Last Train to Yesterday

 Chloe awoke with a start and stared up at the ceiling, her heart thumping.  Dusky pink curtains across the window intercepted the harsh red glow from the eastern sky and filled the room with a warm eerie half light.  With a groan she rolled over and groped for the alarm clock, peering at it myopically as her sleepy brain tried to work out the time.  Five minutes before the alarm.  Pressing down the knob to pre-empt the angry buzz  she put it back on the bedside table and swung her feet to the floor.

Drawing back the curtains, she sighed.

 Red sky in the morning

Shepherds warning

Already threatening bars of cloud were hovering above the fields beyond the garden.  By the time she left for the station it would be raining.  She was peering into the mirror, trying to put on her eye liner before inserting her contact lenses when she heard the first rain pattering down on the leaves outside the window.

‘Damn!’ London was never fun at the best of times for a rushed business day.  The smart sandals she had planned to wear would have cheered her up.  In the soupy dirt of wet pavements they would never work.

She tucked in the lenses and carried out a quick survey of the face that  zoomed suddenly into focus. Short reddish brown curls, artfully casual.  Eyes - not bad -  a deep hazel  green. Skin good. Still fairly unmarked by time.  Nose, small and ordinary - not what romantic books would call tip tilted - more of a small conk really. Mouth, definitely a bit big, but  Edmund used to say that was attractive.  The expression in front of her degenerated into a fearsome scowl.  Edmund and his opinions were no longer to be considered. Off the scene.  Out of the plot.  Finito.

She claimed the last space in the car park - the regular commuters long gone, before dawn - and hauled her briefcase out of the car. Behind her: cottage, garden, and two tolerantly patient cats would welcome her home, if not with the gin and tonic she might have liked, then at least with expectant glances towards the tin opener!  It was better than no one.  In front of her lay noise, bustle, meetings, rush.   She loved the contrast.

A spatter of September leaves whirled into a puddle near her. She grimaced.  Mud on her boots already and she had 20 yards to go to the footbridge which led up and over the line to the ticket office which was on platform two, the only platform still in use.

Behind her, hidden by a skimpy hedge liberally threaded with old rusty wire lay the old railway hotel, derelict behind its boarded windows. On fine days the pigeons cooed and strutted on the roof and basked on the broken tiles. Today they sat disconsolately, their feathers puffed, while a loose hoarding  banged in the wind.  She shivered suddenly and pulled up the collar of her coat.

‘Good morning, Mrs Denver.’ The figure beside her raised a hand.  She hadn’t noticed him park next to her and  climb out beside her.  ‘One of your days in town?’

She smiled at him. The new man who had bought the Beeches on Thorney Road. She groped for a name and came up with a blank.

He grinned. ‘Miles.  Miles Rowton.’

‘Of course.’ She smiled.  He had a nice face.  Square, almost ugly, deeply lined between nose and mouth and at the corners of his eyes, but nice. Probably in his forties. Once she might have been interested. Not now.  What she wanted now was the peace and stability of her own company.

They reached the footbridge in silence and he paused with old fashioned courtesy to allow her to go up ahead of him.  The wind and the sweeping rain precluded conversation.  She climbed, trying not to be aware that he was close behind her, concentrating on the steep metal treads, her hand on the cold wet rail its black paint dimpled with rust.

Afterwards she supposed she had stumbled.  The world seemed to do a strange somersault  and for a moment she thought she  could hear music carried in the wind.  Then it was gone and she was standing near the top of the long flight, panting, clutching the hand rail with both hands.

‘Are you all right?’ He didn’t touch her. He merely stood there, two steps below her, so his face was level with hers, registering surprise and mild concern.  Apparently he could not see how her heart was pounding or the sheen of sweat on her face.

She took a deep breath and shook her head slightly.  ‘Sorry. I must have tripped.’

Mary! Mary wait!

Where had the voice come from? Her head was swimming.  She glanced down the flight of steps and clutched more tightly at the rail, knuckles white.

