Chapter 7: Dee
For a long time, Dee had been focused on ending her life, and whilst it wasn’t a happy focus, it was a focus of sorts. She found that now she had torn up her suicide note and made an implicit agreement with herself that this was not the answer, or at least not for now, that she had no direction or focus at all. She felt aimless, floating from room to room in her home. Each room was heavy with feelings of guilt or shame, jobs undone, surfaces cluttered, floors un-cleaned in far too long. Sometimes she stopped to wonder how she had ended up here. At what point had her life brought her to this unassuming building on Semaphore road, now so steeped in memories that she could practically see them running down the walls? They were not happy memories, more the black, oozing kind, leaving indelible trails on magnolia walls ensuring that no matter how much she tried to spring clean her mind, that those unrelenting, unwelcome memories would dirty it.
Dee thought back to when she had first bought the house. She had loved it the moment she walked in. She had never been a homeowner before and had prepared for the moment of ownership for many months, touring dozens of unassuming little terraced houses, each with a frisson of excitement as each one had the possibility of being The One. But each, in turn was not The One. Whilst she was house-hunting she would often know even without stepping inside, when a house wasn’t right for her. She had three different estate agents working on her case and she was quite sure that each was growing steadily more infuriated with her. Her budget was not big; it was that of a singleton, working hard in the city and made a little healthier with an inheritance left by her parents who had worked hard but achieved relatively little in financial terms, focusing their efforts on life, rather than work, and an enjoyment of the moment. As such, money had always been tight, something Dee had been aware of ever since she was a very small child. But her small inheritance, added to her savings and complimented by her London wage, left her with just enough to enter the housing market comfortably. Taking her pick from one of hundreds of two bedroom terraced houses on the market on any given day.
The houses all shared that they were small and unimposing, both in terms of physicality and in terms of character. Dee found it hard to inspired by these little houses and could not bring herself to consider moving into a home that felt vacuous when she had worked so hard to get onto the housing ladder, and so each time one of her agents toured her around another house that failed to inspire her, she did not hide her disappointment, instead clearly articulating exactly what it was about the current house she did not like. Ceilings too low, no original features, it just didn’t feel right, the décor was off-putting, no space for the tiny patio garden she had imagined a hundred times… the reasons were endless and her estate agents grew to expect her to turn down every property she saw – and yet, the hunt continued – for a sale must be made. Dee needed a home, and the estate agents were hungry for even a small commission in times which had become considerably leaner for them.
When she found the right house, she knew instantly that she’d found The One. She knew even before she stepped inside. She’d felt an unfamiliar tremor of excitement enter her bones as she approached the property. Dee recalled vividly holding the metal gate in her hand and opening it carefully, feeling the cold of the iron pass through her glove to her hand beneath, and she paused, her weight on the gate, her eyes on the front door. The house spoke to her and she quickly took in the short, neat path, the tended pots either side of the blue front door and the traditional sash windows which she knew would let in a draft, but which appealed to her regardless. She had always loved the look of them, their feeling of age and the huge amount of unfiltered light felt they let in compared to their modern double-glazed equivalent.
Entering the narrow hallway, she felt like she was home as her feet sunk into well-worn yet springy carpet. Her eyes were drawn to a range of abstract images on the walls. Each felt warm but somehow exciting and filled her with an energy she couldn’t explain. She had seen no more than the hall when the sale was complete in her own mind and she began to mentally move in her furniture, her art, her colours to this home. She found herself fast forwarding through a lifetime of future memories – what hopes and dreams would be borne in this house… this home, she wondered.
It was with great excitement she surveyed her walls, her home, her life to come. But how things had changed in just a few short years. Her house, no longer full of promise but of dark memories and a pervading feeling of fear and despair. Her house no longer felt like a home and no longer promised future happy memories to be made, but rather was over-filled with unhappy memories, dragging her constantly to her past; cruelly holding her by the ankles and refusing to allow her to move on, to create newer, happier times for herself.
