The snow is gathering on my boots as I wait for the train. The electronic boards are changing their mind minute by minute. Will it or won’t it arrive? There’s no reason to be at the office today, it’d be fine if I worked from home or bagged it all off and went to a café to warm up. I could take the children sledging with Monica. (She’s texted to say they’re off.)
I pretend that I don’t know why I’m persistently waiting for the train as it slowly battles towards me. But I do know. It’s the hope that Rosa too has battled to be here. It’s the hope that she holds our time together between the stations in the same high esteem as I do.
The train is pulling in and I’m wondering whether she’s tucked up warm in bed with her husband or whether she’s on the train. Most of the other people who were waiting beside me have traipsed home, abandoning their posts.
I imagine the olden days of slam door trains, of people leaning out of windows and waving. If I let myself romanticise, there might even be steam. Now everyone is sealed in, it makes the moment of the approaching train less special.
If we were living in earlier times, Rosa would be enthusiastically waving (with a bonnet pressed to her head). Back here in the present, I won’t know until the last minute whether she’s there. Most days this adds to the surprise, but today it makes me anxious and I curse the enforced reserve of the modern world.
I always board the train at the same coach stop. She does the same at the station before this one. I remember the first time we conversed. The naturalness, the attraction.
But let me be clear. Neither of us has ever risked taking a step closer, entering into a moment of contact or embrace, no matter how we’ve desired it.
We are cowards who fear rejection, who fear mess and separation. Our intimacy is postponed ad infinitum. The slightest flicker is extinguished. It only takes one mention of our other halves and the trance is broken.
The id loses every war, I say.
Nobody is listening, I am here alone. But it is good to say these things aloud.
We will grow old doing this. We will grow old without causing pain to others.
The train stops and I wait for the doors to become active. No one steps off. I look for our usual seats, but they’re empty. I look around and, at first, I don’t see her. But then I do and my heart stops. She is talking to another man. He is younger than me, better dressed too. She is twiddling her hair and leaning into the conversation. Her body language tells me all I need to know.
I turn and exit the train. It departs as I traipse out of the station, home to Monica and the children. I don’t stop at the café. I seek solace in the snow and the ongoing cold. My fingers are numb. It is punishment for my stupidity. I wasted all those years dreaming, all those years not finding employment elsewhere. Commuting into middle age.
Idiot, I say.
Then I punch myself in the side of the face. It is harder than I expected. A tooth seems to have come loose.
Some children stop their snowballing to stare at me, trying to figure out why I am behaving this way. One is dared to throw his snowball at me. He declines but another obliges.
I smirk it off. I’m not going to be angry. They would like the adrenaline of being chased, no doubt; but I’m not going to enter into that. Those were the old days. These days you could attract trouble for doing stuff like that to kids.
Everyone knows their rights. Everyone has higher morals than the other person. I’m tired of this place. Am I tired of this life too? I’m not certain, and if I’m not certain then I must carry on. Find new hopes, new dreams, and possibly new loves. This is the carrot that I dangle in front of myself. It is a carrot that carries me home.
The children are dressed in woollen mittens and hats. They are excited to see me. Monica takes them up the hill, and I agree to meet them once I’ve changed and recovered the feeling in my hands.
I take a paracetamol for the pain in my tooth and make a coffee. I sit down and start drifting into the endless reading of news, tweets, and posts. Entranced by my stream, it’s difficult to lift myself up. But I do and head out the door.
I try calling and then text my wife to find out which hill they’re on. Before I see them, I hear the screams of laughter. It cheers me and I commit to not working for the day.
On my first turn down the hill, I tumble out of the sledge and it rolls over me. I’m not hurt but I see my tooth in the snow. There is blood around it. It hurts less than I expected.
You should see a dentist, says Monica, in case it broke off. There might be some tooth in the gum that needs extracting.
She can see that it’s making me feel unwell hearing this. The sledging is brought to an early end, and we walk over to the dentist together.
We wait and fill out forms with medical details. I don’t want to do this but know that I must. It feels like ageing, teeth snapping. Why didn’t I do more to protect my teeth? Why didn’t I eat less sugar? What can I do to protect my children from the same fate?
I’m holding my wife’s hand, and Billy, our youngest, is tightly squeezing me. Julia, our eldest, is pouting into her phone taking selfies. She pokes me and tells me to smile. I pull down my lip to reveal the bleeding gum. She tells me that it’s gross, and giggles before framing us in her screen and taking a picture. She’s satisfied with her shot, and types away on her phone. It is another moment recorded to her stream.
© 2019 Anthony Levings
Anthony Levings is a frustrated writer and an avid sea swimmer. His hard drive is a scrapheap of unfinished works.