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A. Colin Wright

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· What I Believe (But You Don't Have To)

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· The Comedy of Doctor Foster (Part One))

· Story Collection query letter

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· Bethlehem (a Christmas story, original version)

· The Comedy of Doctor Foster (Part two)

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· M. A. Bulgakov and the question of Greatness

· Rewriting St. John


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· New book A Cupboardful of Shoes, to be published.

· New book A Cupboardful of Shoes, to be published.

· New book A Cupboardful of Shoes, to be published.

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Night Train to Cologne
By A. Colin Wright
Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Last edited: Thursday, December 03, 2009
This short story is rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by A. Colin Wright
· The Comedy of Doctor Foster (Part One))
· The Comedy of Doctor Foster (Part two)
· The Comedy of Doctor Foster (Part One)
· Queen's Grill Bar
· Story Collection query letter
· The Bells of Khatyn
· Bethlehem (a Christmas story, revised version)
           >> View all 13
A man returns to Germany and meets the woman he once was in love with. But now he must decide whether to go back to England with his wife...

My first published short story, published in Journal of Canadian Fiction in 1981-82. For other published short stories see listing at www.acolinwright.ca

 NIGHT TRAIN TO COLOGNE

by

 A. Colin Wright

“You’re odd.” Susan opened her eyes, smiled at him, and went back to sleep.

With his head thrust stiffly into the angle made by his seat and the window—softened only a little by the hanging folds of his jacket—Brian could feel his whole body vibrating to the motion of the train as it plunged through the darkness. He looked at Susan. At the three other shapes sitting opposite, squeezed between her and the sliding door into the corridor. She’d wanted to fly, or at least get a couchette; had let him have his way, though, with tolerant amusement: “You mean you actually like sitting up in a train at night?”

 Now, the sides of her mouth were turned down and a wave of brown hair bobbed freely in front of her face. Forced against her armrest by a solid Hausfrau clutching two string-bags, she twisted in vertical discomfort.

 “You’re odd.” Brian repeated her words to himself. He didn’t mind the pressure from the other passengers, as long as one shoulder was assured of the window so he could have his unobstructed view of the darkened passing countryside. Easier now that they’d turned out the light and a sinister blue bulb gave only shadow vision of the others in the compartment. Timbered farmhouses, the lights of villages, cars standing at crossings for the train to go by: all were carried past in remote anonymity, their individual voices silenced by the roar of the train. Soon he might sleep. It was all part of the ritual: to try to sleep, perhaps actually lose consciousness for a while, so you could then reward yourself with the long watches out of the window. Relax now, though, enjoy the sensation of speed over the track below. Each time you open your eyes a little you can see the two thin metal plates below the window, their words indistinguishable at this angle. Nicht hinauslehen, they say, then: Do not lean out. Ne pas se pencher en dehors. È pericoloso sporgersi.

 Frances. The same, sudden feeling of anguish, diving to his stomach, told him that the train was taking him back to England. With Susan. Taking him away.

He frowned. Try as he might, a journey like this meant less to him than in his youth, when being tired held none of the fear of later exhaustion. He remembered his first train journey by night, his excited awareness of rows of seats hurtling through space, of only thin, transparent walls separating him from the unfamiliar landscape on either side. Years ago. If only Susan could share that kind of enjoyment with him. But she would list it among his other oddities, which she loved him for but which remained mysterious to her: like all his sudden enthusiasms for things such as astrology or writing poetry no one would ever read. Important to him, she knew, but never as urgent as mowing the lawn or tidying the garage.

 “God help me for marrying a mystic,” she’d been in the habit of saying, with a kind of puzzled respect. Until the children had picked it up and thought it was part of his job: “Daddy’s a mystic,” the younger boy had told several people before it was possible to stop him.

 Yet Frances understood. With immediate admiration—undeserved, really—she’d told him of her unshakeable conviction that there were ordinary people, who lived in comfortable, box-like worlds, and extraordinary people, who didn’t.