Dee sat in the hall. Her hall. The hall that had sold her the house, and she sobbed.
Chapter 8: Isla
Another day, another swift exit from 4 Fortescue gardens in search of the 17:35 to Teddington, thought Isla to herself. It was definitely getting colder, and today she had remembered to make Milly wear a coat which her daughter had teamed, perhaps a little over enthusiastically given only the slight chill in the air, with mittens, a scarf and a bright blue bobble hat. She had her new ball with her. It had been instantly deemed ‘even more brilliant than the old one’ largely, Isla felt, due to the fact it was plastered with the entire cast of Frozen. The new ball had rapidly become a permanent fixture and Milly was dribbling it along the pavement now taking care to watch for cars and passers-by. On buying the new ball, Isla had had a very serious conversation with Milly about safe and unsafe ways of playing with her ball. She didn’t want to be a complete killjoy and stop her daughter playing, but she felt that the responsibility of playing safely was probably a good lesson for a five-year-old. The conversation had clearly struck a chord with her daughter who was now the most vigilant balls-man in history and spent as much of her time on the lookout for potential hazards as she did kicking and throwing her ball.
They made their way to the station where they instantly fell into their usual routine of making their way to platform four, Milly reaching into her Mum’s back pocket for the card that would magically release the barriers and the two of them making their way through the same barrier they used each day – the third from the right. There was no special reason for this, the barrier was no different from its counterparts on either side, but each day, without fail, this was the barrier Milly would choose to open with the ‘magic blue card’ from Isla’s back pocket.
Once on the platform, they walked past familiar faces, Milly clutching her ball tightly to her chest. Isla and her daughter had been quick to agree that perhaps the station platform was not a place to play ball and that whilst Milly could dribble her ball with care elsewhere, that introducing a new rule of no dribbling on the platform was sensible. Milly had seemed almost relieved at her Mum’s suggestion, as if it took the pressure off her to pretend she was okay with continuing to play as she had once done with so little care. Small hand in big hand, the pair ambled down the platform, looking for the second arrivals display which marked their patch, the little bit of platform where they rooted themselves each day. Isla fondly imagined that one day they would wear grooves into this little spot, so accustomed were they to standing just here, in just this way. Isla noted that for the third day running Miss Solicitor was not here. She found this a little odd. Many of her fellow passengers had a rhyme and rhythm to their routine which made them somewhat predictable and Miss Solicitor was more predictable than most. Isla wondered if perhaps she and Mr Accountant had gone on holiday for a few days. She imagined they would be city-break types with a perfectly planned itinerary jam-packed with places they must go and things they must see. This, she concluded, would include not only the high-ticket items on every tourist’s to do list – the Coliseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but other, smaller, more special places that Miss Solicitor had learnt about during hours researching her holiday online; Trip Advisor, Twitter and Instagram helping her to find special little places off the beaten track where she and her boyfriend ‘simply must go’. The little coffee place in the back streets of Rome where the waiters spoke only in Italian but made unarguably the best, and strongest, coffee in town. The small downtrodden art gallery hidden in a back street of Prague which was not much to look at from the kerb but which was home to a series of misunderstood and under-appreciated gems, relegated from the larger galleries. Or the council run gardens in Budapest frequented by locals but less well known amongst tourists, where one could sit and simply watch the world go by – the real world of Budapest and not simply the hustle and bustle of the tourist quarter.
Or perhaps she was ill. Isla’s thoughts turned suddenly to Miss Solicitor in a beautifully appointed bedroom finished with white furniture and fancy lighting. She would be lying gracefully in an oversized bed with duvets like marshmallows looking pale and drawn, tissue box in one hand, a comforting cup of camomile tea with honey and lemon in the other. Red-rimmed eyes and a tired look would betray the fact that she was unwell, but she would still look peaceful, beautiful and as perfectly put together as ever.
