Cotton #FridayFictioneers

The cotton mills of Manchester, England, had once been a chaos of noise, sights and smells. The machines had roared, drowning everything else out and making the workers deaf. Dust and chemicals had rose thickly, settling into workers lungs and slowly suffocating them. Accidents and deaths were a daily occurrence. Thus, was the price the poor paid to try and survive.

Now, the great mills that had been the body of Manchester were silent. They stood rotting or demolished, an empty tomb in memory of those poor souls who had worked themselves to death.

 

(Inspired by; https://rochellewisoff.com/2019/03/27/29-march-2019/ with thanks).

Candle

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She put the candle in the window and prayed that her loved ones would come home soon.

 

(In memory of all those lost and injured in the Manchester Arena Bombing on Monday 22nd May 2017)

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Bus Jam

Aerial Photography of Cars on Road Intersection

I slide the sleeve of my black jacket up and checked my watch for the countless time then looked down the road. The huddle of people who were at the bus stop with me turned to look too. I caught a glimmer of exception on some faces but that quickly faded when they saw that there was still no bus.

Trying not to grind my teeth, I stepped back into the crowd which was a mixture of school children, parents, older adults and workers but I was the only man dressed in a business suit.

‘There should have been two buses by now!’ an angry tubby woman shouted.

‘Three,’ an older man corrected, ‘the eighty-five hasn’t turned up yet.’

‘Mummy, I’m going to be late for school!’ a small girl in a grey skirt and blue uniform jumper cried out.

I looked over. The mother, an African woman with a towering head scarf on, lengthy brown coat and a long, very brightly coloured pattern skirt looked tried. She was half leaning on the double buggy which had months old twin boys almost stacked on top of each other. Behind her, six more children-four girls and two boys, wearing the same school uniform, played on the grass.

The little girl tugged her mother’s coat. The woman muttered and sent her to play with the other children.

Someone tutted at my elbow and I turned back to see a supermarket worker scrolling through his phone.

I checked my watch again. Time hadn’t moved. I grounded my teeth together, caught myself and stopped.

Looking up I saw cars lining the road. Their drivers tapping the wheel or dropping their hands out of sight. One woman was even putting on lipstick. Then the traffic began moving again, the lights further ahead had changed colour.

‘Look a bus!’ a high school girl cried.

Everyone twisted their heads to look and there just peeking around the corner was the front of the bus.

People flew into a flurry. Pushing each other, getting out their purses, money, bus passes. The children raced back from the grass, pressing against their mother and the pram. Someone dropped their phone, but the sound of it hitting the pavement was lost in the babble of voices and mixture of movement.

The traffic crawled to a stop. The crowd sighed like a deflating balloon and became still again.

‘Which one is it?’ the old man asked.

‘I think it’s a seventeen,’ the same girl answered.

‘Pah! Not the one I want!’ he grumbled.

It wasn’t the one I wanted either but it would get me into the city centre of Manchester. I checked my watch again and the hands had crept around. With a sinking feeling, I realised no matter what I was going to be late to my new job again. I needed a car! Or maybe a motorbike? Perhaps, a bicycle would be better? At least my mother wouldn’t have to worry about me as much with one of those.

The traffic moved on and finally the bus pulled up. Everyone charged up as the doors opened. People getting off and on mixed together then broke free of each other. I squeezed on, waving my pass then I saw the bus was totally full.

There was nowhere for me to go as there was a blockade of people before me. I tried to look over them to see if there was any seats, but there appeared not to be. The way to the stairs was also blocked, a mother had her three children pressed into the stairwell.

‘I’m sorry but you won’t get that pram on here,’ the bus driver shouted.

I turned, my hands slipping over the cold blue metal handrail. The African family were trying to get on. The mother was rocking the buggy back, causing the front wheels to lift and her sea of children were all ready on and huddling against the other passengers.

‘Hey, excuse me! No room! Stop!’ the bus driver shouted loudly.

The woman looked up, balancing the front wheels of the pram on the floor of the bus.

‘You’ll have to get the next bus. I’m sorry.’

The woman said something under her breath that sounded like it was in a different language. She slowly reversed the pram and yelled at her children in English, ‘get off! Come over here! Tilly, come!’

The children, like tumbling puppies got off the bus and clustered around her. The little girl who really wanted to go to school burst into tears. Two of the boys started fighting and the other girls walked back to the grass again.

The doors of the bus closed and we left the family and a few other people behind us.

I clung to the handrail, though there was no need really, the press of bodies against mine was enough to keep me stable. I shut my eyes tried hard not to think about who’s fingers had just brushed my hip and who’s elbow had bumped into my bag.

Taking deep breaths, I thought about over things, like what I was going to say to my supervisor, what I might grab for lunch today, if I’d get the guts to talk to that pretty blonde a few desks away from me.

First though, I had to get through this.

Dear Diary #27

Dear Diary,

It’s raining heavily and it’s really windy too. It sounds like a storm is happening outside and I wonder if there’ll be lightening and thunder. I might not see it though as I’m currently sat in my sanctuary tepee. The sound of the weather’s making me feel strangely calm, which is useful after the day I’ve had. Nothing has gone right today, diary. I was meant to be brave and go outside and met my friends for a day out shopping.

I got up and ready. I put on wool tights, my black wool skirt and my new fluffy blue jumper. Then I brushed my hair loose and put on make up! I was so happy and bouncing to go. I left way too early. Maybe that was apart of the problem. The bus was late and packed and I was soaking wet. My umbrella’s useless in this kind of weather!

Only a few minutes into the bus ride, I felt the edges of the first wave. People were too close and touching me and I didn’t want them too. The engine was vibrating under my feet so loud and my stomach went all wobbly. I shut my eyes and tried hard to fade into my music. I told myself that it was just nerves about seeing everyone again. I thought about what I’d buy from the shops, what we’d eat and talk about.

