“Where to Madam?”
The man’s voice coming from behind the ticket office grille sounds distant, like one of those automated voices you get when you ring the council. I'm distracted
because I've just caught a glimpse of Michael hurrying towards Platform 5. I'm sure it was him. I recognise his jaunty walk from the way he was swinging his
arms. No one walks like that except him. The train is already in the station. I'm going to lose him.
“Excuse me Madam.”
I mustn’t take my eyes off Michael, I’ll lose him. I run towards the train hearing myself shouting his name,
He's gone. I run up and down the platform, looking in at the windows of the train. I’m aware that people are staring at me. I don’t care. I must find Michael. I have
to know what happened. I have to know why he left.
The Guard waits with his flag raised, all the passengers have boarded.
“Hurry along please,” he shouts.
I jump on board. The train begins to move away. I have no idea where it’s going. I don’t care. I know Michael is on this train, I’m so close to finding the answer.
Nothing else matters. I scan the faces of the other passengers. Pleasant, curious, worried faces - I see them all so clearly but none of them are Michael. I go
through to the next carriage, and the next, and the one after that until there are no more carriages left. Exhausted I slump into an empty window seat. My legs
are shaking. The idle chatter of the other passengers irritates me. They've probably never lost someone close; if they had they would recognise it in my face
and offer kind words. Instead the constant buzz of their prattling only serves to remind me of my loneliness; my isolation. Something inside me drops into that
deep, dark place of self-pity. That hole of hopelessness that I've crawled out of so many times. I can't afford to go there today. I need to collect my thoughts. I'm
sure there was no other train at the station. Michael must be on this one.
“Ticket please.” A man is leaning over towards me, uniformed, kind face. For a moment I think it’s Michael. I stare into his eyes. No, not Michael. My voice
“Didn’t have time.”
He smiles and tells me not to worry. He wants to know where I’m going. I say I don’t know. He raises his eyebrows,
“St. Pancras?” he asks in a sympathetic tone as if he's talking to a child.
I nod my head as I fumble in my bag for my purse. I hand him a note, he gives me change with my ticket.
At last he goes away and I stare vacantly out of the window. Blurred shapes flash by like my thoughts; out of focus. What was it I needed to ask Michael? I know
I must ask him why he left, but there’s something else, something that slips away every time I get close to it; it’s hiding in the shadows of my grief. Two deaths,
our family torn apart. We should have been supporting each other, not running away. The flames, the heat, the sirens, the screams. Memories too painful to
remember cause a bolt of lightning to explode inside my head, firing every nerve in my body, jolting me back into the present. It's like waking up from a
nightmare into another one just as terrifying; a feeling that's so familiar now. Like a hand on a closed door. All I have to do is push it open and see what lies
beyond but I'm too scared of what I'll find there. It makes me feel I’m not in control of my own thoughts and that frightens me even more. I begin to count on my
fingers the number of months that have passed since Michael left. It helps me focus, stops the panic attacks from taking hold. Was it really only eight months
ago? It seems like a lifetime. How can a life that was passing so quickly suddenly slow down so that every minute seems like an hour? That’s what it’s been like
since Michael left.
I find myself on my feet again, walking down the central aisle of the train as slowly as time is passing. My hands rest on the back of each seat, and I turn my
head this way and that, looking for Michael. I know he’s on this train.
I stop as I enter the third carriage. He’s here. I can feel him. My eyes dart round, senses on full alert. I see the back of his head, black hair tussled as usual. I
walk towards him, all I can hear is the thumping of my heart. I gently lay my hand on his shoulder.
“Michael,” I whisper softly.
His head swings round, his eyes piercing mine for just a moment. I see panic in those eyes I love so much, he knows he’s cornered. I reassure him.
“It’s alright Michael, I just want you to tell me why you left.”
He will not look at me now, his eyes are furtively seeking to escape me, but he can’t escape. I have him. I won’t let him go until I know the truth.
“Why are you asking?” he snaps. His voice is angry, like he hates me. “You must know why I left.”
I start to cry, I can't help myself.
“I don’t know why.” I sound desperate and weak.
“Leave it. For God’s sake just leave it.” He doesn’t sound frightened anymore; my weakness has made him confident.
“Tell me, you’ve got to tell me.” I’m pleading now, “We can work this out Michael. If it’s something I did we can talk about it.”
My head is buzzing and thumping, panic rising again. He stands up and pushes me out of the way.
“Just leave me alone,” he shouts as he makes for the next carriage. I’m losing him, everyone's staring, everyone’s watching. This can’t be happening, this
wasn't how it was supposed to be. In a last desperate attempt I scream at him through my sobs,
“Tell me, Michael. Tell me!”
He stops. Someone is blocking his way, they won’t let him pass. He turns round to face me. His eyes look haunted; his face ashen.
“It was me!” he yells, “You thought my Dad started the fire because he was drunk. He was always drunk. But it wasn’t him, it was me. I did it. I hated him, I
wanted him to burn in hell.” He was crying now. I hadn't seen Michael cry in over fifteen years. “But I didn’t know our Suzy was upstairs Mum.”
The wretchedness in his voice is shocking to hear and I feel my body sink into that cold, dark pit of despair. The person who made Michael stop running is
standing behind him. It’s the shadowy figure of a man. Solid one moment, transparent the next; wavering and amorphous like chiffon blowing in a gentle breeze.
My eyes come to rest on the face. It’s Michael’s father that I see and he smiles at me as he starts to fade away. It's the smile that always said he was sorry, the
smile that always promised things would be different, the smile that had always lied.
Copyright JCHarthan (1997)
|A short story for radio broadcast
Copyright J.C. Harthan, PhD (Dec 1997)
|(This story is based on a dream fragment
and written using Dream re-entry technique)