‘It’s a bit slippery in this rain.’ Miles Rowton  was beside her now. Then in front. ‘Shall I lead the way?’

Hadn’t he heard it? She shook her head a little, trying to clear the sound from her brain.  There was no one near them.  No one else anywhere in sight.  He glanced over his shoulder at her and smiled encouragingly. She must look perfectly normal then, or surely he would have stayed at her side.

Stop! Mary, wait!

The words must have come from somewhere in her head.

Help me, someone.  Mary!

She didn’t know what was wrong. She was still clinging to the rail, shaking. 

Please, don’t leave me!

This couldn’t be happening.  Miles had walked on. He  paused to glance back. ‘Coming? The train has been signalled,’ he called.  She could see his hair lifting boyishly on his forehead in the wind.  The words were being whipped from his mouth out into the space below the bridge.

Somehow she forced herself to take a step forward.  Then another.  Then suddenly it was easy.  She was hurrying after him, the wind tugging at her hair.  Behind her, on the roof of the old hotel, the pigeons lifted as one, whirled high above the station and settled back onto the old broken slates.

On the train , still shaken by her experience, she ordered a coffee from the trolley.  Miles Rowton sat down opposite her, across the aisle.  Too far away for easy conversation, but close enough not to appear rude.  Once their eyes met as she sipped the scalding liquid and they smiled.  Then their eyes went back to their respective laps, his covered in papers, hers the newspaper she had grabbed at the village shop as she drove past.

London was all Chloe  had feared.  Crowded, wet, taxis impossible to find and when she did, gridlocked in the traffic.  She was late for her first meeting, then the knock-on effect came into play and the whole sequence of the day slipped back first twenty minutes, then forty, and by the time she reached the end of lunch she was running an hour and a half late Moving her design consultancy to the country at Edmund’s behest still worked best for her most of the time.  It was on days like these when she wondered briefly whether the hassle of commuting and serving many masters was worth it all.  Thankfully they did not happen that often.

In the end she caught a very late train home. The cats would be livid, showing their displeasure by sulkily refusing their food and  refusing to climb into bed for a goodnight cuddle. She smiled at the thought.  Was she so devoid of human relationships these days, that she was worried that her cats would be cross with her? Settling back in her seat, exhausted,  she unbuttoned her jacket and kicked off her shoes.  There was barely anyone else left in the carriage.

With a sigh she fought back a longing for a huge baguette, the kind it is impossible to eat without doing an impression of Quasimodo, which, when bitten, empty their contents down ones front. She had had to run to catch this train  and at this hour, when she needed it most, there would almost certainly be no trolley on the train. She hadn’t even had time to buy an evening paper. Closing her eyes Chloe dozed.

It was dark when she stepped onto the deserted platform and took a deep lungful of the cool fresh air. It had stopped raining at last and she could see the stars.  There was no one else on the station.  Even the ticket office was closed.  There would be only one more train that night.

With an exhausted sigh she gripped the handle of her briefcase more tightly and set off for the footbridge.  Halfway over she realised she could hear, above the ringing echo of her own footsteps, the sound of music drifting on the wind across the car park. She stopped and listened.  Below in the dark the car park was deserted.  Only three cars remained from the huge crowd this morning, their bodywork gleaming gently in the darkness.  She could barely see over the tall parapet, but standing on tiptoes she gazed into the dark with sudden misgivings. The station was down a quiet lane some half mile from the village.  There were no houses near by.  Yet  she could see lights.  And again, faintly, in the distance, the music drifted up towards her.

Nervously she began to move forward, trying to silence the sharp echo of her heels.  At the top of the downward flight she stopped again, reaching out for the handrail.

Mary, please come back!

The man’s voice sounded so close to her that she recoiled.

She peered down, expecting to hear the echo of  footsteps running up the metal steps.  There was nothing. Far away, on the main road she heard a car engine rev away into the distance.

Straining her eyes into the darkness ahead of her she gripped the handrail and put her foot on the first step.

