So, I managed it. I wrote 2,500 words and I sent it to the University in time. The exciting news I have to report is that I have been offered a conditional place to start studying in year two. This is fantastic news for me as I have been struggling for many years trying to study from home and not seeming to get very far.
The place is conditional as I need to complete my current module before September in order to have year 1 credits already. This is feasible but I am very behind at the moment and need desperately to catch up before June. Nerves are a’wrangling.
The short story that I wrote is something that I am relatively pleased with considering the short timescale and how stressed by it I was feeling. My previous post helped a lot with all the gibberish going around!
I wanted to share it here as it’s also the longest piece of writing I’ve done in a while now. It’s been mostly poetry which I’ve enjoyed but I do feel the need for lengthier pieces starting to grow. I have chosen to call this narrative – A train journey to paradise.
Trains have a unique smell. The underlying mechanical odour, something like petrol, is coated in layer upon layer of stale food, sweat, alcohol and bodily gases. As the ancient air absorbs each new addition I find myself imagining a swirling fog, groaning under the weight of its own foul existence. Not only does the smell worsen my motion sickness but the seats make the backs of my thighs itch through my tights and the strange design of the fabric reminds me of data coding. Perhaps today, I’m just more irritated than normal.
The motion of the train is steady as we roll north through the countryside. There won’t be any stops for this part of the journey so at least I can take a break from awkwardly ignoring the bodies leaning over the chair or the table while they wait. I have been lucky in a way, the last half hour I’ve seen more people leave the train than get on and so there aren’t many of us left in the carriage.
Across the aisle and a few rows down is a young man. A boy in my eyes but by the size of his backpack I would guess he is on his way home from University for a few days. There to visit his family and catch up with the friends that he left behind. He’s asleep now, I assume. The headphone has dropped from his right ear and his jaw is so slack you could place a tennis ball in his mouth without waking him. His chin is damp from drool which shows up his mix of sparse stubble and acne nicely in the erratic light from the window.
All I can see of the other souls on-board are the tops of their heads across the seats. I would guess by his full head of luscious locks and her large bouffant hairdo that there is a young couple at the front. How dowdy dressed and unkempt I must look to these little lambs. At least I can hide behind my reading glasses with their green frames and slight point at the hinge. I can drape my scarf over one shoulder, tilt my head to one side as I read and look as though I tumbled through a very creative hedgerow and not just your average oak.
I can relax for now, while the boy sleeps and the lovers cuddle up together in a bubble of romance. As far as I’m able to remember, young love is confusing and disobedient. A mass of emotion so great and terrifying that you whittle it away before it reaches its true potential, from then on it’s all a matter of choice. The person you can live with comfortably, without the feeling that you might kill them at any moment. That’s the person you stick with.
I like to rest my head on the window of a moving train sometimes. The vibration is teeth-chattering but clarifying in its intensity. Outside of the train I watch the world as we pass by at speed and see the scene change only slightly. Each field is filled with the same dank groups of animals huddled around water troughs or hay bales. The trees are bent and crooked like old war veterans, gnarled and arthritic. I follow one tree with my eyes as we pass it. A wound has split it down one side where a branch must have blown off in the terrible wind last night. It stood out for me on this colourless day with its clean, bright wood. Almost as alluring as naked flesh; it was a sight that I felt I shouldn’t have seen.
As houses start to grow in the landscape I expect the train to stop at a station again soon. They start off looking like they’ve been abandoned for years, tatty and rusted little barns that must only be good for storing machinery just as dilapidated inside of them. Small farm houses follow this; prim and practical with little garden area to speak of. Real farmers live in these, with real grit. I can imagine them out with the cattle in any weather, then home to their little wives for supper. As we start to pass bigger and pretty homes with bigger and more decorative gardens I sit up and scrunch my hair up into a more meaningful mess.
By the time we reach a station and stop I’m already fully positioned: book out, glasses halfway down my nose and a slightly quizzical look in my eyes. An old man drags a thin framed bike onto the train and parks it by the door. Without even a look he passes me by and takes a seat in front of the young man who I notice is awake now with his phone out. He isn’t texting or making a call but watching something. I can’t see what from here, a film perhaps? Strange to think you could be so desperate to be entertained that you’d watch anything on a screen that small.
I’m engrossed again with the wilfully perplexing love affair of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. So hateful, rude and obnoxious they are to each other before that fateful letter. Suddenly love springs from the depths of this mutual distrust to find the two completely bewildered but so happy all the same. I decided this journey was a good time to read my old favourite again. It must be almost 10 years since I last took it from the shelf but I’m glad to have it as the stations come sooner and the carriage fills up again.
It’s only three more stops until I’m home. I’ve packed up my book and put my coat on so that I’m ready to go. The boy left the train at the last station, slung his backpack over one shoulder and bumbled down the aisle. I didn’t see the couple leave but there is a new pair of heads in their place, older and more ordinary this time. It’s starting to get dark outside and I can see that most of the passengers are commuters now, a mix of tired business men and women, students and teachers. I’m restless and irritated from the long travel and eager to get back home.
I’ve been in London for four days, trapped in a foreign world of high-paced living. Even walking is an aggressive act down there; in the streets or in the stations you have to watch out for people blindly rushing along, challenging you to stay in their path. It makes me tired. It makes me feel old and out of touch. I was ready to go home the moment I left but not much exists in this world that hasn’t passed through London at some stage and if I was going to take myself seriously as a writer then I had to go.
As I leave the station with my bag I pass by the taxicabs and opt for a walk instead; up the steep track and out of the town. I’ve missed the highland smell and after sitting for so long I take great strides and breathe in great gulps of fresh air.
As soon as I step through the door I’m attacked with devotion by Rupert. After bouncing up and down the hallway and trying to pull me over for belly rubs he finally settles down enough to let me get some food. In my comfy chair, with my friend-for-life by my side and a fire hissing and spitting in the grate I finally settle down to finish my book.