At the very last second it went quiet. But first:
The seats on trains are about 4% shy of being comfortable. Comfortable enough that when you fall asleep you are surprised that you managed to. But not so uncomfortable that you would turn a seat down. This train was not busy. I had a seat.
There is always some bullshit advertising on a train. Things I don’t care about. And even if I was in the target demographic for that advertisement, I still wouldn’t care. Student Accommodation. Loan Repayments. Home Insurance. Thing’s I could never care about. And then there is always at least one sign telling you how they’ve improved. How there are better things on the way for rail based travel in this county. And I’m here on my faux-comfortable seat. And I still don’t care. And I imagine that there are some people who make active campaigns against how things are run on trains. Feet on chairs. The volume of the buzzer that tells you it’s good to open the door. There are too many people in the world.
The door opens. Some snot nose gangly teenager comes and sits next to me. I can smell him. I see the acne on his neck. Not so much that I’m repulsed, but enough to know he only pretends to not live with his parents. He is clearing his throat. It sounds like he is going to huck some massive phlegm-wad right here on the train. But he doesn’t. And I’m equally disgusted. His grey tracksuit pants blend into his grey tracksuit top and his shaved head completes the picture. Scally lad, I think to myself. His head is buried in his phone and I forget about him.
An old guy steps in from a different carriage. He makes brief eye contact with me and for a second I have a smooth hankering for a drink. Nothing too heavy. No spirits. No wine either. Maybe just a cold beer. It’s hot outside. I could do with a cold beer, I tell myself. I sigh. He sits down right in front of me. There is a whole god-damn train to sit on and this guy sits down right in front of me. If this was some kind of a movie, I’d expect him to start giving me life advice, or maybe grant me some magical power for a day. But he has no interest in me.
His hair is grey. The kind of hair that looks soft but is unaffected by gravity. It bops and sways as the train takes a corner but this old man just yawns. And his wrinkly face contorts, and I smell his breath. It doesn’t stink. It’s just there. Better than the scally next me. When he is done smacking his lips – a yawn applause if you might – he turns to look out the window. This is a man travelling to a middle class area in a middle class city. He looks like he is meant to be part of the arts world, but missed the last bus there. Or maybe he started the journey but the bus left while he was buying some breath mints from the service station. Now he is here, looking subtly out of place. He is wearing a black t-shirt with gold embossed pine trees on it. His hand are big, but look soft. Definitely a man of culture who got stuck in mediocrity and had to accept that this is what it is. Then I start thinking about how many people this must have happened to… There are too many people in the world.
The train stops. It’s quiet for a second, but it is not that second. That last second was very quiet. But first:
A mother wrangles a baby buggy – a pram – onto the train. The pregnancy took its toll on her figure. Or maybe it was marriage. No. No ring there. Maybe it wasn’t the pregnancy, maybe she was always this way. No daddy here. Maybe she got him drunk and he got her knocked up. She doesn’t believe in abortion. But mostly she doesn’t believe in missing out on council benefit. So she keeps the kid. She has no concept of how many people there are in the world.
The train starts moving again. I lose track of how many stops have passed and how many I was supposed to be waiting for. I didn’t actually see the kid. The pram had the hood up. I knew there was a kid in there because she kept looking in it saying ‘Hiya! Hiyaaaa! Hiyaaaaaaaaa!’ and I’m glaring. I feel the heat on my collar and I adjust my shirt. I lick my lips and I think about that beer. Swallowing is not so easy this time. I breath in deep through my nose, and I feel a coat of cold sweat down the back of my legs. It’s not intense, its just there, and it shouldn’t be.
It’s not long after that I feel it for the first time. A thickness in the air. That certain electricity you feel when you know you aren’t alone in a room. You can almost hear it. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s not certain. I think that’s probably a ghost of a hangover – one that I haven’t had in years now – and put it aside in my mind. But it wasn’t gone, it was there.
The kid reaches up and hits his jangly toy. The mom laughs and taps it too. It’s louder than normal. Almost like a toy piano. The scally still has his head in his phone. The lost culturalist is still looking out the window. They get that there is a kid on the train, no need to look. I’m not different except that I’m looking at everyone else. There is a fat guy in a grey suit in the row behind the mom. He is looking at her. His porky, sweaty little hands holding onto his iPhone. He looks like a thumb with a chin. I can’t tell if his stubble is laziness or fashion. He looks like a person who has worked his way through retail, and now has all the entitlement of middle class management. He can tell you everything there is to know about data storage facilities or camera lenses or maybe it’s as trivial as mobile phones. It’s probably mobile phones. I think, I don’t like people like him. And after a quick scan around, I wonder if there is anyone I can relate to. Anyone remotely in my ballpark. The kid I can’t see stops playing with the jangly dangly toy piano loud toy which I also can’t see.
It’s quiet for a second. Not that second, but it’s quiet. Because:
The air conditioning takes a break and the train sounds like it’s freewheeling. There. Another pang of presence. What was that? It was like I’d forgotten a birthday. Or like I was going to write an exam that I hadn’t prepared for. I’d drink that beer right now man. I don’t even care if it’s warm. I find myself checking my pockets to see if I have a drink on me. Of course I don’t, its been 2 years. I look up and make eye contact with a girl. I can only see her one eye. It’s beautifully blue, and her ginger hair contrasts it perfectly. They all seem to have beautiful eyes in this country, and I’m a sucker for ‘em. Only this girl isn’t looking at me like she wants to see me naked. She felt it too. And we are looking at each other. I look left and when I look back, all I see is ginger.