 He closed his eyes, no longer resisting his memories. Frances, whom he had seen three times in Stuttgart while Susan thought he was at the art gallery. Frances, he thought, as he slipped into rhythmic unconsciousness, who was the cause of this frightened emptiness inside him as the train took him farther and farther away.

   

   

 “Was that Frances?”  George turned to Brian with startled eyes under his jet-black hair, then laughed and tried to shrug his shoulders.

 Brian wished they hadn’t seen her. “It doesn’t mean much.”

 “No.” George screwed his long face into a grin, although he couldn’t manage his usual quiet humour. “No, it doesn’t really.”

 Below them were the lights of the town and, standing out against the dark band of the river, a single row of lanterns leading across the old stone bridge to the clusters of villages on the farther shore. They walked slowly back from the terrace, through one of the partly ruined towers and across the castle courtyard. The music from the Great Hall told them the ball was still going on.

 “Romantic, isn’t it?” George said. “Just right for our last night in Heidelberg.”

 There was nothing Brian could say. He too felt angry with Frances even if, in the casual pairings of a school holiday, it was George who had been her devoted companion for two weeks. It was unkind of her to spoil it for him now.

 They went into the bright lights of the hall, with its dancing couples and long tables of young people huddled noisily around bottles of wine. A girl with long hair and a blue vein in her forehead got up to meet him, expecting him to ask her to dance. Brian followed her onto the floor, but as they moved languidly to the music he found himself looking round in case Frances should return. Too late he had realized that she was the one girl who really interested him, but in the initial shuffling he had become paired with Jill, whom he kissed and fondled before saying goodnight because a holiday wasn’t a holiday without romance. Which meant, in his naive code of honour of those days, that he saw himself as committed to her until the end of the holiday. In any case he could hardly have abandoned her for George’s girl, since he was a friend. It angered him all the more, though, that Frances was now outside on the terrace, being kissed by the German boy she’d been dancing with.

 Later that evening, when she had returned and was sitting at another table with the Germans, Brian approached her with determination.

   

   

 “We were so young then, weren’t we?”  That same woman, of whom he’d kept only a vague image in his mind, laughed lightly. The lines at the corners of her eyes deepened.

 It had seemed like a whim, no more.  He would almost have been relieved not to find her at home. But now they sat facing each other in her cluttered apartment.

 “I read about your concert in The Observer. That’s how I knew you were in Stuttgart.”

 “It’s extraordinary. To see you again after all this time. Why, it must be... twenty-five years.”

 He had remembered her fair hair, now tinged with grey, and her determined chin, but not her manner of speaking with her hands which, he noticed, she’d run unconsciously over the keys of her piano when she passed it. He thought that the unobvious, sensitive beauty of her features had been there before, although he mistrusted his memories, aware of having perhaps romanticized her on the rare occasions he’d thought of her.

 “You’re not married?”

 “I was,” she said. “Briefly. You?”

 “For twelve years now.”

 “And have you ever heard any more of... Jill, was it? Or George?”

 “I don’t know what happened to Jill. We never did write. George went to work for a bank, but I haven’t seen him in years.”

 For a moment they were silent, and he found himself staring at the metronome on top of the piano, panicking in case they could find nothing to say.

 “You remember the little lecture you gave me?” Frances asked quietly.

 “Yes.” Her question took him by surprise because he’d wanted to ask the same thing himself.

 “You told me off for treating George badly. To my face, as we danced.”

 “What an idiot I was.” He recalled her expression of perplexity, immediately putting him in the wrong for saying anything. “And you said there was nothing between you and George. I really was a terrible prig.” 

 “It wasn’t very kind of me, I can see that now. It was rather nice of you. I was furious then, of course. It was none of your business. But I felt even then that you were just a little different... ”

 “I think I was as disappointed as George to see you kissing someone else.”

 She got up. “Come and talk to me while I make coffee.” She took his hand to lead him between the music stands and piles of sheet music into the kitchen. “I’m afraid you’ll sit down on one of my violins or something otherwise. I don’t mind what you say or do to me as long as you don’t break my violin.”

 “May I just try it? I can still play, you know.”

 She looked for a moment into his face, then at his hands.

