by Olga Dermott-Bond
The parcel sits carefully wrapped in her lap, strangely light. Brown paper and string are all that are holding her together. Reserved tickets wave their neat white hands determinedly above each seat. It’s getting crowded and people keep checking the seat beside hers, to squinny at the ticket. Reserved, like hers, from Birmingham to Leuchars. Opposite Direction of Travel. One businessman and his laptop, red socks showing at the bottom of his skinny shiny suit, asks her if it is taken:
‘Yes,’ she says a little too firmly. ‘My husband will be back soon.’
It sounds convincing enough, as this is a lie she has told herself many times. She has his copy of the Financial Times with her that he likes to read on a Saturday.
Peanut-butter stiff, her train shudders away from the station. She studies the backs of houses with their lopsided back gardens filled with flayed trampolines, forlorn sheds, looping washing lines. Rickety pebble-dashed semis pass by, looking like they are still caked in yesterday’s makeup. Curtains are half-drawn, hiding sleeping teenagers who are ignoring the sticky hot fingers of late August sun on their pillows.
Overhead the tickertape eats the names of all the places as they slide right to left. Once more she reads them, like a catechism.
She hasn’t told anyone about this journey.
For so long all she had wanted was to be left alone, to feel the unrelenting rain of loss on her shoulders and face, listen to it soaking into her skin, let it turn cold, damp, uncomfortable against her aching bones. It had weighed everything down and washed the colour out. Grief is too neat a word, too dry. Tiny agonies had dripped, day by day and his absence flowed like rusted water over the rim of a bath, the tap left running inside her for too long.
Her black coat is a little too warm for the day and the familiar jolt and sway of the train carriage rocks her, rocks her, rocks her gently. She leans on the ghostly shoulder of her husband to shut her eyes again, hearing the rustle of his newspaper, the ticking of his watch.
She drifts into a lulled, contented sleep. In her dream, she watches calmly as the compartment fills with water, the tables sliding like shifting sand, tiny shoals of fish darting from her shoes.
She yawns awake, stretches as the sun plants itself firmly on the other side of the carriage, growing, flickering into sinewed seaweed up the curved doors. The Scottish sky outside is a cathedral window, beautiful with different blues, vapour trails singing high notes.
She knows now where she is going to spread his ashes. It has to be the beach at St. Andrews. She can feel the sting of sea salt already on her lips. Yes. And then she will finally let a little of this sadness swim into the North Sea away from her, and she will paddle her old bulgy ankles into the shock of cold water, feel something else, allow herself to find out some of the places in between.
Olga is originally from Northern Ireland. A former Warwick Poet Laureate and winner of the BBC Proms Poetry competition, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a wide range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Paper Swans Press, Reflex Fiction, and Bath Flash Fiction Vol 3. In 2017 she was commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize and won the Forward/Emag creative-critical competition. She is a teacher and has two daughters.