Lizzie stood alone on the platform, arms wrapped around herself, and looking down the tracks. Every noise made her react until even the rasp and rattle of the breeze had her nerves on edge.
Harry had once told her about the ghost trains. Scheduled trains that stopped at odd places, single journeys that appeared to end up going nowhere. Kept open because it was easier than closing down a line, itself made cumbersome by an Act of Parliament.
He had taken her once, back when things were good, and they had watched it come in. Empty and unused, just an ordinary process made magical by their presence, an imp of bureaucracy at the bottom of their heart’s garden.
He wasn’t coming. She only hoped that it was late enough that the kids would stop knocking on the door, asking for sweets.
That’s what had started it between them.
She had come home with a couple of bags of generic chewy candies, individually wrapped and an orange moulded plastic bucket shaped like a jack o’lantern. Ten minutes queuing in the pound shop and change from a five pound note. She was excited to show Harry, a way of testing the water to see if he had changed his mind about things. The little rituals that she had dreamed of since they had met.
He had looked at the shopping bag in her hand, sneering from the couch as he put the controller down.
‘What the fuck is that for?’
She grimaced, her stomach starting to hurt at how his tone of voice whipped through her like a belt being swung.
‘Thought we’d get summat when the kids show up.’
He shook his head and picked up the controller.
‘Not answering the fucking door t’kids.’
She set the bag on the table and began to take off her coat.
‘You don’t have to, Harry, I will. It’s not like it’s a nice thing to do, or anything like that.’
He often ignored her sarcasm, she had learned how to phrase a comment so that it sailed over his head like a paper airplane but not always. His frustration was fuel for the engine in him that made his self awareness a touch more acute.
‘What’d you say to me?’
He had not gotten up from the couch but he had pushed his heels against the couch, ready to get up and then it would follow the usual pattern. Him, invading her space with his squat, bulldog physique going to seed and his bitter, oily breath. A magnet with two polarities: indifference or aggression.
On cue, he got up and swept the bag from the table.
‘No fucking kids, in my fucking house. ‘
She backed up against the counter, breathing hard and struggling not to cry.
She did not cry when he struck her across the cheek. A maintenance slap. She had endured worse than this but it never stopped hurting.
It was the sight of the bucket, broken pieces poking out through the handles of the bag that did it. A perfect symbol of what she wanted and would never have.
She reached behind her. The wooden handle of the knife he had used and left to cut the loaf open felt right in her hands. When he slapped her again, she closed her eyes and swung the knife, in a perfect downward arc.
He fell back, clutching at his throat with his hand. The blood squirted through it, against his fingers as he collapsed against the table.
There was so much blood. An ocean of it inside him, pouring out through such a tiny cut in him.
She dropped the knife. She did not grab her coat as she left.
Outside, tight little knots of supervised children clad in masks and cloaks of black rubbish bags, led by wearied parents moved around her. She was running without a destination in mind.
Away. It was all she could think of. Away.
Harry had been into trains. Studying timetables and spending hours waiting for particular engines to arrive into the station. He had been gentle once, before the accident. The compensation that had not gone as far as they had hoped. The pain had rewired their lives together into something desperate and vicious. She ran into the station, and looking at the clock knew that it was due anytime now.
The huff and screech of it’s arrival compelled her to step to the edge of the platform.
She got on as the sirens grew louder. When the doors closed behind her, a chill hand brushed the hair from her face. She shut her eyes and felt cold breath on her cheek.
Welcomed her home.