   

 

 A sudden jerk of the brakes and then a long grinding sound startled him back to reality, bringing a few seconds of fear lest the train not stop in time for danger on the line ahead. Susan nodded but remained asleep. Outside were the lights of marshalling yards, oil tanks, factories with German names in large neon letters. Slower and slower until the spur of a platform appeared, and then the dim illumination of a station. An echoing, muffled voice: “Wiesbaden! Wiesbaden! Achtung Gleis vier!” Another shudder and the train stopped. For a while there was trampling outside the door as passengers struggled aboard with their luggage. Then there was silence again, except for one person’s footsteps echoing in the corridor.

 He looked out of his window at the two rails alongside and the next platform beyond, where only a solitary official was strolling up and down. An empty track, leading back. There was still a journey to look forward to, with memories to be indulged in, but soon even that would be over.

 He recalled the two afternoons with Frances in her living room, with its piano, music stands, violins. One that he had played, badly, and she’d been anxious but tried not to show it. Even the bedroom, on his third visit, had been full of all the accessories of music, and she had left the record player on. For him now making love would always be associated with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with its contrasts of anguish, sadness and unbelievable joy. But that was two days ago. As he stared at the cold rails the train started to move once more, almost silently gathering speed until the station lights disappeared and the outside darkness descended.

 “Susan.” He shook her knee. “We’re nearly at the Rhine. Do you want to see the Gorge?”

 She opened her eyes, stared at him for a moment, and closed them again. “Too tired... ”

 He watched, waiting for the first glimpse of the river. Suddenly it was there, flat and dark beyond the vineyards, with a hint of hills beginning on its further shore.  Then they were streaming along beside it, faster than its current, so that if you kept your eyes fixed on it you could imagine it flowing backwards. Look ahead and you might just make out the sinister shape of the Mouse Tower on its island.

 The train shrieked on past the town with its shops on the one side, their lights blazing forth; past the river on the other, swelling against the outline of distant barges. The windows rattled as they sped through the station. Nearly there. The train plunged beneath the hill, cutting short his view, and emerged suddenly in the village, shaking the old, crumbling houses along the line. An illuminated sign, Hotel Post, a name on the station there was no time to read, and it was gone. One village of many along the Rhine, special only because it held memories of one afternoon years ago.

 On the way back, the group of them had spent an extra night and day on the Rhine, in Rüdesheim. That final afternoon the others had gone up the chair lift, but Frances, George, Jill and himself had decided on a boat trip instead. Plunging through the waters of the river—past the Mouse Tower with its legend of a cruel bishop, past the ruins of the Ehrenfels where later bishops too had collected river tolls—a small boat had brought them to a tiny landing stage. The village was their own discovery. They found the streets almost deserted, with restaurants and inns so dark inside that they could hardly see. Just a happy afternoon, romantic because they were young. They sat on a bench overlooking the river, watching the barges and the pleasure boats, while the hills opposite steamed in the heat of the afternoon sun. If you looked carefully through the haze you could see the two castles of Rheinstein and Reichenstein under the hill. George, he recalled, had read aloud the legend of Helmbrecht and Gerda, and pointed out the Klemenskapelle where the lovers lay buried. On a higher hill stood Sooneck, fortress of a robber baron.

 Holding hands with Jill, Brian felt closer to Frances since that pompous speech to her. Yet when the holiday was over Frances had become no more than a vaguely romantic memory.

 I wonder why, he thought. Would it have made any difference if I had loved her then? He had almost forgotten her in the thrill of going to university and the assurance of a brilliant career afterwards. Life at that time was exciting.

 None of them had spoken much on that afternoon. Walking back to the boat they had tried to sing German romantic songs, but on the return journey they again fell silent, looking back at the river behind them in the early dusk. A few hours later they were on a night train to Cologne.

 He looked out, now as then, at the shapes of hills belonging to legend. They were well into the Gorge. Cologne, it seemed, was still a night’s journey away rather than the hour or so shown in the timetable. He looked at Susan again, sleeping soundly, unaware of the river outside. Home, he thought, and family, a secure job, possessions, love...