The wobbles settled a little, but I could still feel this panic growing with me. When we arrived, the bus emptied fast and I was caught in this tide pool of stampeding bodies. I knew I had to break out because I was being taken in the wrong direction. So, I scuttled to the side and pressed myself into the corner of the bus station. I was like a crab, desperate to avoid what was the incoming tide.

Why I’m thinking so much about the sea and beach today? Perhaps, because I know that helps. Anyway, so I get out of the bus station and on the street. It’s still rain and there are just people with umbrellas everywhere. I decided not to put mine up and just walk quickly to the shopping center. I ignore the people and just focus on where I’m going. That’s always a good technique to use. Then though, whilst I’m waiting for the light to change, someone bumps into the back of me.

I never saw his or her face. They were gone fast, over the road and around the coming cars. Of course, they couldn’t know how this simple act would effect me, but suddenly I felt like the bubble had burst. I become aware of all the people around me. The press of bodies as the crowd waited to cross over, office workers smoking outside their building, the flow of people across the street. I smelt car fumes, cooking food, the dirt of the city center. I felt the cold rain more sharply on my skin, the wind wrapping around my legs and touching my hair.

I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t move. Tears were appearing in the corner of my vision. The feeling of being gripped grew and I felt the urge to run. It wasn’t safe here. There were too many people, too much going on, it was too loud and I needed, NEEDED to be away from here!

The light changed, people crossed and no one noticed me still standing there. I felt them bumping into me with elbows, bags, bellies, whatever, as they all past me by and went on in their own worlds. A car horn blared. I panicked and ran across both sections of the road, not even looking. I think I hit someone with my bag or my hand, but then I was racing to the side door of the shopping center.

I felt better once I was inside. I took a few deep breaths and really calmed myself down. I must have looked like a victim of some kind of attack though. I was standing with my back pressed to the wall, clutching my handbag and umbrella, looking all panicky. Once again though, no one from the passing people stopped even though I must have met eyes with a few of them.

I went to the bookshop. It was the perfect place, even though it was busy. I went into the one section that is always empty- history and art. I placed my stuff down, grabbed the nearest book and sat in a small over stuffed square chair. I took my dripping coat off and ran my hands over the book cover. It felt smooth and cold. Weird how I can recall such things when I come out of an anxiety attack.

I flipped through the pages of the book. It was about Greek art. I looked at the photographs and read the captions. I felt calm. Normal. It was like nothing had just happened to me. After awhile, I got my phone out and made connect with my friends. They came and met me in the shop. There was seven of us all together; me, Bridget, her boyfriend Ryan, Connie, Alex, Tom and his girlfriend Molly.

It felt like a party! Even though there were so many of us, I felt okay because I knew them all. We went for some lunch and I had a really nice jacket potato, cheese and salad. I felt way better after that and the giggly chatter of the girls was pleasing. We did some shopping, well it was more like window shopping and drifting, but it was fun and the conversations were flowing.

Then though, something happened. We were walking down market street. There were people everyone walking or standing in half circle shapes to look at the street entertainers. We were just passing a religious group who were yelling about human sins and God’s wrath, when I felt it. I got this terrible feeling, like something bad was going to happen. I stopped walking and just stood there.

A part of me was totally aware that I should just keep walking, but I couldn’t move. I was struggling to breath and I felt like crying. One of my friends came back to me, I can’t remember who and they were asking if I was okay. I shook my head and looked at the floor. I told myself I was being silly! This was stupid! Why was this happening? Nothing was going to happen. There was no danger. But in that moment it was so real to me that there was nothing else I can do.

More friends came over. I can’t remember what they said, but then Tom had taken my hand was leading me away from everything. We went into a empty shop. A vintage clothes shop were some strange wind chime music was playing and the scent of incense hung heavy in the air. I took deep breaths. My face was wet and I was crying softly. Someone put a tissue in my hand and I felt Tom rubbing my back and saying it was all okay now.

The attack past. I felt so embarrassed. I wiped my face and now that I could think clearly again I thought of something to tell my friends which would make sense. But I couldn’t describe what had happened. I knew it had been real in that moment, but it for everyone else hadn’t actually been real. I was like I had seen a ghost and was trying to declare it. No one was going to believe me.

Tom asked if I was feeling better. I said I was, but needed a drink. Then I told everyone I was sorry and I didn’t know what happened back there and it was silly. They were concerned, but took it well. We walked out of the shop and went to a cafe. I felt better after, but then I decided to go home.

We said goodbye at the bus stop and I left them all to carry on shopping. I did wish I’d stayed though, but to be honest I didn’t want to face their questions and also another attack was too likely. I got home and got sorted. I had a hot bath. God, I needed one after all that being cold and wet. I felt better again, but I still had a niggly feeling.

I can’t help but wonder what my friends thought of it all. I texted Bridget and spoke to her a little. She said it was fine and everyone knew I’d had a panic attack. It was probably those religious zealots, she said. What they were saying about the earth burning and everyone going to hell, ‘my gran is always getting upset by that kind of thing,’ Bridget had added. I also texted Tom and thanked him. He said it was okay, his younger sister also has anxiety and he understood.

Reading that did help. Perhaps, I do feel a bit better now. I’m sure I just heard thunder…Maybe it was a plane. Hard to tell in here. I should get out anyway and go to bed. Tomorrow is another day and I promise to try harder. It’s not silly either. It is a real thing, but it’ll pass with time. I just got to take it easy.

The Train Station (Part 5)

Train Station

Bridget did not want to leave the train station, but the hour of people watching was over and she had to go to work. Packing up her things, she put on her headphones and selected a random play list. Enjoying the fact there had been no bad piano players today- in fact no one had touched the instrument- she left the station.

