Train (Train)

I had not been on the train to my parents’ since the end of January, on account of my cat, who I could neither leave alone nor feel comfortable travelling with on public transport. It was four and a half months, which felt like no time at all and yet because it was exactly as long as the cat had been in my life, it felt like an eternity and still not long enough. But a relative—my father’s cousin—was over from Australia and so my brothers and I had been invited over to meet this stranger. It was Father’s Day, too.
    A terrible heat befell my flat and I left, flustered, saying good-bye to big green eyes up at me in our dim hallway, and then hurried to the station so that around my scalp I could feel perspiration tickling its way back down to earth. In summer I become part of water’s story, a supporting actor somewhere between precipitation and evaporation, less shapely than a cloud, narrower than an ocean. We make the letter O like a kiss. Weekends at the train station when I was with A.W. and the tooth on her bottom jaw predicting farewell.
    Rage! I was filled with rage! ah, I got very little sleep, and only requiring something trivial to disturb me greatly.
    On that side of the carriage, the sun came on me, but I was too stubborn to move, and it made me angrier still! Stubbornness with a star! The route passed my flat and I peered for my cat, although she only took those window spots in the early eastern mornings to sunbathe or at dusk to chirrup & pounce at the insects that whispered on the glass. How is she? Will she take the rest of the afternoon in her tree or atop the kitchen units, will she watch the evangelists file out the conference centre, their children playing between parked cars? Worrying about her was something I always did, could not help—imagine me with child!—and yet when I returned home she bounded from wherever she was to mew hello and put her paws on my thighs in a blearyeyed stretch. She was not at the window, of course she was not, and birds circled the roof, barely moving their wings.
    So much had changed, not by accident but with intent; manmade and natural, maniacal and considered, continuous and incomplete, destroyed and finished, clotted along the railway lines in June’s long overdue heat. Houses were rolling out of the soil like rows of teeth in a shark’s mouth. The mud had turned red along where the plant rode. Large signs were raised against the lines, boasting properties and developer.
    A young couple—maybe my age though optimistic—got on board. He told her that it was forty-eight minutes, just a measure of time, and she placed her head on his shoulders and fell asleep quickly and softly; he stared, neck not quite spun, out towards the distance. He smelled her hair. What histories did she keep in there? Less than a wolfhound will swoon at the scent of their lover’s hair. I put fingers into mine and pinched marbles from it, sighing, enraged.
    P—— Patel’s constituency shimmers with a hateful stench of piss. The train waits. On the opposite platform, Londonbound, a family passes the time; mother, father, two sons and their two girlfriends. They all look very familiar and like they wish to spend the rest of the day dining outside restaurants with metal buckets and ice to celebrate a birthday or special occasion. As we wait, I watch them, paying particular attention to the girlfriend of one of the sons who wears a green dress. Her hair is the colour of vanilla ice cream. She does not wear a bra and her breasts are visible. Is it perverse of me to stare, to admire the shape of poke and sag; so shameful to gaze lustfully at a back without straps and the folds in flesh beneath her armpit? The boyfriend, youngest son, is reclined upon a bench, knees spread, looking at the chimneys of a nearby factory, as she straddles his right thigh. He rejoins a conversation with the rest of his family, a conversation he had drifted away from to stare at the chimneys of a nearby factory.
    We rock outwards. These are our tonnes of metal that swell under the sun. The carriage is quiet.
    At the next station, the last before we buck out northeast to the sea, a young boy, no more than thirteen, is filming our arrival on a mobile phone, landscape. It is a wonder to him! His face is a sight. We roll and then stop and the doors beep open. A man sits in a nook along the platform, working on a laptop, two bags at his feet. The boy skips past, laughing. The muscles of his face bounce, his lips wobbling a grin and panting. He is wearing a t-shirt with a train on it. When we pull out, he is at the other end of the platform, phone aloft, filming again, a smile so wide across his face. Such joy!
    I think of my cat.
    Light through kitemarked glass like pages in a book being turned over rows & rows of seats.
    Down by the docks, there arose buildings that I had not even the faintest recollection of; no memories of the hoarding, core, floors, façade, nothing. It was impossible for them to have been constructed in less than five months. Luxury apartments, you sea. Old sterns rust to creak, water ran high, the marshes flooded, the estuary swollen as genitalia. Swans tucked their beaks beneath the wing. Far out over the mud, just above the wet line, student accommodation for the University of E——, almost finished, and where it would be in September! Even the Station pub at W—— had undergone a lick of paint, rendering it unrecognisable. The couple; he peering over slept parting. I was trying—and failing—to read a collection of Chekhov entitled Fifty-Two Stories, but could not really focus so much other than to realise my hand had a hold of something. The Princess, yes, as bold housing estates erupted slow out the ground. There, on the other side of a construction’d field, was the bungalow of my guitar teacher, ghostly, the doormat rustled and hot from bathing; twenty-one years later; his empty view of field was now besmirched by more of Seeger’s little boxes; I was in tears the last time I had seen that man; twenty-one years had passed but I saw then that they were nothing.
    My father waited in the car park and I wished him happy Father’s Day. There are lives that time peels you away from, lines and monuments, entire landscapes. Our car bumped in & out of a pothole. His cousin from Australia had covid, but we did not know it at that moment.