A few years ago, when I didn’t have this gut, and the sauce was always within reach, I’d have no problem talking to a girl like that. I stuck it in loads of them girls. They saw something in me. Maybe it was something drowning in all the sauce, maybe it was something kept alive by watering it. But they would say hello, and I would take them home. Some stayed a few nights, some didn’t leave a name or number. It was like I was there to remind them that there is someone special out there for them. For a moment I’m tempted to go up to her and talk. But I know that I’ll have nothing to say. And even that flicker of doubt will make her think weirdo. Plus, plus there is this nagging. What was it? A writhing itch where you’d imagine your soul to be. I feel a droplet run down my leg. Something is up.
The kid hasn’t squeaked a peep. His toy is quiet. His mother is on her phone. She raises it to take a picture of herself. Selfie. I should be more annoyed, but this nagging sensation has gotten to a 6 on the active thought priority scale. I look over at the thumb in a suit. No. He is lost on his phone. I look at the culturist. His breathing is shallow. He knows, but he doesn’t know he knows. He thinks this is another one of those silly art thoughts he used to have. Maybe he still has them. Maybe he is an artist and I’ve missed his rationale completely. Goddamnit I need something to drink!
The ginger is looking at me now. She knows more than I do. She is scared. The kid starts to cry. The mom doesn’t look away from her phone, she just tries to rock the pram with her foot. I look over my shoulder down the rest of the carriage. There are 3 old women sitting quietly next to one another. Oblivious. There is a blonde eastern european woman ready for the next stop, stood holding on to the yellow pole. She is dozing and her head is swaying. Oblivious. And of course the stinky scally next to me is too busy ignoring ambition. Oblivious. Too many people – I think for the last time.
I look over at the emergency stop lever. I’ve never even heard of anyone pulling that. Not even as a prank. I wonder if it works, and if so how. I almost want to pull it. The nagging has become an insistence. The train feels loud. I take a deep breath. The grey blur of English countryside, old and set in its ways, seems to know more than us all. I look at the concealed blue eye. She looks at me. Then it goes quiet. For real this time.
There is a rumble on the train. Then a shake. And it is very fast. But I see it all. There is no time for any kind of warning. The insistence nearly makes me vomit. There is a loud boom and I finally understand. I’m not sure if it is a bomb. Or another train going head on into us. But here we go. I’m in a back facing seat, so my whole body slams into my partially comfortable chair, followed shortly by the back of my head. There is a flash of white. And I’m back. The scally wasn’t sat properly and his shoulder hit the seat first. His neck is at an impossible angle. He is falling out of his seat. Middle management’s thumbprint has connected with the seat in front of him and a toupé is revealed. Followed by a red rift up his scalp. Like moses parting the red sea. I see blood on his widow. Can blood actually shoot out your ear? Looks that way. With enough force, anything is possible – someone once said that to me.
The pram’s wheel locks are worth jack-shit. The kid goes flying. He is probably screaming but I can’t hear him over the sounds of metal being crushed. His jangly toy is probably making one hell of a toy piano racket. Can’t hear that either. The mom’s phone hand has connected with the guard rail and wrapped around it the wrong way round. Because she is sideways – facing the scally – the guard rail has connected exactly with the middle of her body, and there is something coming out her mouth. Her eyes are rolled back. I assume one of her ribs punctured her lung. But I’m no doctor. She is definitely dead. Or about to die. We all are.
The old guy in front of me has landed exactly where the scally had left space on the seat. His face is mashed up against the seat and his legs are bent in a way I can’t understand. There is piss running down his front. There is also blood. Some of it hits me on the cheek. It is so hot. There is one dead, blue eye looking at me, half rolled back.
Then my left eye goes red. And everything is a red mush. My head is an 11 on the headache scale. But I don’t even have time to count that high. The back of the train has started lifting up, and I can see ginger has broken both of her arms bracing herself. The carriage buckles in the middle and is folding in half. We are about to become the most expensive calzone in the North West. The metal screeching is deafening. Ginger is higher than me now and I see her looking at me. She is beautiful. Higher and higher she goes, her pale arms like randomised tree branches. Higher still. She falls forward out of her seat, now past 90 degrees to where it was originally. I feel the carriage behind us slam hard into ours and ginger goes flying. The following carriage has somehow managed to play a mortal game of leapfrog with our cart. And is folding ginger blue’s side of the train onto ours. I see the thumb fall too. He lands on the mom. Oh look, she finally found someone. But that only meant one thing.
Ginger blue is wearing tight jean shorts and a pink t-shirt. I imagine she might have chosen something different to wear if she knew. There are sparks. There is glass. The floor from her side of the train rips off and I see the underside of the piggyback carriage. I haven’t had a moment to breathe yet, which is just as well. She lands knee first on my chest and my red world breaks into stars. White hot. Her other knee has connected with the back of the culturalists head. It is no longer there. I gurgle. The underside of the train becomes larger. The screeching.
And then it’s quiet. And I want that beer. Or even a wine now. I taste coins. It’s all white. And quiet. And then nothing.