SHORT STORIES: A Sunny Day, A Train To Marseille

Why on earth had he done it? Although there had been greater mistakes in his 28 years, he could think of not one which had been so painfully obvious. A single impulse; a pathetic desire for escape, but one which could have been so easily quenched by a few days of leave and an open return.

The train rattled and swayed as it drew away from the terminus, tripping slowly over the points as the superb whiteness of the sun drenched the suburbs.

“Welcome to the 1440 service to Marseille, next stop Ventimiglia, please have tickets ready for inspection.” Rattled the Italian voice through the empty carriage.

Should he hide? Or try to buy a ticket from the controller? Or maybe just open up and tell him why he climbed on the train?

But did he really know? His actions had been schizophrenic and quite out of character. It was almost like something had snapped inside him. But yet it seemed to happen rather slowly, and naturally.

Having finished his errands, he returned to the station with a heavy heart, weighed down by the agony of timidity. He had fallen in love, but with a girl far above his standing, leaving the shy man to fall even further. And on the platform, he thought he saw her; her curled red locks resting across her bare shoulders, a half empty carrier in hand, and a bottle of Ceres sat on the tarmac below her. But alas it was not her, and as his heart raced up around his chest, his head made a decision: Enough. He had had enough of this rigmarole.

He was so in love, but how could he tell her?

So he climbed on a train. The fastest train, going the furthest away from the city and his self-inflicted heartbreak. On his left, the cool blue of the Mediterranean sped by, and on his right, the Apennine peaks turned from green, to yellow to grey.

His ticket hadn’t yet been checked, but as he was still on edge as the train began to slow for its halt on the Franco Italian border. The doors pushed open, and the guard dropped onto the near empty platform.

Two people climbed aboard, a tired looking man carrying a crate of Barbera, and a pale elderly woman, whose head was covered by a black scarf, dragging a tattered suitcase behind her. The man collapsed into the nearest seat, but the woman continued along the aisle, and lowered herself gracefully into a seat in the block adjacent to our protagonist.

He was immediately uncomfortable that she had chosen not to sit alone and leave him be. There were 37 empty seats in the carriage, why would she choose this one. He fidgeted, scratching his forearm urgently, and struggled to settle.

“You ok?”

“Yes.” He muttered.

“Is that a lie?”

His shoulders tightened.

“Is that a lie?” she repeated.

“Yes.”

“What’s wrong then?”

“I’m in love.”

“And you haven’t told her?”

“Yes,” he murmured shamefully.

“Then tell her. Nobody is unhappy when they hear that someone loves them.”

“But what if she says no?”

“Then you get hurt.”

He looked across at her confusedly.

“But are you not hurting already?”

He nodded quietly

“So tell her. She in Marseille?”

“No.”

“Get off in Nice then, and go home. We’ll only be a minute or two.”

He grabbed his book from the seat opposite, jammed it into the pocket of his shorts, and began to walk up the aisle, nodding a thankyou as he went. The woman offered a gentle smile, before standing up, and floating away from him down the train.

He stood alone in the vestibule, and the train began to slow again.

“Your ticket, sir?”

He had forgotten! He had no ticket, and his heart was racing once more! He opened his mouth to reply, but said nothing. He looked around for salvation, but was lost.

“That’s a 120 euro fine, sir.”

He nodded silently, took the slip from the controller, and turned back to the door, which would soon open.

He climbed down to the platform, and headed for the underpass to return. He struggled with a ticket machine, but soon had his ticket home, and wandered back up onto the platform, the sun casting a rich red light across the station. The train arrived, and he strode towards the door, but on looking up, he collapsed inside at the sight of a border guard.

“Passport please.” Demanded the Douanier.

“I’m sorry, I….”

“There are passport checks on all international trains today sir. Go to the desk to receive a refund for your ticket.”

His fists clenched as the train slid back east. Why had he gotten on the bloody train!? He had been given stern therapy by the woman on the train, he had been fined, and now he was stranded. He ached inside for his misfortune, but somehow the hopeless abandonment seemed familiar.

He wandered back to the ticket office with an almost drunken exhaustion, only to see it closed. A torrent of swear words escaped his lips as he crumpled the ticket in his hand and threw it towards the glass. What would he do now?

The town stretched around him, as night fell and he wandered on. Shadows grew darker, and his heart grew colder. He collapsed onto a bench on the promenade, and tears filled his eyes. A crowd of drunken revellers took pity on him, and left a cheap bottle of wine next to him on the pavement. He gulpred the win down hungrily, but his tears just came faster and faster. He was finished with love. He was truly finished.

He pulled what little money he had from his wallet, purchased a carton of table wine, and returned to the station to shelter.

After a cold hour watching the final regional trains pass through, he pulled a marker from his bag, and began drunkenly scrawling on his legs and forearms.

I am done with love.

Nothing is worth this.

I hate you. I hate you. I love you

I love you. I love you. I hate this.

How the fuck did I end up in Nice.

No more.

The strength of love equals the patient depths plumbed to reach it.

 

 

Awoken by the sound of the first train, he miserably looked up.

“You getting on?” shouted the guard.

“Yes.” He whispered groggily. But what about the Douaniers? Were they still asleep, not yet on duty?

“What time is it?”

“0544. Ninety seconds behind schedule.”

“Do I need my passport?” Although refusal would hurt, crossing the border without a passport could land him in serious trouble.

“No, just get on.” Smiled the guard, looking down at his watch and drawing the whistle to his lips.

Once aboard the train, he slumped across two seats and closed his eyes, only to wake when near home. He rubbed the rheum from his eyes, and looked down at his arm.

The strength of love equals the patient depths plumbed to reach it.

He smiled, and gazed out at the approaching city. He had accomplished nothing, and he had wasted a lot in the last 15 hours, but somehow the bizarre change of scene left him refreshed.

Invigorated by his newfound energy, he decided to skip work, and walk his romantic tightrope. She was beautiful, and he thought she was above him, but then again there must have been a reason she was alone. A common weakness? Or unreachable standards?

His pulse continued to race as he approached her home, where he then stood a moment on the doorstep before knocking. He stood back a step, and closed his eyes.

“Is Elena in?”

“No. No one of that name lives here or ever has. I told you only a few days ago. Please don’t come back, you’re scaring my children.”

“Oh. I’m sorry sir.”

The door closed, and he scrunched his face up in confusion. He wandered across the street to a fountain, where he rubbed the phrases from his arms. He felt empty and disorientated.

He dried himself on his shirt, and headed back to the station.

He was so in love, but how could he tell her?

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