 Anger arose within him. “It’s unreasonable,” he orated mentally. “Unreasonable for you even to suggest that I give that up.”

 “Yes, it’s unreasonable,” Frances’s quiet voice replied.

 “And there’d be so many problems. Storms. Tantrums.”

 He turned towards the Rhine again, dark and mysterious. Tomorrow it would no longer exist.

 “But you can’t expect to avoid the tantrums of life!”

 He had tried to avoid them, always. All his life he’d sought what was safe, regulating his passions and desires because of what others might think. Rebelling only in words. “Why is so much in your life unthinkable?” Frances had asked him. Unthinkable that you should ever go back on responsibility, allow conflicts to wrench at your commitments. All your life, he mused, you’ve stopped short of true experience, limiting yourself to what was consonant with worthy, publicly-expressed attitudes. Even your love affairs have been that way. Distant, kept in tight compartments in other towns—sufficient for you to feel you’re still free, but with lids which can be shut down resolutely at the mere suggestion of impropriety.

 Now, as he stared at the river, he knew he was frightened because of a new feeling that there could be a commitment to Frances. For the first time in his life a woman had grasped immediately at that man of intuition within him, that man of belief in a life which was different from the everyday of houses, jobs, possessions. “Not things you’ve chosen, but which others have chosen for you. But you’ve allowed it.” Now his fear hung on to those very possessions; for days fear had gnawed at him, twisted his bowels to produce almost constant diarrhoea—it wasn’t just the German food and change of water that Susan attribute it to.

 You’re going back home, and that’ll be the end of it. Easy enough to rationalize, do the right thing. Say you’ll never go back on commitment and that Frances should be left on the sidelines of your life. Put in a box, like your other affairs, to be taken out furtively the next time you come to Stuttgart. If there is a next time. What everyone expects of a good husband...

 Except that what they called the right thing to do was no more than an easy way out. Fear, not morality, was taking him home to his family. He’d found his pearl of great price, but was afraid to sell all he had and wanted instead to keep it all. Frances wouldn’t just fit conveniently into a box. She kept popping out again, saying annoyingly “I love you and I know you love me, even if you deny it.” Those last words “even if you deny it” had spared him the necessity of actually denying it, and he was grateful because he couldn’t honestly have denied it anyway. But was everything else to be given up? There was nothing wrong with his marriage, nothing wrong with Susan. She was different from him, that was all. One of the normal people.

 Frances, like himself, was extraordinary.

 Extra-ORD-inary, extra-ORD-inary, extra-ORD-inary: the wheels beat out their rhythm as his eyelids closed on the Rhine with its rising wall of cliffs. Not high, but sloping like the sides of a tub—or a magic cauldron, perhaps, with the moon reflected on black water, which could be emptied through the whirlpool where the Loreley combed her hair and enticed enamoured sailors. Fanciful of course, and it was rocks and not a whirlpool by the Loreley—but he opened his eyes to check how his fancies corresponded to the view through the window. Barges, ships, islands, were floating in the cauldron, which had ledges running around it at water level, with model houses, lights and even—on the other side—an immensely long model train running in the other direction.

Extra-ORD-inary, extra-ORD-inary, extra-ORD-inary... Again he forced his eyes open to look at the river. At Susan. Dear Susan. Asleep.

His back was aching and he found it a relief to sit forward and peer with greater determination out of the window. A voice in his mind, Susan’s voice, told him: “You’re not extraordinary. Just a little different, and I love you for it. People like you for it, as long as you don’t start arguing too loudly... ”

Another voice, Frances’s, whispered: “You are extra-ord-inary, extra-ord-inary, extra-ord-inary. We’re both extra-ord-inary, extra-ord-inary. But we can never tell them, they’ll never understand. I know it, you know it, I know it, you know it. But your fear of them is ordinary, ordinary, ordinary. You’ll end up being ordinary, ordinary... ”

He nodded forward and his head hit the window. Nicht hinauslehnen. È pericoloso sporgersi: It’s dangerous to lean out. Sit back again. Forget. Still a long way to go before Cologne. Unless... Unless, in Cologne... He leaned forward again. Can you make such a decision? Ordinary, extraordinary, ordinary, extraordinary, ordinary... Long way to Cologne; long way, long, long way to Cologne.