Isla didn’t know how these other women did it. They all seemed to be so good at managing. Never once had she seen Miss Solicitor look anything other than pristine, even though it was the end of the day. Never a hair out of place and never once had Isla seen her running for the train so she was clearly well organised too. She always beat Milly and Isla to platform four and would be patiently waiting, sometimes reading her Kindle, such was the luxury of time she afforded herself through good time keeping. Isla could not help but feel a little pang of jealousy when she thought of the life she imagined Miss Solicitor had, but all the same she wished her well and hoped that her first thought, of a city break with Mr Accountant explained her absence and that she was not curled up in bed ill. She didn’t wish that on anyone, no matter how luxurious their bed linen.
Chapter 9: Dee
Dee was in bed. Still. It was where she had resided for the past three days tearing herself from her sweat soaked sheets only to use the toilet or to fetch more cans of Coca Cola on which she was subsisting. She had not felt quite this low in a while. She was used to peaks and troughs but even on her worst days she was usually able to manage to more or less carry on, putting on a brave face for the world and venturing outside to continue with her daily routines. However, the blow of not being able to jump in front of the train when she had been so mentally prepared to do so had hit her hard. Harder than she’d imagined possible. She had questioned herself a thousand times as to why she didn’t just wait and leap beneath the next train. She knew the answer of course, it had to be this train. It had to be the 17:35 to Teddington because this was the train that had started it all. This was the train that had seen an end to her happy days. She could barely remember how those days had felt now. The 17:35 to Teddington had torn her soul from her body as it claimed the lives of a mother and her tiny daughter that fateful Tuesday three years ago. These moments of lives ended so abruptly replaying in an endless loop ever since. All memories before and since had been relegated to a back seat in Dee’s mind, so overcrowded was it with the piercing screams of a memory too awful to comprehend, and yet her mind tortured her, forcing her again and again to experience the utter helplessness of watching two lives end, yet powerless to change it. This memory and the feeling of it crept into every moment of her life both waking and sleeping. On the rare occasion that her mind wandered it would land squarely back in that moment with the screeching of train breaks and the commotion of commuters.
So a different train wouldn’t be the same. Not at all. She didn’t have the same sense of clarity and completion when she thought about jumping beneath just any train. The appeal was not about all trains, her fixation was not with trains in general, but rather with this train. The train that ended the life of a mother and child and which had ended her own life once already and had caused her to live as a shell. Looking like she was alive every day when in fact she was dead on the inside. Unthinking, uncaring and unable to engage with anything that made her happy. That train, that soul-destroying train must be the one to end her life.
She was frustrated that her depression had kept her bed-bound and left her unable to seek out her preferred train again since the incident with the little girl and the ball. The interaction with the girl and her mother had been the most meaningful human connection she had made in years. Something had sparked in her as she’d leapt into action, preventing harm from coming to the bright and bubbly little girl she knew so well by sight.
She had wondered briefly whether this moment may be her salvation. One life saved from the jaws of the train to replace those lost seemed worthy of some kind of redemption? Perhaps now she would be able to find it within herself to forgive and forget what had happened in this same spot all those years ago.
But no. She could never forgive herself and would carry, always, the weight of responsibility of a mother and baby lost. Whose tragic deaths felt like a personal failing and something she could have, should have prevented. But she didn’t.
So whilst fleetingly she’d flirted with the possibility of moving on, she accepted that forgiveness and reparation were not to be. And so she lay in bed, in stiff, stained sheets that had not been washed in weeks, no… months, surrounded by coke cans, foul tissues and the other detritus that sustained illness brings and she thought about the 17:35 to Teddington and how very much she’d like to have the energy and motivation to seek it out and jump in front of it. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Not today. Perhaps tomorrow she would try once more, but for today she stayed firmly rooted in bed with bad thoughts filling her mind and the smell of illness and decay filling her nostrils.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.