Mary, for pity’s sake, my darling, listen.

The words were caught by the wind and whisked away over the tracks and into the darkness.

She gripped the handrail more tightly and moved down another step.


The door to the Railway Hotel banged in the wind and the sound of music escaped into the night.   Mary had stood there for only a second, staring into the smoky bar, looking  round, but she had seen him at once, his arm around the red-haired girl.  For a moment she stared.  Very few bothered to turn to look, fewer had noticed the expressions which crossed her face in quick succession.  Shock.  Disbelief. Anger, Misery. And then that final despair as her husband raised his hand to the titian ringlet and wound it laughing around his finger.  Mary made no sound.  In that split second when her world spun and came apart she was silent.  And he heard the silence.  His hand fell from the girl’s cheek and he turned slowly towards the door.

For a long seemingly endless second husband and wife stared at one another and he read in her eyes what he had done.

Mary! Sweetheart! Wait!

He slid from his bar stool and began to move towards the door.  But his limbs wouldn’t move fast enough.  He felt as though he were swimming through the smoky air, the noise, the laughter.

Mary, wait!

The girl with the red hair tossed her curls and turned back to the bar.  The married ones were the most fun. Their reluctance before, their guilt afterwards, made them more exciting.  But what matter.  There were plenty more fish in the sea&ldots;


He had seen it in her eyes.  Her love for him had been total.  Complete.  With a careless, meaningless flirtation, he had destroyed everything.


He stood outside in the wind, staring round as the swinging door closed and cut off the smoky lamplight leaving him in the dark. And then he saw her running towards the bridge and in a flash he knew what she was going to do.

Mary, no!  His voice broke as he started to run.  Mary, my darling, please, you must wait!

He saw the swirling white of her petticoats below her coat  as she ran towards the bridge even as he heard faintly the hollow rumble of the train as it started across the viaduct in the distance, puffing purposefully towards the station.


Chloe stopped halfway down the steps, clutching the rail with both hands.  Her briefcase fell, teetered beside her for a moment  on the step, began to rock and slowly slid out of  sight.  She did not notice it had gone.  She too now, could hear the train wheels rattling hollowly  in the distance.

‘No,’ she whispered. ‘No.’

Suddenly the footsteps were behind her, running.  Clenching her teeth against a rising scream  Chloe forced herself  to take another step down.  She could hear the train getting closer, the clackety-clack of the wheels on solid  ground now, the sound of the steam coming in powerful rapid gusts.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs she stood for a moment staring round into the dark.  The platform was lit by one faint lamp near the small entrance, beyond which lay the car park. She felt the ground beneath her feet shake as the train drew in with  screaming brakes.

Clapping her hands over her ears she stared at it in horror.  The windows were welcoming , warm behind her.  The train seemed empty.  She heard a single door bang.  Then silently it began to draw away from the platform.  Under the tall fluorescent lights she could see it clearly now.  An ordinary four carriage train.  There was no engine.  Certainly no steam engine.

Behind her she could hear the footsteps again.  ‘I’m going mad!’ She groped at her feet for her briefcase, swung it up and turned towards the entrance.

‘Hello there!’ The cheerful voice from the top of the flight stopped her dead.  ‘I didn’t see you on the train. How was your day in London?’ He was running down towards her now.  Miles Rowton, his own briefcase grasped firmly in his left hand, his right lightly skimming the handrail.  At the bottom he stopped and she saw his cheerful smile turn to a look of concern.

‘I say, are you all right? You didn’t fall?’ His hand was on her arm.  ‘What’s wrong? Can I do anything?’

Numbly Chloe shook her head.  ‘It’s so silly,’ she whispered.  ‘I don’t know.  I don’t know what happened&ldots;’

She stared at him, her eyes on his for several seconds as though trying to convince herself that he was real, then reluctantly she looked back up at the bridge.  ‘She was running.  I  was sure she was going to throw herself in front of the train&ldots; I could hear her - hear him - following.  I heard the train braking.