 

 

 It had happened before. Trivial, it seemed now. He hadn’t exactly planned to stay in Germany after that holiday. Yet he hated the thought of going home to the routine of school and then university entrance exams; there was a strange, recurring feeling of doubt about it all. And that last afternoon the thought had come to him as a startling possibility: why not stay? He had only to decide, and no one could tell him to do otherwise. They’d think it odd, that was all.

 On the train—a slow one, stopping more than this—he sat daring himself to get off at the next station. Several passed, but finally he really did get out, stood on the platform watching the train to see it go. Then he started to think of the others worrying about him, his luggage still aboard, and Jill, who expected him to share a final journey together. At the last moment he climbed back in. More sensible to wait until Cologne, where he could collect his luggage and at least tell someone.

 In later years this memory embarrassed him, until he forgot it altogether. Until now, when he wished that just for once in his life he had done something irrational. But there was more to it than that. It was all, somehow, to do with the mystery of life: that life which lay beyond the everyday and was mostly unattainable except when it suddenly intruded with events over which you had no control and demanded a choice you were usually unprepared to make. Something had happened during those two weeks in Heidelberg although, whenever he’d remembered those feelings, he’d usually dismissed them as the romanticism and sentimentality of youth—like his earlier conviction, when he’d been just sixteen, that The Student Prince was one of the world’s greatest love stories.

 It had started in Der Rote Ochs, one of Heidelberg’s well-known inns, one evening with the group. Looking at an ordinary beer-mat, for a few moments he was intensely aware that he was seeing it. He saw the glasses too, the solid oak tables, the collection of amusing signs purloined from various places and now decorating the walls. Kein Wasser unter der Brücke lassen—don’t pass water under the bridge—and he saw the K as a strange letter, the word Wasser as having a deeper significance than mere water: then he laughed to himself, for in the particular context that was indeed true . He saw vividly, on the table in front of him, hands with tiny but distinct pores and hairs. He saw the colours of the room around him as an artist might have spread them on canvas. He saw George’s dark eyes and the ironic, shy twist of his mouth. He saw Jill’s prominent blue vein on her forehead: Jill, whose face he had since almost forgotten, but he remembered that vein. And looking at Frances he was almost aware of the air as it passed over her moist lips. He had caught her eye, and she smiled, looking at him intently.

 Inside him he felt an anguish of doubt, which lasted for only a moment, a deep awareness of the futility of everyday life compared with this. Later, he tried to explain it to George, who passed it off uncertainly as an excess of alcohol but appeared troubled too. Several times during those two weeks the same feeling returned, but he could never quite seize it and knew only that it was important.

 Sometimes in trains he could almost recapture it. Now, in the dark carriage, he told himself to see the river. The plate telling you not to lean out of the window. The shapes of the passengers and Susan, asleep, in her own world. It was still a long way to Cologne: nights like this, when he could look out over a broad river normally absent from his life, passed with pleasurable slowness. In the pit of his stomach decision waited, but even his anguish of doubt and fear was pleasurable.

 Frances. If this were some kind of second chance he was still unprepared. She had been an unexpected gift of fate, which it would have been ungrateful of him to refuse. All because of an uncle of Susan’s who’d died, leaving enough money for a holiday in Germany, and a copy of The Observer he’d read on a park bench, with a review of a concert. Frances Gracey: at first he hadn’t recognized the name. “Her extraordinary performance,” “real talent,” “accomplished solo violinist.” When he realized who she was, his first reaction had been anger.

 “Anger? Why anger?” Her breast nestled in his hand, while his lips brushed the back of her neck.

 It sounded petty when he tried to tell her. “Oh, from envy. Resentment. I felt cheated that you’d achieved something I hadn’t.” As though, he thought, she’d been outside on the terrace again while he was dancing with the wrong girl. “After all, a career in business doesn’t give you time for much else. I’m not even successful in that—at least, I never seem to have any money. I dabble in other things. But you heard how I can only scrape at a violin now.”

