1st January 2018.
Sam was not sad. He found it hard to hide his elation. He waved half-heartedly 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 the carriage window. He scanned the other windows of the carriage. They were tinted, which made it difficult to see its passengers. Two minutes before the train departed, he watched as tightly packed travelers 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 visualised them pirouetting in a grand room of a French chateau whose decorations and furniture were adorned with all manner of the finest gold trimmings.
The sound and sight of the departing 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 grandmother; buffed as bright and as clean as the day the silver was brought home. The side of each track was dirty and dark, covered in mud and oil as if that same grandmother had grown too old and frail to maintain her self-respect; too weak to keep the silver at its best.
Sam stood still and looked along the railway lines as they converged together in the distance; they merged as one entity on the horizon. For what he thought were a few seconds at most, 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. A few seconds later, he jolted at the sound of a car horn in the station car park and came back from his muse to the present moment.
His mind often did that, although sometimes 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 that day’s cobalt blue sky and midday sun. It was as if he experienced another alternative life of sounds and pictures in random moments when he least expected them to happen.
Sam had no control over these mental jaunts between the two states of being that inhabited his mind. He knew that much, and over the years, unbeknown to anyone else, especially Carol, he 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 dissolved to nothing.
Time, 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 long days in a world far away. Then, as if by some mental magic or flick of a cerebral 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’, the sobriquet formed in his mind. ‘Sometimes they call it Reality, stupid morons.’
“Oh Sam, where are you?” Mark, one of Carol’s friends once asked him disdainfully.
“Still away in the land of the fairies, are you?”
Carol had lots of friends whom, as far as Sam was concerned, made senseless statements about anything that might force them to reconsider or question anything in daily life that appeared 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 clichéd dishwater left to go cold’, was what he wanted to say to their faces, but he kept his thoughts to himself. Apart from one time four weeks previously when he let Mark get under his skin. Mark asked him the same mindless question again and Sam lost his temper. He wasn’t sure why, he didn’t love Carol any more, he didn’t consider Mark to be any kind of challenge to his masculinity, but something in the smug tone of Mark’s voice grated him.
Mark, Sam noticed, had become a close friend of Carol’s. He asked Mark why he talked about the real world in such glowing terms. He also asked Mark what he thought the nature of reality was: but Mark could not put any kind of definition on it as a singular idea.
“Well, if you have no idea how to describe or at the very least, put some form of definition of what you think reality might be, you can hardly ask me spurious questions as to where I may or may not have been: even if you think La La Land is the appropriate noun to give it. In fact, you have no right to ask me that question at all!”
“Ok, keep your pants on. No need to get your knickers in a twist,” was Mark’s fatuous reply.
“If I keep my pants on you moron, I can hardly get to my knickers to twist them, can I? And in case you still haven’t woken up to yourself, that was a rhetorical question!”
Sam turned away from Mark, took a few paces and then turned to stare at him, his face a picture of contempt.
“Dick head,” Mark whispered back at him.
“Fuck wit!” came Sam’s acid retort.
Later that evening, Sam saw Mark holding Carol’s hand surreptitiously in their hallway. Sam decided it was time for Carol to go. ‘Away from me once and for all. At least,’ he thought as he caught a glint of lust in Carol’s expression, ‘at least enough time so you can start making someone else’s life a misery: preferably Mark.’
Mark let go of Carol’s hand as Sam approached. They looked shy and yet furtive at the same time. ‘Dull as dull can be’ he thought as he smiled inwardly and walked by them with an expressionless face. He kept his eyes fixed and looked vacant as if he was off on another one of his dreamy jaunts. As he turned into their lounge room, he heard Mark whisper 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 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 o
ut 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 for them thinking I had no idea what they were talking about; no idea that it was me who was the boyfriend who hasn’t got a clue. Then the laughter and the looks to each other from side to side and then to me. Their self-satisfied smirks betrayed them Carol. 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. She always did that when she was angry. “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 slapped him but he didn’t move. He felt anger rise in him but quelled it. He whispered, “you have no idea how much I hate you Carol, do you? Well, do you?” His mutter mimicked her voice and was barely audible except to one elderly woman who had followed Carol into the carriage. She looked back at Sam with complete scorn. Sam stared back at the old woman and said, “what’s it got to do with you; you old bat? Mind your own!”
“It’s no wonder she’s off, you tosser.”
Sam raised his middle finger at the woman. He didn’t care if Carol had seen him make the disrespectful gesture through the carriage window. ‘Can’t see you anyway Carol so what does it matter? Don’t want to see you: ever again.’
Sam’s plan to rid himself of Carol had worked. He set his mind to get rid of her by acting vacant and dreamy to the point where he believed 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 at the side of the carriage, “stupid cow, clicketty-clacking away: receding like your mother’s hairline out of site under that bridge flanked by those beautiful oak trees that I always liked. I could never work out why I liked that bridge and the scenery around it so much until now. There you go, off to your balding mother, the other bane of my life: miserable mother 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 and 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 cunt!”
Sam had not moved from the spot where Carol had boarded the train. The sun was high in the sky. 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. He opened his eyes and once more, 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; are you alright?”
Sam didn’t respond.
“I need to lock up,” the guard continued. “It’s one o’clock in the morning. The station is closing for the night.”