Stepping out into a light rain fall, she hurried to the bus station, ignoring the people all around her. The loud music did a good job of covering up all the voices and other background noises of the city. Avoiding walking under the scaffolding of a building being done up, she stepped on the tram lines and went up the hill.

Reaching the tram station, which looked empty, she headed across to the bus station and waited for her bus home. Her thoughts flipped back to seeing those two men- Drew and Sas. Who were they? What was their story? Bridget let her imagination run and she began to picture them as lovers, not long been together. There was some trouble with their families. Maybe, one of them had not been able to tell his family? Drew, the man who had been waiting and clearly stressed had serious Catholic parents and he knew if they found out he was in love with a man they’d disown him.

Bridget shook her head, deciding that would not do. The bus pulled up and the doors opened. She dug out her day pass and joined the queue to get on. Showing her ticket and sitting down, her mind was still wondering what the problem was with those two men. There was just something about them she couldn’t get rid of. Resting her head lightly against the cold window, she shut her eyes and tried to let everything go. It would not do having that kind of story in her head when she arrived for work.

All too soon, she was getting off the bus and crossing the road over to the youth center. The rain had gotten worse and was now rapidly coming down. Bridget was early, but a few junior club members were already hanging around outside waiting to come in. Slipping her headphones off, Bridget said her hellos as she dig around for her id badge. The doors opened before her anyway and she stepped inside.

‘I can’t believe this weather!’ the receptionist cried.

Bridget nodded and signed in. Not feeling in the mood to chat with the older woman. The receptionist had short dark blonde hair, hard blue eyes and a pinched together looking face. She was wearing the center’s light green t-shirt and black trousers.

‘It was so nice before and now it’s raining again. I’m meant to be going out tonight too…’ she added

‘It’ll have stopped by then,’ Bridget said.

‘I hope so.’

Placing down the pen, Bridget hurried to get changed in the staff room. Thankfully, the small room was empty and she switched her t-shirts with ease. Coming out again, she crossed the center’s large open main space and to what looked at first glance to be a bar area, but was actually the art’s corner. Humming to herself and thinking about what she was going to do, Bridget began opening cupboards and pulling things out.

Luckily, Bridget’s shift went fast and she was home before she knew it. Though she was very grateful. Feet hurting, she got changed and went into the kitchen barefoot. Her mum, who she had spoken too already was curled on the sofa watching a movie. Bridget made herself some tomato soup and a ham sandwich. Taking them upstairs, she eat then got writing up her notes from the day.

Her mind began to wonder once more and she looked carefully at what she was writing, Bridget decided she had to know more about those two men. What was going on between Drew and Sas?

Sadly, she knew she would never find out.

 

To Be Continued…

The Train Station (Part 4)

Train Station

The train station was just as busy as it had been yesterday. Bridget sat at the same table outside the coffee shop, notebook and pen awaiting her. This time though, she was sipping an ice fruit smoothie. Lost in thought, it took her a few seconds to see the man indicating to the empty chair opposite her.

‘Is anyone sitting here? Sorry to trouble you,’ he added.

Bridget glanced to the tables either side of her and saw that they were both occupied. The one on her right had a very large lady reading a thick book sitting at it and the one on the left had a teenage couple, both playing on their phones. Bridget nodded at the man and gratefully he sat down.

‘I was thinking,’ Bridget spoke.

The man looked questioningly at her.

‘That’s why I didn’t notice you,’ she added.

‘Oh. Its fine,’ the man answered.

Bridget smiled and took him in. The man was in his mid-thirties, with black wavy hair and a sculptured face. His nose, cheeks and chin, reminded her of Roman busts. He was wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans and carrying a single bag. He was holding a takeaway coffee cup and taking the lid off the top.

‘Are you waiting for a train?’ he asked.

‘No…I’m…waiting for a friend. Her train is late,’ Bridget answered.

The man nodded, ‘I’ve got a few minutes till mine.’

Bridget stopped herself from asking where he was going and instead put his face into her memory so she could write him up later.

The man turned from her, looking at the train time table board then at the ticket barrier. A train had clearly just come in and a crowd of people were coming through.

Bridget also drew her attention to them. Many seemed to be coming for a Friday night out or to spend the weekend. There were large groups of only men and only women, followed by a small mixed group of barely old enough teenagers. Bridget spotted a Hen party. All the women were wearing sashes that were pink and had silver writing on. They towed small suitcases and were chatting loudly.

Someone started playing chopsticks on the piano. The musical notes rising above the voices and the engines of trains.

Bridget sipped her drink and shot shy glances at the man. There’s no harm in asking him where he’s going, she thought.

A barking dog drew her attention away and she looked up. A woman was running to the ticket gates, holding two dog leads in one hand and suitcase in the other. Her dogs were racing beside her; a boarder collier and a smaller cross mix. She approached the wide gate, waved her train ticket in the guard’s face and was let in. Bridget watched her running to platform six, the dog still barking.

‘I have to go. Hope your friend gets here soon,’ the man said.

Bridget snapped her head back to him, ‘yes. Me too, thanks,’ she muttered.

The man stood, gave her a small wave and left. Bridget’s eyes followed him, noticing how nice his bum looked in those tight jeans.

Placing her drink down, she flipped open her book, wrote the date and title on the top line and started jotting down his description. She recalled as much as possible, adding in the question of where he was going underneath. Finishing up, Bridget looked up and saw a young man pacing before her.

He was checking his phone and when he reached the entrance to the pub he turned and came back. As he reached the entrance to the coffee shop, he turned and walked back again. Bridget watched him, fascinated. He was wearing a t-shirt that was too big that had some cryptic logo on and baggy jeans with scruffy trainers. There was something about the way he was pacing, it was frantic and clearly he was desperately waiting for someone.

