fiction

a short story: delays on the sandringham line

I grumbled with the rest when they announced it: delays on the Sandringham line. They said someone had died and I believed them. I stopped grumbling and felt the familiar guilt settle into my chest. That guilt you feel when you cry over a chipped iPhone screen and then remember starving Kenyans.

When they said that the body on the track was mine, I believed them. My mouth filled with cotton wool. I blinked very hard at the world, memorising its curves; the exact texture of chewing gum under foot; the way the oily air shimmered, rising off the hot surface of the road; the glint of the sun on the glistening train tracks, snaking off to infinity.

Family called.

They said, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this.’

They said, ‘I wasn’t expecting you to answer.’

They said, ‘Muscle memory.’

They said, ‘I guess I’m just in shock.’

I said the feeling was mutual.

They asked what happened and I couldn’t answer. ‘Guess it goes to show.’ They didn’t say what it went to show but I agreed with them anyway.

I walked along the side of the track until I found the police cars. I was covered in a sheet and I was glad. I’ve never been good at gore. Everyone wore their grimmest faces. A woman stood beside the traffic light with a hand half raised to her mouth. She shook her head again and again as the lights flashed from green to red to yellow to green. ‘God. God. God,’ she murmured with each change.

Another call.

‘Is it true? Is it true that you’re dead?’

‘I’m as stunned as you are.’

‘Do they know how it happened?’

‘I think they’re saying suicide.’

‘Oh.’

‘Yeah. Sorry to be the one to tell you. I thought it must have been an accident but there’s a witness saying they saw me seeing it. Saw me step out whilst seeing it, I mean. I believe her.’

‘Did you hate us? Did you hate being one of us?’

‘You were great.’

‘Was it Dad? Was it your Dad?’

‘I don’t think so. He was always home by six and he used to carry me on his shoulders at the zoo so I could look the giraffes in the eye.’

When they told me there had been a mix up, that’s when I didn’t believe them. ‘There’s another Meredith Collins. She lived on your street. She had very gray hair and wore flat shoes with orthopedic insoles’ They told me I wasn’t dead. They told me I was standing on platform thirteen. They told me my hands were cold and asked if I wanted to share a taxi, as services wouldn’t be up and running for some time, but if I didn’t want to that there would be a bus leaving at quarter past.

I went home and I lived a great many years.

From my apartment window, I can watch the trains come and go. Fat silver caterpillars crawling out the station. At each stop they pause and munch up more little brown and pink people and they grow longer and longer and faster and faster.

Where do the trains sleep? I hope it is underground. I hope it is a giant subterranean cave and I hope that they weave silk and bind themselves to the walls and the ceilings. I hope it is very silent in there. I hope that in the morning they will wake and eat their way out and become giant metallic butterflies, ferrying the dead from Earth to Heaven. Perfectly on time.

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