A Journey in June

IMG_2815 It is impossible at the start of my familiar journey north by train not to think of the same journey, attempted last July. Now, I have a ticket and a seat for a journey I have planned for several weeks. Then, I rushed to the station, panicking after the telephone call from my father, barely able to breathe deeply enough to state my destination at the ticket office. He had called me just as I arrived into work, saying hesitatingly that, perhaps, I ought to come back sooner than Friday after all. It was Wednesday morning and I had been home since Monday afternoon. Now, it is a suddenly beautiful, sun filled late afternoon in an unseasonably cold and rain filled June. I sit in an air conditioned carriage with other urban workers, bunking off early on a Friday afternoon to make the most of the weekend. Then, I stood on a train from Manchester to Blackpool, the quickest way north being to get as far as Preston and change onto a train to Scotland there.  I wedged myself into a bulging, sweating carriage of mothers and grandmas and school-holiday-children with buckets and spades, picnic bags and even two dogs, heading for a day at the seaside. Then and now, the trains leave the City quickly, the landscape outside the window quickly turning lush and green. This June, I have a book and an iphone and a coffee. Last July, I have nothing to do but stand and stare out of the window, willing the train to go faster. I wanted to be able to pace up and down, but had to content myself with constantly shifting position, wringing my hands, turning around on my small portion of allotted space near the door, as a panting dog’s tail periodically thwacked onto my foot. Now, the train powers through the improbable leafiness of Wigan North Western and surges forward towards Preston. Then, somewhere just past Wigan station, the train started to slow. It stopped entirely for a couple of minutes, then made occasional spasmodic progress for the next ten. I checked my phone for the time continually, conscious of a connection I needed to make in Preston. The thirty allotted minutes for the transfer were ticking inexorably away as the children got restless, a ball was thrown and the mothers remonstrated with a pair of overheated, sullen pre-teen boys. I told myself I could still make it. I visualised the dash through the station I would be obliged to make – probably up the Victorian steps, across the bridge and down to the other side. It was doable. And then, last July, after nearly half an hour of stop-start jerks taking us no more than a couple of hundred metres, the platform in sight from my window, the train came to a complete standstill, just outside Preston station. A politely apologetic intercom announcement referred to being ‘held’ because of an ‘incident’ in the station. The minute for my connection ticked past, as I frantically googled the next train out of Preston to Scotland. As my phone struggled to make the internet connection, a ring cut through and my father’s name and grinning picture flashed up. She was gone, he told me. It was, finally, peaceful, he told me. Your sisters didn’t make it either, he told me. He had thought she would have a little bit longer, but he had been wrong. I turned off my phone with difficulty, hands shaking and sweating, chin wobbling, as the day trippers continue to snack and bicker and moan about the waste of a sunny day. I started to cry, properly, noisily; I rang my husband and said out loud for the first time that she was dead. No one said a word; the children stared, the adults averted their eyes. A few minutes later, the train lurched forward and disgorged us into the heaving, chaotic station. I walked around in circles, not sure what to do. A young woman approached me, saying ‘I was on the train, are you ok?’. ‘My mother just died and I don’t know what to do’ I say. ‘I know’ she said as she stroked my hand, flagged down a station guard and asked about trains to Scotland for me. It turned out that my train had not yet left after all. I ran up the stairs, across the bridge, down to the other platform. I jumped on the train, in wild-eyed hurry and flung myself into the one available seat I could see. A man opposite asked me where the fire was, there’s no hurry, he’d just been told there were no trains travelling north for the next few hours at least. A man was up a tower threatening to jump and no trains were going through. I got off the train again and tried to speak to the guard. He said there was little hope of getting to Scotland today. He said he would advise anyone with non-urgent travel to try to rearrange – can my journey wait? I said I suppose it could now. I walked back up the stairs, back over the bridge and down onto the first train back to Manchester. Then, I finished the journey, blinking into summer-bright sunshine at Piccadilly station, aware that my vision was starting to go and a migraine would shortly follow. Through the haze, I saw the top half only of my husband’s face as he took my hand and led me to our car. Now, I continue my journey north, sailing through Preston and beyond, arriving many hours later at the small, achingly familiar station in the middle of fields, the village of my childhood summers to my left, the town of my mother’s last years to my right. I have been travelling to this station all my life but I know that this is the last time I will make this particular journey, for my father is moving. I get off the train and see him coming towards me through the last glimmers of a long, Scottish June evening. He is little bit greyer, a little bit smaller, than last year. He takes my bag and leads me to his car for my last weekend stay at their house.

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1 Comment

Filed under dying

One response to “A Journey in June

  1. What an emotive piece of writing, it made me cry, and the comparison between the two journeys makes it very powerful. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the frustration and sadness of that journey north. Thank you very much for sharing with #ThePrompt x

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