Bridget dropped her eyes away and drew a line under what she had just written. With another look up, she began writing about the pacing man. Letting her pen flow across the lined page, she did not think too much about what she was writing. Stealing more glances, she noted down his clothes and how he looked. He had flat, wide cheek bones and a slight tan to his skin. His eyes were dark and constantly on his phone. He was so fixated that he did not notice his longish hair moving downwards over his face.

He stopped suddenly, looking up at the barrier as if he had heard something.

Bridget paused her pen and stared too. A new train load of people had arrived and they were all barraging through. There were too many faces and brightly coloured summer clothes mixed together for her to just focus on one person. So many had come for a night out, yet it had barely hit the afternoon. Families drifted passed with young children and large suitcases. Two middle-aged women stepped off to the side near the pub and began waving the rest of their group over to them.

Bridget regarded the pacing man. His back was completely turned and he was watching the crowd. Or at least she guessed he was. Whilst she studied him, a tall man peeled himself away from everyone else and came over. The pacing man jumped a little on the balls of his feet and slipped his phone away. As the man approached, they hugged and the pacing man went to kiss the other.

‘Not here,’ the other man whispered and quickly withdrew.

‘No one cares, Sas,’ the pacing man muttered.

The man nodded at Bridget, who quickly turned away and grabbed her drink.

‘Well, I don’t care!’

‘Calm down, Drew,’ Sas said quietly.

Bridget slurped the rest of drink and put it down. Her fingers were wet, so she rubbed them on her jeans before picking up her pen again. Moving her hair back with her other hand, Bridget looked secretly at the men. The second one was a lot taller than the first and more muscular. He also had softer cheek bones and plum lips. His hair was a rich brown and floppy. He was wearing tight, low slung jeans and a half open midnight blue shirt.

‘I don’t see why I should! Why are you so later anyway?’ Drew snapped.

‘The trains,’ Sas said with a quick shrug of his shoulders, ‘Do you want to stay here for coffee?’

‘No…let’s find a wine bar,’ Drew demanded.

‘Okay, fine, whatever…’ Sas trailed.

They began walking away, their footsteps mingling with the countless others and becoming lost in the background noise.

Bridget got back to her notebook and began writing furiously.

 

To Be Continued…

The Train Station (Part 3)

Train Station

It started to rain whilst she waited for the bus. Bridget watched it falling against the windows of the large bus station. She could see some of the reflections of the people around her too, but she was not paying attention anymore. A podcast was playing from her large headphones and she was caught up in that.

When the bus pulled up and she was first on, flashing her ticket and going to the back. Sitting down, she put her feet up the chair opposite and looked out if the window. She ignored anyone else getting on and though a few people shot her dirty looks, no one disturbed her. The ride home was quiet for late afternoon and by Bridget’s phone clock rush hour was still off for a little while.

She almost missed her stop, she was that caught up in the story telling podcast. She stood up, hitting a bell as she went and caught herself from behind thrown forward as the bus slammed to a halt. She thanked the diver and got off. The rain hit her unprotected hair and began soaking into the cotton jacket that she had luckily remembered to thrown before she went out.

She crossed the busy main road and hurried down the side street opposite. Terraced houses that had been built of the late nineteen hundreds cotton mill workers sat on both sides of the street. Most of the brick work and window frames looked new, but the houses were still weighed down in history and owl like in their wisdom.

Bridget’s feet came to a stop and she looked to the side. Her house with its white gate and white door loomed over her. It had always been home, but lately it had felt more like a prison. Bridget opened the gate and walked up the pathway. She opened her bag to dig for her keys, regretting not doing that on the bus.

Finding them, she let herself into the house. Standing in the tiny hallway, which had just enough room for a small coat rack on the wall, Bridget took her coat, shoes and headphones off. Then stepping into a medium size living room, which looked cosy and welcoming, she listened. The boiler was ticking in the background and the sink in the bathroom upstairs was still dripping, but there were no other sounds.

Letting go of a breath, Bridget carrying all her things walked down the living room. She stopped at the bottom of the staircase which divided the living room and kitchen up. She listened again, but hearing nothing else, went up. At the top, she turned to the left and went into her bedroom. She closed the door, locking the latch down before dumping her stuff the bed.

Quickly, she put her shoes on the floor and hung her jacket on the back of the door. Taking her notebook from her bag, she placed it on her desk and went to the window. Looking out of the raindrop covered glass, she could see the small empty back garden with its grey flagstone floor. Over the tall wood board fence, she could just make out the alleyway where she and her older sister had often played at jungle explorers and other games in the thick scrub like land.

Bridget pressed her warm forehead to the cold, damp glass and closed her eyes. She thought about her sister, imagining Briony as she now forever would be; a twelve year old girl on the cusp of being a teenager, laughing as she sat in a tree. She had been wearing a bright blue dress with a white frill edging, a matching sunhat with a long ribbon, white shoes and socks. It had been one of her Sunday best outfits. They had been playing in the church graveyard, sent there whilst mother had been taking to the vicar after the service. It had been a game of hide and seek which was Briony’s favourite and best game. Bridget had been looking for an age before she had heard giggling and looked up the yew tree.

She still could remember her sister’s smiling face then how it had turned to one of shock horror. A piercing scream echoed around the graveyard then a sudden silence.

Bridget stepped back from the window and looked at the marks she had left on the glass. Sighing, she went and sat at her desk, not sure why she had suddenly began thinking about her long dead older sister again. Opening her laptop, she slide over her notebook and whilst waiting for the home screen to load up, flipped through the notebooks pages. Stopping at the one she had been writing at the train station, Bridget looked at her notes.