His arm was round her shoulders now, supporting and consoling,  his own briefcase beside hers on the wet ground.  ‘’Mrs Denver - Chloe - what are you talking about? There’s no one there.  Look for yourself.  The platform is empty.  The train has gone.  No one is hurt.’

‘ Are you sure?’ Confused, she was clinging to him.

‘I’m sure.’ He rather liked her helplessness.  Always when he had seen her before, in the distance, she had seemed so calmly confident, so much in total control of herself he had felt a little in awe of her.

But even as he thought about it so did she.  He could feel her self consciousness returning as she realised she was standing on the platform more or less in the arms of a man she hardly knew.  She stiffened and then slowly she pushed him away.

‘I’m&ldots;I’m sorry.  I must have imagined it.  I don’t quite know what happened.’

He smiled down at her.  ‘One’s eyes and ears sometimes play tricks when one is tired, especially in the dark like this.’ It was only much later that she wondered half-heartedly if he were being patronising.

‘Let me walk with you to your car.’ He had let go of her arm when she pushed him away, so now he stooped and picked up both their cases. Sensing that she was just about enough recovered to object he moved ahead of her under the small  1970s ugly brick entrance arch  and out into the car park where his car was parked  next to hers.

When they reached the cars she stopped and stared at the dark silhouette of the deserted hotel.  ‘When did this place close down, do you know?’

He followed her gaze and shrugged. ‘A long time ago, judging by the shape it’s in.’

She did not tell him she had seen it with lights pouring out of the open door, that she had heard music from one of the bars as the wind carried the noise of talk and laughter up to her on the bridge.

With a smile at him and a few polite words of thanks she climbed into her car and let him close the door on her as with a hand which she found was shaking slightly she inserted the key in the ignition and switched it on.  As the headlights came on, illuminating the ruined building behind its wire fence the sleeping pigeons on the roof moved restlessly, complaining quietly to themselves before settling once more to their roost.

She gripped the wheel and closed her eyes.  When she opened them  again his car was drawing backwards away from her.  With a small polite toot on his horn he swung the car away and in a moment he had gone, his red tail lights vanishing into the lane.

‘Mary.’ She murmured the name as she peered at the dark, gaping windows. ‘What happened?’

There was no answer. As she engaged the reverse gear, her eyes still on the broken windows and sagging door and it was  slowly and  almost reluctantly  that she pulled away and turned out into the lane herself.

The cats were surprisingly forgiving.  Perhaps sensing something of  her melancholy they settled down , after wolfing down their supper, one on either side of her, as she sat, curled up on the sofa in front of the open fire.

She sipped at her mug of coffee staring at the glowing logs.


The man’s anguished voice echoed in her ears and she shivered as she stared down at the heap of papers and sketches on the floor beside her. She had two reports to read and a whole heap of notes which should be written up before tomorrow. When, by rights, she should go up to town again. She sighed, one hand playing gently with a pair of silky pointed ears.

The sound of the phone made her jump. She reached  for it  over the arm of the sofa  carefully, anxious not to upset feline equilibrium.

‘Mrs Denver? Chloe?  It’s Miles Rowton. Forgive me.  I just wanted to make sure you had got home safely. I felt very guilty after I left you that I hadn’t offered to drive you - ‘

‘Don’t be silly.’ Her voice  was sharper than she intended. ‘I’m perfectly all right.’ The cat beside her stood up , stretched, and curled round more comfortably.  It knew about telephones.  People sat satisfactorily  still for hours once they had a receiver in their hand.  Chloe smiled to herself, understanding its body language. How wrong it was on this occasion.  ‘I’m sorry. That sounds so ungrateful.’ Her voice had softened. ‘I’m not sure what happened to me.  As you said, probably tiredness and too late at work. I  started hearing voices, of all things!’

Mary, wait !