 Even now, he didn’t understand it. He’d expected to find her superior, successful, too busy catering to the applause of her admirers. How had she known of his intense inner life, his reading, his dreams which meant more to him than the world around him? He felt the warmth of her body pressing against his. For her he’d turned out to be someone she immediately respected and believed in.

 “Why? I can’t do anything.” He saw the wisps of golden grey hair in front of his eyes.

 “I don’t have to explain. You judge by intuition rather than reason: use it now. Have faith in yourself.”

 He saw the ceiling above, ordinary squares of plastic tile.

 “And you still play the violin. Oh”—she turned over to face him and kissed him—“not very well. But you told me you do write poetry.”

 “It’s amateur.” He saw her grey eyes.

 “Art’s not achievement. It’s the way you look at life. You have to live your own life, that’s all.”

 “What I should have done years ago.” He saw the fibres in the one sheet that covered them. “Only now there are all kinds of difficulties.”

 In his arms she said: “You need courage if you’re one of the extraordinary.”

   

   

 Extra-ord-inary, extra-ord-inary, extra-ord-inary. The Rhine was flowing straighter and more sluggishly, no longer hemmed in by the hills. Susan was still sleeping and the compartment was silent except for the monotonous hum of the wheels beneath. Two barges, barely visible except for their lights, groped downstream in the blackness. He could still turn round in Cologne...

 The unexpected sliding of the door startled him and with a click the white light in the ceiling went on. “Alle Fahrkarten, bitte!” Susan opened one eye, squinted, and left it all to him, while the other passengers hunted in their pockets. He handed over the tickets and asked the arrival time in Cologne, which he knew already, but it was one last opportunity to speak German. The official told him, looked at the other tickets, then with a curt “Danke” put out the light again and pulled the door closed behind him. There was a quieter rumbling and a slight thump as the door to the next compartment was pulled open.

 Almost at the same moment, like an echo, Brian felt a rumbling in his bowels and the quick beat of his heart. Fear told him it was unreasonable for Frances to expect him to give up everything. He had to think. Decide. Before he got to Cologne.

   

 

 The train crossed the river, now visible only through the iron girders of the bridge, and passed into the dimly-lit barn of the station. Outside his window large square letters—once they had been Gothic—announced KÖLN HBF and a hollow voice also proclaimed their arrival. The light was snapped on and the compartment became a sudden shuffling of coats and suitcases.

 Susan yawned, stretched, and took her time. They stepped out onto the platform. “You’re sure there wasn’t a through train to Ostend?”

 He checked the board with its printed sheet of departure times, then lifted cases and led the way down the stone steps.

 “There’s a while to wait, I’m afraid,” he called back to her.

 Up to another platform and the cavernous restaurant, full of people drinking coffee or slumped heavily over the tables. Susan must have wondered why he went to a table in the opposite corner instead of one closer to them. She said nothing. They sat down.

 He ordered two black coffees.

 She glanced at him strangely. “Dear, you know I don’t like black coffee.”

 Of course. He called to the waiter again.

 As he drank, he sat looking at the door. Soon George would come back to say they ought to be going if they wanted seats on the train. Jill, Frances and the others would get up to go. He’d go with them as far as the train. He’d say goodbye to them there, stay the rest of the night in Cologne, and then go back. But where? The sudden freedom of choice overwhelmed him. The time came and he still wanted the company, the security of the familiar. The more reliable course was surely to go along with them, he could always return later: there’s always another day, as his parents were fond of saying. He sat down with them in the train. An hour later they crossed the frontier.

 He looked round the darkened carriage. He was the only one awake, the rest were nodding heavily. No, Frances was awake, staring quietly out of the window. She turned and looked at him for an instant, and then stared out again as though she hadn’t noticed him.

 “You’re not tired?” he asked.

 “Yes. But I don’t want to sleep.”