They seemed good. With the descriptions of the couple at the table then the couple she had seen meeting up afterwards, being well detailed and useful for writing a story about. Calling up a blank page on the screen, Bridget began writing everything. The sound of the rain falling and her typing on the keyboard filled the house.

It was the sound of the front door opening and closing that made Bridget stop. She listened and heard footsteps in the living room then the kitchen, which was underneath her. There come rustling, cupboards opening, the sink tap then the TV coming on. Bridget pressed her lips together and looked at her screen. She had moved on from writing up her notes and was in the middle of making a story around the first couple.

She saved her work and closed her laptop down, even though a part of her did not want to. She got up, only now noticing how dark it was getting. She drew her curtains against the still raining sky and went to the door. She felt for the latch and opened the door. The hallway was cast into darkness, but at the bottom of the stairs was a pool of light.

Bridget headed down and into the living room. She stopped on the edge and saw her mother sprawled across the sofa watching TV. The news was on, but her mother did not really seem to be watching it. She was wearing her works uniform; a dark blue pinafore, a matching t-shirt underneath and black trousers. Her flat shoes were lying on the floor beside her black socked feet.

‘Hi, mum. Everything okay?’ Bridget asked.

‘Not really, but never mind….You had a good day, sweetie?’

Bridget nodded, ‘I’ll get the kettle,’ she said and went into the kitchen.

As she crossed the plastic covered floor, Bridget could only think about how tried her mother looked. Perhaps, she had always looked so, but she could not remember. She made two cups of tea and on handing her mum’s a cup, went and sat in the armchair opposite the TV. Silently they watched the news and drink.

‘What’s for dinner?’ Bridget finally broken in.

‘I don’t know…fish fingers?’ Her mother answered, sleepy.

Bridget rolled her eyes, but decided not to remind her mother that was twenty six now and not eight. Instead, she collected the cups and went in the kitchen to look. However, there wasn’t much in. Sighing, she decided they were going to have fish fingers, chips and peas. Getting everything together, she started cooking.

Afterwards, Bridget made an excuse about being tried and went to bed. Her mother mumbled a good night and settled on the sofa to watch a murder mystery series. Lingering for a few seconds, Bridget wanted to say something about her older sister, but decided not to. Making her mother think back to that time was just asking for trouble and it was not like they could bring her back anyway.

Bridget went to her bedroom and sat at her desk. She opened her curtains and looked out into the night. The rain was still tapping against the window in a soft comforting way. Letting the curtain fall back, she decided not to go on her laptop, but to get into bed. Laying down, she tried to read an anthology of short stories she had started some months back, but she could not concentrate.

Turning off the lights, she lay in the darkness, watching the shadows settling on the wall. Pulling up the duvet, she rolled over and looked up at the ceiling.

‘Briony? Are you there?’ Bridget whispered.

To Be Continued…

The Train Station (Part 2)

Train Station

Bridget watched the hurrying people with interest and was reminded of the sea. People come in and out of the barriers alongside the trains coming in and out of the station. The noise of footsteps, voices, suitcase and pram wheels become one solid background sound that competed with the rattle of train wheels and rumbling of engines. Above it all, came the PA lady’s voice, shouting the arriving, departing and delays on the trains.

Sipping her latte, Bridget dug her other hand into her bag and pulled out a small notebook. Setting that on the now dry table, she reached back in for a pen and spent a few moments locating one. Pulling out a heavy sliver fountain pen, Bridget slid her eyes over to the table beside her.

The middle-age couple had fallen back into silence with the man looking at his phone and the woman now stealing glances at Bridget. Their eyes met once more and this time the woman turned away and drew out her own phone.

Bridget turned her back to them and flipped open the notebook. She turned to the next blank page, her fancy handwriting on the previous pages not catching her eyes enough to make her stop. Picking up her pen and taking the lid off, Bridget wrote the date at the right top corner of the page just like high school had drilled into her for five years. Then in the middle of that line she wrote; Observations At Victoria Train Station, Manchester, 2: 21pm.

From her mind’s eye, she then wrote a detailed description of the couple sitting next to her. After, she recorded that snatch of conversation she had heard. Looking down at what she had written, she tried not to read it back, but to let it go from her mind. Rising her head and tucking a strand of her long med-brown coloured fringe back, Bridget stared at the barriers and watched the flow of people come to a slow stop.

Two men wearing yellow high visibility vests patrolled the area. They were checking tickets that gates would not let through and opening the wide gate for those with prams, suitcases and wheelchairs. Further to the left side and now more visible, another group of people wearing the same yellow vests stood behind a desk. They seemed to be in charge of getting passengers just off trains to pay for their tickets if they had not been able to before. Bridget had missed them in the crowd of the lunch-time rush. The station crew did not held her gaze for long though.

The tinkling of piano brought her head around and to the train time board. Just underneath the forever changing place names and times was a large black upright piano. It had been painted with that special blackboard paint, allowing chalk writing and images to cover the surface.

Bridget had clocked it before when she had been heading to the coffee shop. Even though she could not see it now, she remembered that purple letters had shouted out play on me! Then they had been something about the piano being given free by the Manchester School of Music for public use.

Taking a few big drinks of her now cooling latte, Bridget listened to the sad musical notes ringing out. She did not recognize the song. Though if it was classic, she would have no idea anyway, beside from the few famous ones that get played all the time. On the other hand if it was a pop song or a love ballad, she would not have known that either.

Placing her half empty cup down, she picked up her pen and decided to note down the idea of a pianist who could only play sad music. Maybe his lover has died and he can no longer face the world.  The door of his Paris flat has been locked for many years and he’s now slowly dying as he creates the most saddest music man had ever known.