‘I thought for a moment I must be going mad, and then I suppose I slipped on those stairs - ‘

‘They are slippery.’ He paused, not knowing quite how to continue the conversation. ‘Well, if you are sure you’re all right - ‘

‘I am.’ She hesitated. ‘Thank you, Miles. I appreciate you phoning.  It is a bit bleak coming back here on my own sometimes. ‘ She needn’t have said that. ‘Particularly if one has reason to doubt one’s sanity.’ The lightness of her laugh  reassured  him.

‘I’m sure you’re perfectly sane,’ he said gallantly.  ‘But look, if you are worried at all, or you need anything, don’t hesitate to give me a ring. I didn’t realise that you were on your own.’ Liar.  The whole village gossiped about Chloe Denver whose husband had run off with another woman. They all liked her well enough, and were sorry for her in their way.  They had seemed such a devoted couple. But she sort of half commuted to London, which made her an outsider, and she kept her grief or her relief - for who knew how she really felt about her husband’s departure - to herself.

‘Are you going  up to town again tomorrow?’ He asked suddenly.

She shrugged and then realised he couldn’t see the gesture. ‘I’m not sure.  I should be in theory, but - ‘

Mary, please my darling

She grimaced, her knuckles whitening on the phone. He misunderstood her hesitation.  ‘I know. In this weather its grim isn’t it. You are lucky not having to go regularly.’

‘How do you know I don’t go regularly?’ She was intrigued by the comment and a touch of amusement showed in her voice.

‘I’m sorry. I don’t. I suppose I assumed I would have seen you at the station before if you did.’

‘That’s probably true.’ The cat stretched luxuriously, secure that the conversation was well under way.

‘So you will ring me if you need anything?’

‘Yes, I will. Thank you.’

‘Chloe - ‘ He was anxious  not to end the conversation. His own life was unbearably lonely . Moving to a new area had seemed sensible after his wife died. Now he knew it had been madness.  ‘The voices.  What did they say?’

She laughed. ‘Aren’t the voices in people’s heads confidential?’

‘It depends. If they are internal voices, voices from god, then yes, perhaps they are. But if they are external, real voices, then perhaps not.’

‘What do you mean, real voices?’ She couldn’t tell him she was still hearing them.  The voice did not sound like god to her.  It sounded like a desperate young man with a local accent.


The icy shudder which swept over her body was totally involuntary. For a moment she couldn’t say a word.

‘Chloe, are you there? I was only joking.’

‘The trouble is - ‘ She found there were tears in her eyes ‘I think that you might be right.’ This was mad.  She was letting him wind her up.  ‘Look, Miles.  Thank you for ringing, but I’ve actually got quite a lot of work to do tonight.  Perhaps we can talk about his some other time?’

She didn’t work though. After she had hung up, all too aware of the disappointment behind his apologies for having taken up her time, she sat for a long while gazing into the fire.  She was wondering what his name was, Mary’s young man, and what he had done to make her threaten to throw herself under a train. She thought she could probably guess.

She had felt like killing herself when she first found out about Edmund’s affair. Only it wasn’t an affair.  It turned out that it was the great love of his life and it was she who had been his mistake.  She stroked a silken purring tummy gently and was rewarded by an ecstatic stretch. Was that why she had heard the voices, because she understood?

It was very late when she at last went to bed,  and exhausted she slept dreamlessly, aware of two small solid bodies curled up on her duvet. It was only  at dawn that they awoke and crept out into the garden to create mayhem amongst the birds, leaving her to turn restlessly over and bury her face in the pillow.

She did not go to London.  Partly because her reports were not written, her sketches not finished,  partly because, she had to admit, she did not want to go near the station.  It was the perfect autumn day, warm, glowing, the air sweet with berries and nuts and damp leaf mould beneath the trees. She took her lap top and her phone out to the small summer house in the back garden with all her books and papers and she spent the morning there engrossed in her work.

Miles had been standing there for several minutes before she looked up and saw him. Instead of his city suit he was wearing an open necked shirt and a heavy knitted sweater. He smiled apologetically. ‘I didn’t want to disturb you.’

