Monday, January 29, 2007

It's About Time

It's been a quiet month. That's to say, it's been a busy one and so it's been quiet here. One of the things I did very early in the year - or it might have been late last year, I can't quite remember! - was enter a short story competition (sponsored by Virgin Trains). Basically, it had to be "about time" and no more than 500 words. It didn't have to feature a train, but it just so happened mine did. Mine didn't win, hence it's ending up here. It does have the advantage of being very short, so won't even take up your lunch hour. :) Enjoy.

Tunnel Vision

Clackety-clack. Tickety-tock. Tockety-tick. The rhythm of the train is like a runaway clock.
The miles race by, but the journey drags.
Our passenger wonders whether he wouldn’t prefer it to drag some more. Two hours to go plus another hour before the interview, and he’s already nervous. Ridiculous. He should be using the time to do something worthwhile – or at least distracting – like read. Or brush up on the job particulars – again.
He turns his face to the window and tries to lose himself in the countryside. But for the present there’s only a rushing wall of trees and shrubs.
Suddenly, with a roar, that’s gone too. Swallowed up by a tunnel.
Black after black streams past. The interior – his fellow travelers (although nothing to do with him), the few empty seats – projected on the dark screen like a phantom movie. In the midst of it all, a close-up of his own face.
A reflection. His eyes full of questions about where he is going.
His whole life flashes before him. A quick-fire flicker of possibilities.
The interview. A handshake, a welcome on board. Spreading the news. More handshakes, pats on the back, learning to like it, the celebrations. Hugs and kisses goodbye. The move, the stress, the big adventure. The scary first day, finding his way around, introductions, more handshakes.
Then it happens.
A chance meeting. Eyes search each other. Is she a colleague or a client? Impossible to say. She’s just a shadow. A shadow to share his life with. Marriage – months, a year maybe down the line. Two children, a boy and a girl. They’re all grown up now. Had job interviews of their own – done really well for themselves. She even has a family of her own now.
Grandchildren. Who’d have thought.
As he stares at the speeding yet still darkness outside, he has the odd sensation that the train is heading in the opposite direction. And he remembers experiencing that same thing on a journey many years before. On most of his journeys, in fact.
Briefly, he locks eyes with his reflection. His hair seems white, the lines on his face are etched more deeply than he had ever imagined and his gaze is full of questions about where he has been.
Daylight erupts out of nowhere. They’re back to the rush of trees and shrubs. A blur of green.
He’s on his way home now. The interview a mere memory and often not even that. His back is to the engine and he wonders when looking forward became looking back. He can only blame it on a trick of the tunnel. The Twilight Zone.
He listens to the rhythm of the tracks.
Clunk-clack-clack. Tock-tick-tock. Tock-tick.
Slowing down. Must be approaching a station.
But it’s not his, not yet.
He digs into his bag for a book to read or a crossword to solve. Some way to fill the remainder of the journey.
Something worthwhile, or at least a distraction.



Mark Michalowski said...

Oooh, like that - short and bitter-sweet. And it didn't win? Bah! No justice. Mxx

SAF said...

Cheers, Marky, thanks for saying so. It was fun to write and a bit of a challenge squeezing it into 500 words. (You know me, I'm usually way more wordy than that :) )