It was one of those balmy, summer days where everything was still and beautiful, as if painted – and one would dare not breathe lest the perfection was spoiled. The only place that moved was beyond the windows of the train where Henry sat; it flickered by like an old film, yet the sepia tones were replaced with a vivid blur of colour. A pity Henry could not appreciate the scenery as he had nodded off.
At the end of the line the train stopped and Henry woke up. He could see clouds of steam billowing from the front engine. He looked at his watch – five hours had passed and yet the journey should have taken less than an hour. Steam trains were slower, he supposed and was amazed that this one was still running. Still retro was everywhere now.
He stepped from the carriage and was instantly wrapped in the stillness that had persisted since sunrise. Tall weeds grew at the side of the line and on the platform itself, rising from cracks, as if to alleviate a grey, unkempt feel of neglect and maybe soften the starkness. There were no fripperies, no posters, no chocolate machines, just a bench stained with weather. And, of course, the exit, gaping almost rudely without a door, and covered in graffiti of some kind.
From the station Henry walked, unsure of where he was heading. He blamed his memory loss on the deep sleep that the motion of the train had induced and yet he didn’t feel unduly perturbed by this. Ahead the road was long, devoid of traffic and flanked by lines of trees. He walked and walked and dust rose from his footsteps and was swept away by a small breeze.
And then he came to a cottage: it was set back from the road and entailed yet another small walk along a crazy-paved path to the front door. A woman stood there, waiting.
‘Hello,’ she said smiling. ‘You didn’t confirm your booking. I thought you might not come.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Henry, remembering some vague details: the cottage he had booked to get away from it all. He suddenly realised he had been carrying a suitcase, which he then put down in the hallway.
‘I’m Clare, I’ll show you round.’ She took him first to the the back of the cottage where the bedroom was. It overlooked a train track, the one he had travelled on. It looked very old.
‘The steam trains go through quite often,’ smiled Clare. ‘ I know it all looks ancient, but it was only built very recently for enthusiasts such as yourself.’
‘Love them,’ said Henry. He was going to enjoy his stay. ‘How long did I book for?’ But Clare had gone.
He wandered briefly in the garden outside the cottage, then it started to rain – just a light shower but Henry decided to return inside to the back bedroom, where he settled himself comfortably to watch the trains and listen to the light patter of raindrops. But the shower turned into a heavy deluge and pounded against the windows, obscuring his previous unspoilt view. Suddenly his heart felt heavy and the colours outside dimmed, yet there was a sudden clarity of thought.
The train that had brought him here, was not one that he had physically boarded! He had jumped under it! Financial pressures; bankruptcy; divorce! He loved trains: it had seemed the ideal exit.
And then the rain stopped, the sun shone and a rainbow appeared, just as another steam train came through...