She stretched her arms above her head and switched off the laptop. ‘You haven’t.  You have rescued me from all my good resolutions.’

‘I too work at home sometimes.’ His eyes were silvery grey, startlingly alert in his tanned face.  She wondered why she hadn’t noticed how good looking he was.  ‘In fact in about three weeks time I shall be giving up the day job all together, so I thought today was too good to spend on the eight fifteen.  I did go to the station though.’

‘Oh?’  In the orchard a light breeze had got up and she felt a small shiver  tiptoe across her shoulders.

‘I wanted to get a good look at that old hotel in daylight.  Normally in the morning when I go for the train I’m comatose.’ He grinned. ‘It was a beautiful building once. I asked  Peter at the ticket office what he knew about it. He  said if I wanted to know I should go and see the old father of one of his colleagues whose own father was on the railway before him apparently and he can recall all sorts of stories about the station in the early days.

The wind had grown stronger and she was shivering.  ‘And did you go?’

‘I thought you might like to come with me.’

Mary wait for me

‘I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.’

She led the way into the kitchen and brought a bottle of wine out of the fridge. ‘Her name was Mary.  She threw herself under a train.  He was running after her. Trying to save her.’ She shook her hair back out of her eyes and he saw the glint of tears.

‘How do you know?’

‘I don’t really.  It sort of fits.’  Behind her one of the cats had come in from its hunting.  It was sitting on the dresser carefully washing its face with its left paw. He accepted a glass of wine and stared round.  The kitchen was pretty, attractive, cosy. All the things his own was not.  ‘If you don’t want to come I’ll go and see him on my own.  I’m just curious about what happened.  I won’t tell you if you would rather not.’

She smiled.  ‘I don’t think I would be able to contain my curiosity.  I’ll come.  If I don’t I won’t be able to stop thinking about her.’

Or get his voice out of  my head.

Jim Maxell was ninety-four.  His memory was as clear as crystal.  But he shook his head  at their request.  ‘People have jumped, of course.  But not a young woman. Not as far as I recall.  The Station Hotel closed in 1954.  It sort of went down hill, became less and less popular because the line was used less and less then when they closed the maltings up the lane that was the end of it..   It used to be packed before the last war. Village people used to take the train in to market and then come back with money in their pockets.   I can remember it just as you described it, love, noisy, smoky, the lamp light spilling out across the pavement. There were quarrels a plenty.’ He gave a chuckle.  ‘I can remember many a woman fetching her man a slap across the face for one reason or another - and vice versa!’

And with that they had to be content. 

Over a ploughman’s in the pub in the village Chloe and Miles discovered they had more than an interest in a possible rail tragedy  in common .  Both alone, both in their own way bereaved, they felt their way cautiously forward: music, painting, books, gardening, cats.  Exchanging a shy glance of complicity as they decided to  consult the old newspapers in the library they even found they shared a taste for the death by chocolate pudding which was the pub’s speciality.   And they were both, did they but realise it, now the centre of the village’s latest and hottest gossip.

The modern town library had the local paper on microfiche. Without names or dates it was not going to be easy to find out the truth - if there was a truth -  behind the story.  And secretly neither wanted to, too soon.  Further visits to the library would inevitably require further visits to small local restaurants to fuel the energy needed for research.

And before they could do that Chloe had to visit London again.

She promised him that she would tell him when she went, but something stopped her.  The phone call from  her largest client  had come quite late.  They needed the sketches  the next day and the sketches  were ready; there was no need to spend more time on them.  All she needed to do was deliver them herself. Promising to be there by ten she sat on the sofa staring at the fire. Outside it was raining again.  The wind had risen and she could hear the branches of the trees thrashing in the wind.  The two cats were coiled together, yin and yang, in the old arm chair that Edmund used to consider his own. She stared at them, remembering how they would vie for the favoured place on his knee and every night compromise in a love knot just like the one which they had made tonight.  And like tonight excluding her.

