She gets off the train as though, unseen, he is watching her. He is not watching her; he is not there at all. She is alone at the little countryside station. The small clock tower makes a strangled sound for noon. For a moment, flushed heartbeat, she thinks there might be someone behind the window of the waiting room, but no-one is there – it is her own reflection, twisted slightly in the glass. Blue coat, hair straighter than it might be naturally. Face, unavoidable.
An hour ago she did her makeup in the fluorescent cramped bathroom on the train, struck electric with the plainness of skin under strip lighting. It was a bathroom that extinguished any hope of poetry. Caught in its scratched mirror, her features distilled wide-blown and cheap. Another look, once the blemishes were hidden and the purple marks of exhaustion concealed, sent over her a wave of deep helplessness. If there were tears to be had, she might have wept, but she only felt a cold kind of nothing. Indifferent, the mirror flashed cruelly, her face a tooth caught in its open throat. She hated and loved the mirror, which bit away the illusion, which used her for its biting.
The train, careless of the crisis at its heart, had continued onwards.
Five minutes. He is still not here; perhaps he will not come. She sits on the painted bench and folds her hands. She holds her thoughts and spine very straight, as if to make herself transparent. Always she imagines him watching her. It is not so terrible: she delights in the imagining of it, she has come to construct herself as a thing to be watched by him. It is a year since last they met and still she knows the exact feeling of his gaze, she knows a room is empty of him as soon as she enters it; when the room contains him she senses his exact position, location, the number of steps it might take for her to be by his side.
To feel his step approaching once again! How pathetic and small and in love she feels.
The paint on the bench is green, and, watching it, she thinks of the jade bracelet her mother gave her, and the night she wore it, over a year ago. They had stood at opposite sides of the hall in opposite conversations. Not a word or a glance had passed between them. The beat of knife against glass – dinner would be in the next room, they would miss one another, deliberately, again –
When quickly he was beside her, without a word he placed his hand upon her arm – at the soft inside of her elbow, as though she were winged and capable of floating away from him at any moment.
‘Wait,’ he had said to her, urgently, unafraid.
The word, the movement, the thoughtless reflex of it all: the small gesture and the massive thought behind it had subdued her whole imagination to him in an instant, though she could not allow it to show. It was the most romantic moment of her life.
Oh, that lost year!
All April, all May she had felt those passions trace themselves about her. Lying in the sun next to him, enclosed by all the beauty of the warm world, her only thoughts had been of the happiness, feather-light in the yellow rush of sunshine, of this moment which could not end.
The green paint of the bench is old and peeling in places. There is a pen and notebook in her bag and she feels all at once a gasping desire to write it down. It is important, this moment of suspension on the platform of a small train station in a country village.
But she cannot let him discover her unlike this. Though, I am confident, she thinks, I am confident that even if I did write about him, even if I set it all down and he read every word, he would not recognise himself within it. He had felt none of the things between them as she did. She wants to hate him for this; she finds she cannot.
Even the seaside villages and countryside the train had passed as she neared his home had fanned her heart against him; everything within fifty miles of him seemed to have absorbed some of his impossible and thoughtless beauty. Yes. His beauty more than anything. The shape of the pen in her bag hums.
After all, why not? This bench would not, for him, conjure the most romantic moment of his life. That thoughtless movement of his own hand was most likely forgotten to him. Quite deliberately she had never committed any similar act of her own which he might treasure.
He had touched upon that, once. A different country, the little table between them. Above, the stars. You need to let things show, he told her. Every so often, she made him say those words again, in the gap between closed eyelids and sleep, the sentence luminous as a prophet’s. Sometimes she tugged at the fabric of the memory so there was more time, time enough before the waiter arrived with his tray of careful dishes, and she made her eyes flash. If the dream was almost upon her she might say, then here is the truth, and look at him without a guard in her eyes. At dawn the thought, the dream, would be lost, but the contours of the dream sometimes remained; she might, for a morning, feel the ghost of a contentment she had never in reality grasped.
Alone she sustained the thought of him; once he appeared again she dropped it at once.
Illustration by Danielle Jump