Bridget trailed off the idea. That was not her normally story writing subject. The song on the piano ended and though it had been good, nobody clapped. Normal sounds filled the train station once more. The female announcer broken in with, ‘the two-twenty-three Liverpool Lime Street train which was previously delayed, is now arriving at platform three. This service will be stopping at; Liverpool Lime Street only. Please keep your luggage with you at all times.’

The couple hurriedly finished their drinks and got up. Bridget watched them from underneath her hair as they gathered their belongings.

‘Finally!’ the man spoke out, ‘stupid trains, never on time.’

The woman shook her head and looked like she was going to say something back. Thinking better of it, she followed the man out of the coffee shop seating area and towards the barriers. Bridget saw her give a quick glance over her shoulder.

Was she checking if I was following her or if she’d left something behind? Bridget wondered.

Frowning, Bridget watched them feeding their tickets into the gate and going though. Dropping her shoulders and wishing she could have learnt more from that snatch of conversation the couple had had, she let her eyes drift across the station. There was still a large number of people standing about or walking. A few had gathered under the train time table board and were looking up at it. Other people standing still were clearly waiting for people. Bridget spotted someone coming towards her.

He was a tall guy, six foot two at lest and he had long black hair tied back off his face. He had a bushy beard too and a very round fat face. He was a huge young man with a belly hardly held in by the belt of his jeans. He was wearing a black heavy metal band t-shirt and was looking down at his phone as if the thing was alive.

Bridget picked up her pen and began writing again. Another part of her mind drifted off into thinking about who he was waiting for. A family member? An old friend? Maybe he might be going on a first date with someone he met online?

Bridget raised her head and looked at him. She could see the handsomeness in him, the almost American biker style look or perhaps Viking warrior. His arm muscles looked strong under his t-shirt despite his overweight body. Suddenly the man looked up, but not at her at the gates were a woman was coming through. She had ginger hair, fair skin with a splattering of brown freckles and small features. She was wearing a blue vest top, leather jacket and long blue skirt. She was also just carrying a handbag on one shoulder.

She came over, looking happy if a little tried and hugged the huge man. She had to stand on tiptoes and her arms barely went around his bulging neck. She seemed to become lost against him as they embraced tightly. Then, they kissed and hand in hand walked away.

Bridget watched them go, her mind reeling then took to her notebook once more. Just as she started writing someone began playing the piano. It was a different person this time. Bridget rose her head as the first notes become caught up in a man singing- badly. She tried to see who was seated at the piano, but it was not possible from the angle she was at. Getting back to writing, she tried block out the off key and slightly squeaky rendition of a current love song.

She hurriedly wrote down what she could remember about the young man and his girlfriend. Setting her pen down, she finished her coffee and thought about leaving. The man on the piano was making a terrible sound with his voice and yet his playing was not so bad. It also seemed like he had attracted a small group of people, but Bridget knew they were actually looking at the train time table.

She packed her stuff away, zipped up her bag and stood up. Tugging it on as she walked away, Bridget avoided a small running toddler whose mother was yelling in Polish for him to come back. She side stepped and carried on walking as the pianist finished his song and launched into another one.

She saw him for the first time, a short Asian man with close cut black hair, wearing jeans and a green polo shirt. There was a large gold watch on his wrist, which didn’t seem to be slowing him from playing. Bridget almost stopped, the notes sounding very familiar. Then the man opened his mouth and began singing the theme song from Titanic.

Bridget cringed, unable to hide it from her face and picked up her pace. She headed out of the train station the piano and terrible singing chasing after her. Stepping through the doorway, she took a few breaths of polluted city air and though she did not really want to, Bridget went home.

 

To Be Continued…

The Train Station (Part 1)

Train Station

The train station was busy as Bridget waited for a table outside the coffee shop. She leant against the wall with her large headphones getting uncomfortable around her neck. She looked for a place to quickly put her latte down but there was no space. She glanced through the window of the shop and thought about going back inside. A burst of laughter drew her attention and she looked at the people occupying the tables.

A group of eight young businessmen had put two of the small tables together and were enjoying a late lunch whilst talking loudly. They were all wearing black suits with white shirts and plain coloured ties. At their feet were messenger bags and small rucksacks. Bridget tried to hear what they were saying, but it was difficult to when they were all talking and laughing at once.

Bridget looked at the only other table where a middle-aged couple sat in silence. By their body languages they were avoiding each other. The man was turned away, looking down at something whilst the woman was looking across at the businessmen. She turned her head and met Bridget’s eyes, a frown on her lips. Bridget knew what the woman saw; a geeky twenty- something girl getting her afternoon coffee fix.

Feeling a touch of guilt, Bridget looked away and up at the train times’ board. From here though the orange letters and numbers with unreadable. However, she was not waiting for a train or for someone to arrive; she was here for something else.

Stealing glances at the couple, whilst trying to pretend she wasn’t watching them, her mind began to fill with ideas. What was their story? She questioned herself. The writer in her wanted to jot all these thoughts down before they become lost to the void. Still though, she hung back, holding her hot takeaway coffee cup and looking around the station.

A large number of people were heading to or from the barrier gates. Suitcases wheeled behind a few of them whilst the majority had rucksacks and some had others bags. Most of the people, Bridget saw were alone and clearly traveling for business. A handful of people were in small groups of friends or family. Voices rose and fell, echoing slightly by the glass roof as they all mingled into one.

The sounds of trains arriving and departing broke up the collected voices. Loud rumblings and clicking of engines sent vibrations through the floor. A whistle blew somewhere, the sharp sound cutting through everything else. A train started to leave platform one, which was only a few meters away from the coffee shop. Bridget watched it go, lost in thought.