She should have seen it coming.  His distance from her; his smart new shirts of a bright hitherto untolerated colour, the change of aftershave and the rejection of her presents on his birthday.  Nothing rude or unkind.  It was just that they were quietly jettisoned at the back of his cupboard and never referred to again. She was glad he had not wanted to take the cats.  Technically they were his but he said, trying to make a joke of it, that she could have custody.  There was no place for cats in his new life. They, like her, had been rejected.

And suddenly she no longer minded.

She liked her new independence.  And she liked Miles. A lot.

But that did not mean she could not function without him. Never again was she going to allow herself to rely on anyone else. And  it was a matter of pride that she should climb the footbridge alone.

The storm had blown itself out next morning, and the sky was a delicate blue streaming with rags of  crisp clean cloud.  She parked the car in good time and stood staring at the old hotel.  A new section of the tiles had been stripped off in the night and there was a gaping hole now, showing the stark roof ribs.  Amongst the grey pigeons were a pair of exotic white doves, blown away from their home territory, slumming it happily with their cousins.

Gripping her briefcase tightly she walked towards the bridge.  There were several people waiting on the platform already and she could see a short queue at the ticket office as she set her foot on the first step .

Halfway up she stopped, straining her ears.  She could hear nothing but the wind, barely more than a breeze now, soughing gently in the tangled hedge on the far side of the line. Glancing over the parapet at the inn she could see the white birds clearly on the roof. They seemed unperturbed, preening in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind by the chimney stacks.

She moved on, reached the top, walked slowly across the bridge and then began  to descend.

‘Chloe, dear!’ The oh-so female voice behind her was loud and very real. ‘Going up to town? How lovely. We can travel together.’

Glancing round, Chloe caught sight of the two white doves, in the distance, wheeling now above the station. She smiled at the owner of the voice and resigned herself to an inquisition from which there would be no escape.  At least it would deflect the disappointment which she realised suddenly she was feeling that there had been no voices in her head, no music floating in the sky above the hotel.

The business dinner, the result of the prompt personal delivery of the sketches, had been unavoidable and because of it she had to catch the last train. When she at last stepped out of the empty carriage  the ticket office was closed as she had known it would be. There was no one else on the platform.

The footbridge rose against the starry sky, a black silhouette in the total silence. The lonely tall station light did no more than  throw pools of black shadow under its high arch.

Her briefcase tightly clasped in one hand Chloe took a deep breath and walked towards it. The steps between its walls formed a canyon of darker black.  The one light at the top of the stairs had  long ago been broken by vandals, the broken fitting left to rust.  Almost without realising it she was straining her ears for voices; for music from the hotel across the tracks, but the night was perfectly  silent save for the call of an owl in the fields on the far side of the lane.

Resolutely she put her foot on the lowest step of the bridge.  Her mouth had gone dry, and she told herself not to be a fool. What, after all, was there to be afraid of? A voice? The echo of running feet? Some nameless tragedy from the past which had barely  touched the history of time.

She had taken two more steps up when she heard in the distance the rumble of a train.  She froze, listening.  The tracks had begun to whisper behind her.  .

Mary, my darling, wait.  Let me explain.

She glanced up ahead, suddenly wishing she had brought a torch.  The darkness of the steps between the walls was impenetrable.

She could hear the wheels now as the train reached the viaduct, their note hollow, inexorable, and above it the snorting of the steam.


The footsteps were so close she flinched and ducked back against the wall.  Turning she fled back onto the platform. Her hands were shaking as, her resolution gone,  she pulled her mobile phone from her bag.

Please let him be in.   ‘Miles? I’m at the station.  Please come.’

Switching it off she slipped it into her pocket , her eyes on the bridge.  He had not questioned her. There had been no recriminations that she had come alone as once Edmund would have done.  She stiffened. Had that been the flash of a pale skirt she saw out of the corner of her eye at the top of the flight?  Holding her briefcase in her arms, across her chest like a shield  she slipped  around the corner of the small ticket office and pressed close against the cold wall.

The train was getting closer.  On the bridge the shadows grew if anything more black.