 He nodded. “I don’t either. I love travelling. For its own sake. That’s how I’d like my life to be. A constant exploration. Through art or literature perhaps.”

 “Like music,” she said. “Everywhere you go there’s music... ”

 “Don’t you mind, though? To be going home?”

 She was puzzled. “But I’ll come back someday, if it’s important enough.”

 “So shall I.” He didn’t know then that it would be twenty-five years later.

 “Brian,” he heard Susan’s insistent voice. “Brian, dear!” She touched his arm. “I thought you were falling asleep.” He looked at her. “I was afraid you’d spill your coffee. Isn’t it time we were going?”

 Habit, what was expected of him, took him through the motions.

 The cases weighed him down as he dragged them up the steps. Why did Susan always have so much luggage? They stood on the platform, waiting. Then at last there was a light bearing down upon them, a solid, dark-green electric engine with its square letters “DB” on front: Deutsche Bundesbahn, those mysterious words so much more suggestive of possible fulfilment, even now, than the shabby familiarity of British Rail. A green, square carriage slowing in front of them, with its board announcing in bold letters Köln—Oostende and a list of names: Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Leuven, Bruxelles Nord, Gent, Brugge...

 A crowded apartment again, but they got window seats. After settling Susan down he went and stood on the platform. He looked towards the rear of the train and imagined an engine being coupled on to take it in the opposite direction. But only he could take charge now.

 Can you do it, Brian? Here you are in Cologne as you were twenty-five years ago. At that time, to stay was just a whim perhaps, and you were right to go home. But now? “It’s your life, to do what you want with,” Frances had said. “If you want me, I am yours, just come and take me.” The woman he’d expected to be remote had appreciated him, loved him now. No, she’d said, you’re not odd, but extraordinary. Weighed down, though, by the ordinary. He stared at the long green wall of the long coach in front of him. If you run towards it, fast, from the far edge of the platform, you’ll have to swerve in one direction or the other. Or you can toss a coin—but have you the courage to follow a coin’s decision? Family, children, a whole life, are you really going to abandon that? For the typical other woman?

 “No, Brian, not for the other woman. I’ll never be the typical other woman. For yourself. For the destiny you’ve never quite managed to catch up with.”

 Put one foot on the step of the train. Between your feet is the tiniest of gaps, too small for escape. Others would never understand. Can you do it this way, just walk away? “It’s that simple,” Frances would say.

 He heard the announcement for his train. Passengers to climb aboard and close the doors. Decide, for God’s sake decide, there’s no more time. A whistle in the distance, shouts to get in, an irate official approaching...

   

 

 The train slides through the lights of the station and into the dark of a riverless countryside, heading relentlessly towards the Belgian coast. An hour later it crosses the frontier. Border officials are unconcerned, and Susan sleeps on, unknowing. What if you are alone, Susan, who have never hurt anyone, never done anything to deserve being abandoned? Has your husband the right to forsake you even, as he sees it, to receive a hundredfold and inherit everlasting life? You will not see it like that, but only as a man putting away his wife for another. Should not life be fair to you too?

 Sleep on, dear Susan, for everything is as it should be in a well-ordered world, and you are not alone. You remain unaware that fate could have ordained otherwise. Or could it? Was there really any decision for Brian to make?

 Wanting to sleep now but unable to, he stared out of the window. Tomorrow they would be home, and trains along the Rhine and a woman he loved in Stuttgart would be as unreal as they had ever been. Susan would know nothing. But, he told himself, he could always come back. Save for another holiday, find Frances again. There was always another day. Always.

 Since it was too dark for anyone to see, he allowed himself the luxury of tears, which rolled down his cheek and off his chin, one falling on the heater under the window with a little sizzle of steam. He opened the window and leaned out into the night in a futile burst of defiance. But the wind took his breath away, and he soon drew back inside.

 “Close the window, dear,” Susan murmured without opening her eyes.

A.Colin Wright's novel Sardinian Silver can be ordered from any bookstore, from www.amazon.com and other amazon sites, www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.iUniverse.com. 


Web Site: www.acolinwright.ca  


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