A female voice over the PA crackled in with an update announcement, ‘the two-oh-five train to Blackpool North is arriving on platform six and I’m sorry to say that the two-twenty-three Liverpool Lime Street train has been delayed due to a passenger taking ill at a previous station. It is now due in at two-forty-eight on platform three.’

Bridget flashed her eyes up to the roof as if the woman was actually speaking from there. For a moment her thoughts switched to imagining that being the case and just like a life guard sat on their tower, Bridget saw a woman sat on top of the station’s roof monitoring all the trains and informing the passengers.

Smiling, she finally gave into being drawn back so much to the couple. Watching them, she started to notice things. The man had short brown hair, a long nose and scrubby brown beard. He was wearing a loose blue shirt and black trousers. One of his legs was resting on top of the other and sometimes he would wiggle his black pointy shoe. He was on his phone, Bridget observed, reading an online newspaper.

The woman on the other hand was fixated on her coffee. Her sad eyes were staring into the white mug clutched tightly in her hand. Bridget knew that look and guessed the woman was fighting back something she wanted to say to the man. Stress lines crossed the woman’s face, appearing through her natural look makeup. She took some shelter behind her curled blonde hair whilst risking a look at the man. She was wearing a peach blouse, a black pencil skirt with coal tights and black flats. The clothing showed nicely her curvy figure and large breasts.

The woman sighed and opened her mouth to speak a few quiet words, ‘I still can’t believe you said that.’

The man slowly rose his head, met her eyes and replied, ‘she deserved it and don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.’

‘Not like that though…’ the woman trailed with a small shake of her head.

The man shrugged and looked back at his phone again. The woman let out a sigh and stared into her mug once more.

Bridget’s curiosity swelled. To distract herself, she took a small sip of her latte. The hot sweet coffee burnt her tongue and she quickly withdrew. Swallowing as she winced, Bridget noticed the businessmen leaving.

They stood up slowly, keeping the conversations going as they gathered their things. It had had been hard to tell them apart before, but now Bridget could see them individually. They ranged in heights with there being a large difference between the tallest and the shortest. All were clean shaven and three had black hair, one had blond and the others had brown. They seemed an unlikely group of friends, but clearly work had brought them together.

As they walked away, Bridget moved to the tables, but then stopped in disgust. The men had left their empty coffee cups and lunch remains. The crumpled fast food bags and cardboard containers littered the table. She turned away and caught the eyes of the woman who give her a smug look.

Bridget shuffled back to her spot against the wall, just about avoiding two teenage Chinese girls going into the coffee shop.

‘I’m sorry,’ the female announcer seemed to shout above all the noise,’ that the two-twenty-three Liverpool Lime Street train has been delayed due to a passenger taking ill at a previous station. It is now due in at two-fifty-five on platform three.’

The man huffed and muttered something that sounded like, ‘just typical.’

‘Next time let’s go via Piccadilly,’ the woman added.

Bridget sighed and looked over at the small pub next door to the coffee shop. There was one high table over there that was free. However, it would not give her a clear view and that was what she needed. As she thought about cleaning the table herself, an older woman with light blonde hair going grey walked up and started cleaning the rubbish away.

Missed my chance, Bridget sulked.

She took a sip of her latte, finding it cooler and watched the woman matching off to put everything into the bin. As she came back, Bridget saw she was actually a worker for the coffee shop. Feeling her luck finally changing, Bridget slide over and waited whilst the tables got wiped down and separated again.

‘Thanks,’ Bridget said as the cleaner walked by.

The woman nodded, smiling happily.

Bridget took the table closer to the fabric barrier that marked the coffee shop’s seating area. Placing her latte down, she pulled off her bag and placed it on the other chair. She took her headphones off her neck and iPod out of her pocket. Unzipping her bag, she put them in then felt the table top. Her fingers came back feeling slightly damp. Settling in, Bridget sipped more of her coffee and watched the flow of the train station.

 

To Be Continued…

Date #2

Woman, Art, Creative, Relaxation, Girl, Gallery

Standing at the train station, I checked my phone for the hundredth time. Still no texts or calls even though the arrival board said his train was due in a few minutes. I tapped my phone to my lips and looked at the forever changing list of destinations and times. Then my phone pinged and I hurriedly checked it.

Here, the text message read.

I looked around, trying to recall his photos on the dating website. He had glasses and dark hair, I think. And a wonky smile, at least it had looked that way.

My phone pinged again. Where R U? 

Glancing around, I texted back, Outside W .S. Smith’s.

Then moving towards it, I lent against the window and looked hard at the people passing me by. It was hard to pick a single face out from the crowd as everyone was moving quickly. A man in  a business suit carrying a briefcase strolled by as if on some important mission. A tried looking middle aged woman dragged her crying child behind her whilst pulling a suitcase in the other hand. A group of chatting teenagers flapped by, their colourful clothes a nice difference amongst the normal blacks, whites, blues and greys of the workers.

I saw him. Or at least it seemed to be him. Standing outside another shop, looking confused and checking his phone. He did have short black hair and large glasses on. I debated going over and ran though what I’d say if it wasn’t him in my head. Pulling a face, I risked it and walked over.

‘Ben?’ I said.

He looked up, ‘yes?’

‘Harriet. Nice to meet you,’

‘Yeah, erm you too,’ he uttered.

‘Let’s go. I thought we’d take the free bus some of the way and the rest is only a short walk to the art gallery,’ I explained.

‘Sure.’

I paused, having heard his tone of voice.

‘Or we can do something else if you want? There’s lots to do in Manchester,’ I added with a smile.

He shook his head and rubbed his fingers over the screen of his phone, ‘It’s fine, whatever you want to do.’

‘Are you sure?’

He looked at me properly for the first time and sighed deeply, ‘To be honest I thought you were going to be a man.’