His voice was very faint this time.

Mary, my darling, forgive me.

Her mouth dry, Chloe peered around the corner.  The car park was silent.  Please hurry, Miles.  Please hurry.

But it wasn’t Miles who needed to hurry.  If only she knew the young man’s name.

The sound of the train was louder now.  The hollow ring of the wheels changed note as it passed across the viaduct and reached the solid ground. It was coming very close.

Mary, wait

Chloe could hear running footsteps.  They were coming across the bridge.

Mary, my darling, listen.

White petticoats frothed in the darkness, descending the stairs and suddenly Chloe could hear a woman’s broken sobs near her, on the platform..


His voice was still on the bridge, far away. The noise of the steam engine was deafening. Pressing her hands over her ears, Chloe closed her eyes.

In the lane the car broke all speed limits as it tore into the station forecourt and came to a halt. The door opened and Miles leaped out, leaving the engine running and the headlights shining full across the track.

‘Chloe,’ he shouted. ‘Don’t move. Don’t go near the edge.  I’m coming!’

She didn’t hear him.  Her eyes were on the rails.

‘Mary,’ she whispered.  ‘Please, don’t do it.  Listen to him.  Believe him.’

‘Chloe!’ The whole bridge vibrated to Miles’s heavy footsteps as he ran.

Chloe had dropped her case.  She took a step forward.  ‘Mary!’ she called.

She could see her quite clearly. The pale face, the dark curly hair, the dark dress and heavy, long coat,  pulled straining across the huge belly. And the eyes.  The huge eyes, blank with despair.  For a moment the two women stood facing each other as the train drew into the station with a scream of wheels on metal.



As Miles grabbed her shoulders and swung her away from the edge of the platform Chloe  caught a momentary glimpse of the young man who had thrown his arms around Mary and dragged her away. He was tall, his face shadowed beneath his cap. And then they had gone. The platform was empty and suddenly, shockingly, silent. There was no train.  Never had been a train. Only the wind soughing across the fields  and the lonely call of the peewits disturbed the night.

Chloe was trembling as she clung to Miles.  ‘It was all right.  He saved her. Perhaps we saved her. ’ She found she was sobbing gently.  ‘That was why it wasn’t news.  There  was a happy ending.’

‘I’m glad.’ He smiled down at her.  ‘Come on.  Let’s take you home.  We’ll come and get your car in the morning.’

As they climbed back over the bridge Chloe glanced over the parapet towards the hotel.  Lights spilled out of the doors across the grass and in the distance she could hear the cheerful notes of a honky tonk piano.  She stopped.

‘Can you hear that?’

He nodded.

‘And see the lights?’

He nodded again.

‘Do you think they lived happily ever after.’

She needed him to say yes, but he laughed.

‘Oh, my darling sweet romantic.  And I thought you were a hard-boiled business woman! No, I don’t suppose they did.  They probably had happy bits and sad bits .  I expect they quarrelled and they made up and they had four or five children and lived to become fat and staid and boring.  But I expect he always remembered that passionate wild gesture of hers, and she always remembered that he saved her life, whatever it was he had done before.  And that was the secret they never told their children and they never spoke of again, but which when it happened caused the both to feel such pain and such fear that it was imprinted on time itself. I think that is what ghosts are.  They are not the spirits of dead people; they are emotions so intense, so raw, so deeply felt that they become locked into the place where they happened and sometimes, if the time is right, other people see and hear them.’

He took her hand and tucked it under his arm. To her surprise she did not move it.

‘Come on, I can feel a philosophical drink by the fire is in order,’ he said firmly. ‘Will you let me drive you home and propose a toast  to Mary and her Joe.’

‘How do you know his name?’

Below them the car park was suddenly dark. The music had stopped and the wind was blowing through empty, ruined rooms.

‘I don’t. I guessed.’ He smiled. ‘Come on, my dear.  Let’s go home.’


Taken from "Sands of Time", collection of short stories first published 2003.

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