1st January 2017.
Sam was not sad. He waved to Carol as the train pulled out of the station. He could not be sure if Carol had made any effort to look back at him through one of the carriage’s windows as the train left. He scanned the windows of the carriage she had boarded but could not see her. Two minutes before the train departed, he watched as tightly packed passengers disgorged themselves from the carriages and crisscrossed around others waiting to board. Their movements around one another looked to Sam like some sort of formal ritualistic eighteenth century dance. He thought, they should be wearing wigs and frills and enormous hoop dresses whose lacy material and bespoke jackets and trousers are made by the finest couturiers and tailors of the age. He visualised them dancing in a grand room of a French chateau whose decorations and furniture were adorned with all manner of the finest gold leaf trimmings.
The sound and sight of the train diminished. Sam looked down at the railway tracks. The tops of the parallel tracks were as shiny as newly cleaned silver. The top of each one looked as if it had just been polished by a house-proud home owner; buffed as bright and as clean as the day the silver was brought home. The sides of the tracks were dirty and dark, covered in mud and oil as if that same home owner had grown too old and frail to maintain their self-respect; too weak to keep the silver at its best.
Sam stood still and looked at the railway lines as they converged together in the distance. For what he thought was a few seconds, he found himself counting the sleepers between the tracks. He was lost in the moment and forgot why he had come to the station in the first place. With a jolt at the sound of a car horn in the station car park, he came back from his muse to the present moment.
His mind often did that, although he did not know it; it took him off in strange tangents and led him to become distracted by other digressions and ruminations whose mental images were as clear as the cobalt blue sky and midday sun that lit the scene in which he now stood. It was as if he experienced another alternative life of sounds and pictures in random moments when he least expected them to happen. He had no control over these mental jaunts between the two lives that inhabited his brain, he knew that much and over the years, unbeknown to anyone else, especially Carol, he had kept these mental journeys to himself. Why tell her anyway? She wouldn’t understand. No imagination. No empathy. No sympathy. No anything. I’m glad she’s gone, stupid, stupid, bit.. The word formed in his mind and then dissipated to nothing.
Time and space and the physical reality of where he might be at any one moment, was meaningless to Sam. Sometimes it was minutes, sometimes it was hours and one time, three days in a world far away. Then, as if by some mental magic or flick of a mental switch, his mind returned him to where the rest of the world expected him to be: the place the rest of the world called ‘The Real World’. Sometimes they called it ‘Reality’, but he couldn’t be sure. “Oh Sam, where are you?” they would ask disdainfully, “Still away in the land of the fairies, are you?” Carol had lots of friends who, as far as Sam was concerned, made senseless statements about anything that might force them to consider something out of the ordinary. Sam thought them very boring. You have nothing interesting to say, do you know that? Nothing to offer. You are all as dull as dirty dishwater left to go cold. That was what he wanted to say to their faces: it was not an original insult, he knew it, but all the same, he kept his thoughts to himself.
He once asked Mark, a particular favourite friend of Carol’s, who talked about the real world in glowing terms and often criticised him for living in ‘La La Land’, what the nature of reality was: but Mark could not put any kind of definition on it as a singular idea. It was later that evening when Sam saw Mark holding Carol’s hand surreptitiously in their hallway, he decided it was time for Carol to go. Mark let go of Carol’s hand as he approached them looking shy and yet furtive at the same time. Dull as dull can be he thought as he smiled at them and walked by: expressionless face, eyes fixed and looking vacant as if he was off in another one of his dreams. As he turned into their lounge room, he heard Carol and Mark whispering and then Carol stifle a giggle, which ended in a snort. The pig like outburst made Mark laugh aloud.
Yes, Sam thought, Carol you have to go. I don’t care where, just go to wherever it suits you the most. Mark and all your other dullard, depressing friends can have you. Carol, you really are as dismal and as dreary as you look. Do you know that? I never had the courage to say it to your face: only once, when you forced me to spend an evening with your college friends. Do you remember that evening four weeks ago? Well, do you? Everyone shunning me, everyone off in their little groups, like wagon trains marking out their territory; and when I did manage to push my way into one of the exclusive huddles, all they were talking about was boring Mark and his latest affair. What fun it must have been to them thinking that I had no idea what they were talking about; no idea that it was me who was ‘the boyfriend who has no idea of what’s going on’: and then the laughter and the looks to each other from side to side and then to me. Their smirks betrayed them. Well Carol, I’ve got news for you, it’s my contempt for you and people like you that sustains me. Dull, dull, dull, all of you, so dull. Carol dull Carol, you have to go.
“You’re away with the fairies again!” Carol had said to him as she stood in the carriage doorway ready to board the train. “Sam!” She reached out and slapped his face firmly. “Do you have any idea how annoying you are when you’re like this? Well, do you?” She breathed out a long loud sigh and turned fully into the carriage to find a seat. She didn’t say goodbye. The petulance in her voice and her cynical rhetoric annoyed him. His left cheek stung where she had slapped him but he didn’t move. He felt anger rise in him but quelled it. He whispered to out of her earshot, “you have no idea how much I hate you Carol, do you? Well, do you?” His whisper mimicked her voice and was barely audible except to one elderly woman who had followed Carol into the carriage. She looked at Sam with complete disdain. Sam stared back at the old woman. What’s it got to do with you; you old bat? He thought angrily, mind your own!
Sam had set his mind to get rid of Carol by acting vacant and dreamy to the point where he thought he would even have annoyed himself. For four weeks, he made sure she had no idea whether he was physically with her or away somewhere else. Mark made several appearances during that time; always with an excuse for the reason he needed to see Carol.
“And there you are,” he continued his whisper, “stupid cow, clicketty-clacking away: receding like your mother’s hairline out of site under that bridge flanked by those beautiful gum trees that I always liked. I could never work out why I liked that bridged scene so much until now. There you go, off to your balding mother, the other bane of my life, miserable mother in law and miserable daughter. Daddy died a long time ago, didn’t he? You and Mrs. Baldy probably drove him to his death bed with all your constant moaning, criticising and general air of depressing melancholy. Off you go now Carol, tell your hairless mother all about Mark. Goodbye and good riddance to all three of you. Does Mark have any idea what he’s in for? Serves him right. What a moron!”
Sam had not moved from the spot where Carol had boarded the train. He took in several long sniffs of the clear sunny midday air and then filled his lungs with two long breaths. He closed his eyes. His hair bristled with the luxurious tingling sensation his oxygenated blood brought to his body. His mind took him back to the railway sleepers. Behind his forehead he could see them. He counted each one from foreground to background until they became jumbled together and he could not count them anymore. A station guard tapped him on the shoulder, “I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the station sir; I need to lock up, the station is closing for the night.”