The Train Story

 

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The Train Story

Travelling on a train, travelling forwards, beating a rolling passage across the grey environment towards our destination. Backwards?

So her hand was on mine, not that I was aware of it. The tracheostomy tube was doing my breathing for me. Her eyes were red and puffed from crying.

***

His own eyes peeling open anyway, K felt the soft, cushioned seat lining underneath his palms. The train bounced intermittently to the rhythm of the tracks. His throat felt torn and parched, as if the tube had just been yanked out. The man sat opposite him – dressed in mucky military uniform, separated from K by a flat white table extending underneath the window – had no eyes. Or at least, they were obscured by loose parts of his skull, skin and brain that were draped over his features.

K watched, feeling extremely groggy, licking at a line of spittle that trailed from his lower lip across his chin, as the man’s face gradually reassembled itself. Sections of flesh and skull crawled back up over his head to click back into place like pieces of a jigsaw. Er. Creepy.

***

I’d been told when/if I recover, I would be off work for a minimum of a year. Where does this fit in now?

***

Rebuilding-face man was staring vacantly out the window now at the rush of grey that soared by. He looked exhausted, but whole. K struggled upright a little more, and tried to crane his neck down the central aisle. He noticed for the first time he was wearing his black suit. Clearly he had not been wearing that in the hospital bed. How thoughtful.

A faint scratching noise on the other side moved him to stretch beyond his seat and stare down the length of the train. His eyes were drawn towards the floor. Two enormous, probing antennae appeared through a gap between chairs several feet away. This was followed by a huge pair of pincer-like jaws emanating from a smooth black head, which nodded politely. A multitude of small black limbs, each writhing within an impeccably tailored suit arm, eased through and a giant centipede, attired in its best Sunday wear, scuttled by. For a moment his antennae groped at and analysed the immediate surroundings before he arranged his lengthy frame upright upon one of the cubicle seats.

What is this, some kind of level playing field? K, slumped back into his own seat, observed the creature clicking and rubbing its tiny limbs together nervously, before his head began to throb with renewed vigour.

***

I didn’t want to be older…didn’t want to get any older, didn’t want time to pass, a little bit chronophobic, just a little, not taking a sledgehammer to my clock, just constantly aware, or aware of the wrong things. Eyes close, eyes open. (As in eyes close, then open, but one fluid motion, continuously across the spectrum of time, not time as we perceive it.)

***

He rested his heavy head against the train window and felt the dull rumble vibrating around his skull. As he drew his attention back to the vast stretches of grey mass shooting by outside, K realised there were shapes amongst the vague, gaseous clouds hurtling past. Thousands of interweaving shadows, gliding and soaring at hundreds of miles per hour, wrapping around the train, sliding through and around each other, cascading and billowing throughout the spectrum of space outside in a symphony of spectral, indistinct torsos and limbs, enraptured in the flow of the headlong current. Only very fleetingly did it seem faces were visible in their skewered, shifting, wraith-like forms; but these glimpses of features appeared ecstatic, ecstatic to be on the move again.

***

I wonder which one is mine? Though in a way, I thought I recognised each and every one.

***

In the seat beside him another man suddenly burst into existence, or the reverse, or somewhere in between. He looked incredibly old – his head lolled on his shoulder and he was drooling heavily. Thin wisps of white hair clung manfully to his liver-spotted dome. As K and the re-arranging face man observed the new passenger, his skin visibly de-wrinkled, ironed itself out, and in a matter of moments he looked young, vibrant, and in ownership of a bouffant, plush head of shining black hair. He, too, looked around in confusion as somewhere further ahead, a grunting pig trotted down the carriage to join the magnificent, dapper centipede. They appeared more at ease with the process and the journey, and engaged in cultured, amiable discussion; the pig gestured with his hooves and admitted in a deep, droll baritone that he was not afraid of time because there was no such thing; or at least not in the way that we commonly perceive it – just as he was not afraid of dying as there was no such thing, in the same way. The centipede drummed his many limbs thoughtfully.

***

I will do more to be aware of each moment this time around, and to be consciously involved in those moments, instead of thinking about what is going to happen next, or what has happened.

***

As newly-youthful-youthful-as-he-had-been-and-will-be-again-just-an-older-man-for-a-certain-series-of-moments-man acquainted himself with his new surroundings, K renewed his attention in the writhing shadows outside the window. He had been chiding himself for missing so many family get-togethers. But, come the holidays, you just want to collapse, after staggering to the finish line-

Eyes close, eyes open. Where does this fit in now? The locomotive ground to a halt and K saw the looping, joyful shadows condense into a singular, thick blanket that smothered the windows and cast them all into darkness. The suited centipede clicked and the pig grunted again. Age-reversing man (much simpler) clasped his seat edge and K wondered if this was a stop, if they were supposed to get off. Instead he felt the whole carriage begin to lift, the shadows melted from the window to support the frame of the train, elevating it somewhere else, to a new point in the spectrum of all things; a complete whole, neither beginning nor ending. Their excited hands and feet bounced along the underside of the train, now thundering upwards, or in all directions.

***

Where does this fit in now? I will make more of an effort from now on, but people will understand if I do not make it along anyway, as there is no real separation, and I have had to go through several lifetimes to get back to this point, plus the end of term, holidays etc.

Her hand was on mine, not that I was aware of it. The tube was doing my breathing for me, not for long though. She strokes the loose skin between my thumb and forefinger as our diving, whooping shadows propel the train, our train, to the next stop, eternally excited.

***