‘Huh?

He shrugged then ran a hand through his hair.

‘Why would you…?’ I trailed, not sure what to even think.

‘You know what the internet is like. Anyway, I’m glad you’re not.’

‘Erm…thanks, I guess, mmmm,’ I spoke then we fell into silence.

Around us everyone still seemed to be in a hurry to either get to a train or get out off the station. It remind me of the sea and waves rolling back and forth. I saw more business people, groups of young people and families each locked in their own world with only their destination on their minds.

‘I’m just glad that’s all,’ Ben suddenly said.

‘What?’ I asked turning back to him.

‘About not being a man…I’m glad you turned out to be you.’

I shook my head slightly, still feeling confused about this whole conversation.

‘So…’ he muttered.

‘Oh, yeah, the bus. Come on,’ I gushed.

Turning, I walked out of the station and he had to double step to keep my pace. A part of me wonder if I should ditch him right now. Could I make up some story he’d believe on the spot? I had a headache? I felt sick? My gran was locked out of her house and I was the only one close with a spare key?

The bus was at the stop awaiting us and I just couldn’t say anything to him. We joined the three people queuing to get on. I held my hands together, toying with my ring. There was something comforting about the feel of the ring against my skin.

I looked at him and realised he was a head shorter then me. He was wearing a plain green polar shirt and jeans. He was also playing with his phone again and it looked like was texting someone. He was probably telling whoever it was the good news that I wasn’t a man!

We got on the bus and sat awkwardly down together. I thought about grilling him about his past girlfriends or if he’d meet up with anyone else from the dating website yet. I tossed my wheat coloured hair back off my shoulder and looked down at him. Ben was still looking at his phone, now checking a social media site.

‘So, is this your first time in Manchester?’ I asked.

He nodded, but didn’t looked up.

‘And…did you get here okay? Was the train busy?’ I  added.

He shrugged, ‘it was okay, I guess.’

I pressed my lips together and waited for him to ask me something. When he didn’t, I looked out of the window and watched the city centre going by. The stop we wanted couldn’t come soon enough. We got off the bus and I led the way to the roman temple style building. He seemed totally uninterested.

I opened the door of the art galley and walked in. The gentle smell of old paint, dust and cleaning stuff chased away the air pollution. I didn’t stop at the reception desk, but went right up the grand stone staircase. The walls were lined with a large 1800’s paintings, depicting all kind of things. I carried on going, right to the top and into the rooms that were marked 1600’s.

Not bothering to see if he had followed me, I started looking at the paintings. Moving from each in turn after a few moments of taking them in, I sensed he was following me and I wondered if trying to engage him in talk about the paintings would work. I stole a few glances at him and saw he was still looking at his phone. What’s with this guy?

‘What do you think of this one?’ I asked nodding my head to a scene from the Bible.

He looked up at the painting and at me, ‘I don’t believe in any of that,’ he said.

‘Even if you don’t, it’s still interesting to look at,’ I pointed out.

‘I guess…’

‘What art do you actually like?’

He frowned as he thought, ‘any, I don’t mind.’

‘Really?’ I drawled.

He nodded and looked around the room, ‘Maybe not these though…’

I stared at him through narrowed eyes then turning, walked away. I wondered through the other rooms then went downstairs. We walked through some more galleries then I guess he must have found something that interested him. I looked around, not spotting him. Then I checked the room I had just left and he wasn’t there either.

Shrugging, I went to sat down a low wooden bench then decided I needed the bathroom. I looked towards the doorway again and he really wasn’t there. I thought about backtracking and going to find him to tell him. The hell with it. I walked out of the room, into another where there was a sign showing the way to the toilets.

I followed it around the corner, down some steps and into another corner. Just as I had sat down, my phone rang. I dug it out of my bag and looked. He was phoning me! I went to answer, my phone flashed no signal and the call was cut off.

He called again, my phone rang loudly. However, as I went to answer it the same thing happened. I tried to send him a text, but it wasn’t liking that either. Putting my phone in my bag, I went to wash my hands. The phone started ringing again, but I ignored it. my ring tone cut out again.

I walked out of the bathroom and back into the gallery I was in before. He standing in the middle, looking wildly about like a child that had lost his parent.

‘Hi, sorry. Had to nip to the-‘

‘Where did you go? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you’d left,’ he shouted.

‘It’s okay. I couldn’t find you and I had to got to the loo. I’m sorry,’ I said in a low voice, aware that an older couple were staring and so was a young Japanese woman.

‘You didn’t even bother to find me did you? You could have text me or something. I really thought you’d gone and I told you I don’t know Manchester. Why would you do that?’ he rushed loudly.

‘I had to pee,’ I hissed at him, I grabbed his wrist and tried to led him out of the room.

We were now getting very disapproving looks.

‘Let me go!’ he cried and snatched his arm back, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I want to leave!’

‘Okay, okay,’ I said, ‘that way then,’

I turned and walked out, down the stairs and through the double doors. Standing on the doorstep, the sounds and smells of the city came back to us. I took a few deep breaths and felt the calm of the art gallery leaving me.

‘Which way’s the train station?’ he asked.

‘That way,’ I pointed down the long road which ended in a three way crossing.

‘You’ll have to take me,’ he puffed.

Growling under my breath, I stalked off. Ben followed in my wake. I took him back to the train station, which was just as busy as when we had arrived. Pushing through people, I led him to the timetable board. He looked up, muttering under his breath.

‘See you then,’ I said.

‘Okay,’

‘Get home safe,’ I added.

He mumbled something then said louder, ‘bye’ and walked off into a crowed of school children.

I watched for a few seconds as the world of the train station moved around me. I shut my eyes, took a few deep breaths then headed outside again, glad that it was over.