yes, just tired.” I realise I have not spoken for a long time and my voice sounds cracked and strange.

“You should sleep.”

“No” I say too loudly and the old man wakes with a jump and looks around the carriage, confused in his sleepiness. “No” I say, quieter this time, embarrassed, worried I have given something away. I twist the wedding ring on my finger and try to smile.

“OK,” you say, smiling.  You reach out but we don’t touch. Our hands rest on the table between us, our finger tips a breath away. I can almost feel your skin. My whole body aches.

And still you keep talking. About the time we went to the beach, when the sun was bright and the sea was bluer than the cloudless sky. We ate chips and a seagull tried to steal them from the paper tray I was holding.  We paddled and the white tips of breaking waves tickled our toes. I don’t remember this, but it must have happened. Or maybe you are talking about something we will do. I no longer know. I just want you to keep talking, but the train rocks slightly on its rails and I am so tired and we keep moving closer, closer, closer.

I know I have fallen asleep. My eyes are closed, the train has stopped and the carriage is silent. I think the sun must be out, my face is pressed against the window and I can feel the warmth. Slowly noises outside filter through, the guard’s whistle, a child’s shout, the clack, clack, clack of suitcases wheeled over platforms.

We have arrived. You are no longer talking. I have never known such a silence. It is dark and endless. If I open my eyes you won’t be there. So I keep them closed for just a little longer and imagine.

About Emma Balmforth

Emma lives in Crawley in the UK and is a civil servant when she is not writing. She thinks writing is much more fun. Her work has appeared in Brittle Star, Gold Dust and Defenestration.

Emma lives in Crawley in the UK and is a civil servant when she is not writing. She thinks writing is much more fun. Her work has appeared in Brittle Star, Gold Dust and Defenestration.

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