#fridayflash Sidings

Eleanor ran for the train, in her minds eye it slid away down the track, smooth treachery.

But the doors slid shut behind her and she felt the metal under her feet. She swayed between carriages.

Her slower self was panting on the platform. The one who had not really wanted to come.

The passengers were orderly and quiet, their faces contemplative. There were no lads with cans banging against aisle passengers. The seat received her thankfully, yielded. She sighed at the sidings, decommissioned carriages crumbling.

Eleanor had found out about the funeral accidentally, a chance phonecall to an old friend who knew about tax laws. It was years since she’d seen Kevin. How would she ever have known? It was the kind of news a mother would have passed on, if she’d been around, lowering her voice when she explained the circumstances.

Of course her Dad knew the family but it wasn’t Kevin he remembered. But Kevin had always been there. Kevin was always at the front gate. Kevin had pulled her pigtails when she was five. Kevin had robbed a necklace from his sister and given it to her when they were both eight. He had kissed her on the head age nine when they were playing catch but he said it was accidental. He had challenged her to a spitting competition when they were ten and she was pretty sure she won. When he was fifteen she ran into him down at the park mitching school. The park was by the river and over the river spanned an old railway bridge. There were gaps between the girders you could see the water through.

They climbed the barbed wire and the fencing onto the bridge. ‘I wonder if it’s safe’ Eleanor had said to him, rubbing her finger into the rust. ‘Could we fall through?’ ‘With any luck’ he said. He was funny then although he never smiled. His hair was new romantic, fell over his eyes.

She’d looked at the water and wondered what it was like to be dead. ‘Not all it’s cracked up to be’ said Kevin as if he’d heard. She had thought she and her father would move when her mother had been killed. Everything had been a reminder, the cups, the clothes pegs on the line, valance sheets, a certain kind of tinned sardine. Breakfast time, Sunday lunch, the hour after she came home from school, the spot on the street where it happened. There was no avoidance. Perhaps her father preferred it like that. He always spoke about her as if she was on her way home, as if all her actions were in the continuous present. ‘Your mother likes the flower beds that way’ he used to say, every time they walked up the drive in springtime.

And Kevin. He was never just himself was he? She was never going to say no when he wanted her to go all the way in her single bed the nights her dad was out at what he called his committee meetings. He held her so tight that she thought she would smother. He kissed her fingers and limbs and she fed from his lips and it was the only time that she completely forgot. He always kept his eyes shut.

The train lurched through points. She opened her eyes and the sun had escaped the altocirrus. It seemed now that people were talking, smiling, moving, all activity.

It was a short journey from the station to the cemetery. But she only just made it in time. Later she thought she would go and visit her mother’s grave, note the decreasing gap between her mother’s final age and her own lifespan.

Her mother was walking home from the shops that day, a Saturday. A Saturday in April with the blossom out on the trees and a sense of beginning.

At the graveside she recognised almost everyone. Neighbours she hadn’t seen in years, people who were kind at the time, the girl who married Kevin when she got pregnant. Eleanor avoided looking at the coffin. Instead she saw the young boys, they could have beeen Kevin, all over again, Kevin trying to put frogs down her back in the school yard. Kevin trying so hard to say sorry when they were both thirteen but not being able. A man stepped forward to take them by the hand, Kevin’s brother, so much older than when she saw him at the court.

Kevin and his brother had been showing off to each other, took their father’s car. Kevin had been in the passenger side. The side that struck her.

He’d only mentioned her mother once after that, inadvertently. He said that she made the best ham sandwiches. That he could never eat a ham sandwich now without remembering.

Kevin’s brother looked up from the lowered coffin, his tears close but unspilt. He glanced at her but there was no recognition, no remembrance. Kevin had once told Eleanor that he loved her. But she didn’t know if he was joking. She probably loved him too but that was immaterial.

Eleanor returned on the train without visiting her father. The altocirrus triumphed, the windows were fraught with rain. Tears mixed with her own reflection. She kept fixed in her mind the rusty train bridge and the water swirling under. The trains lurched at the points, swung away from the rotten sidings.

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8 comments

  1. What a sad, poignant story, Alison. I love the imagery, especially “sighed at the sidings, decommissioned carriages crumbling”, coupled with the last line: “The trains lurched at the points, swung away from the rotten sidings”. It conjures the relationship between her and her father and/or Kevin’s brother. Lovely.

  2. Nice continuity. This feels like, if it were a film, it could be one long shot. I never lost sight of the characters or circumstance going present to past, then back. I think the well chosen details really helped tie everything together.

  3. Another beautiful and moving story, Alison. It achieves amazing intimacy for the reader. You have a way of letting us feel unaware of the writer. Thank you. @trishanicholson

  4. Beautifully melancholic story Alison. Is it just me, or did you intentionally make us think it was her father that had died, and that she was actually talking to Kevin on the phone? If that was your intention, you pulled it off quite well, and I was surprised in the end. If it wasn’t, then I apologize for misreading.

    Wonderful descriptions as always!

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