He sweeps the dimpled concrete with a brush that bristles up at its ends like curled fuse wire. There’s not much to clean up these days, he thinks, just dust that blows up in the wind. No fag ends or shoe stamped gum to scrape anymore. He looks up at the flap flapping of a speckled pigeon as he hears the crackle and hiss of the overhead line followed by a muffled announcement. Here it comes, he mutters to himself. He swallows foul tasting bile as he hears that voice again; do it, do it, do it. The high- low horn sounds as a blast of air causes him to shuffle sideways. Now. Now, would be the moment, the voice says as he hears a bark from a dog as if to say; no, no, not yet.
As the train pulls away he is left alone on the platform listening to the pounding rhythm of the carriages as they grind and twist along the metal rails. He lets out a breath, uncurling his tight grip from the top of the brush handle then relaxes his palm feeling the round smoothness of the wood. Across the tracks he sees the other platform starting to get busy. The sight of a man with a little girl up on his shoulders makes his throat go tight. He turns away, looking at the clock face at the far end of the station, its long spindle hand shaped like an arrow almost touching twelve. Shift’s done. Lifting the brush he jams it upside down into the cart and then pushes it squeaking along the platform.
‘Hey you old codger.’
He turns to see Jackson striding towards him walking with his legs out wide, twisting his shoulders as if boxing someone.
‘Knockin off early are yi Joe,’ he says launching a pellet of spit at Joe’s black scuffed boots.
Joe glances back at the clock seeing it’s still a fraction off six o’clock.
‘Oh yeah sorry my mistake,’ he says, thinking it’s better to agree or else Jackson will puff up his chest and bump into him like last time.
‘Well don’t make a habit of it, anyway I can see you’ve left some rubbish,’ he says pointing his coarse finger at a man sat on some newspaper.
‘Old Terry? Oh he’s alright, he’s not doing any harm he –‘
‘You know what the rules are,’ said Jackson standing square in front of him, ‘and that’s what your problem is,’ coming so close Joe could smell stale onions and a whisper of whiskey on his smoky breath. ‘You’re too soft – look at yi, you’re like bleedin Santa Claus,’ he laughs walking off doing a sharp whistle between his teeth at the man on the newspaper. ‘Oi off my platform,’ he growls.
Joe opens the Velcro on his high vis vest and folds it neatly, placing it on the shelf in the cupboard then locks up for the night.
Evelyn scratches the back of her leg feeling the prickly stumps of hair which spike through her 20 denier tan tights. She wriggles her knee length checked red skirt down which seems to rise as soon as she moves. It’s all a bit tight this uniform, she thinks. The seams on the sides of her skirt show tracks of stitches but they told her it was a standard size 14. She hears voices behind her, the platform’s starting to get busy which unnerves her. She looks across wishing she could be on the other side; it’s almost deserted. Only a station worker with his back to her locking up a door. She takes sharp breaths through her small pinched mouth, staring straight ahead, her eyes resting at a plastic bag on the middle track. It fills with air as if it will blow away but it seems to be stuck there on the charcoal stones. She loosens her violet necktie feeling like it’s a hand choking her then starts counting numbers in her head as voices echo around the station.
She hears a nasal voice announcing that her train will be running seven minutes late. Sighing, she glances with her owl like eyes at the station clock; ten past six. Further down the platform she hears high pitch laughter and shrieks and squeals of some boys gathered close to the footbridge. She squashes her eyes together trying to see what they are leering at.
‘Go on then Mister, jump if you’re gonna do it, we ain’t got all day,’ shouts one of the boys.
A man steadies his feet on the wooden bannister on top of the criss cross footbridge as she hears whispers around her. Look! Is he going to jump? No- probably some nutter.
‘Jump, jump, jump,’ the boys clap in time.
She looks up at the man, taking in his dark clothing, his white beard, his ruddy face. She swallows tasting egg from her sandwich earlier. Why isn’t anyone doing anything? She feels like a fist is squeezing her heart tight as she thinks of her dad; it can’t happen again. It can’t. She pushes her way through the murmuring crowds, past the group of boys in baggy tracksuit bottoms. She stumbles on the tiered black rubber floor of the stairs, stubbing her toe, as she hears a two tone horn followed by a metallic clackety clack noise. Panting she reaches the top of the stairs.
‘Don’t!’ She shouts.
The man turns quickly and she sees his eyes look like little half-moon shapes above the red of his cheeks.
‘I’m ready,’ he shouts loudly. ‘I want to go.’
‘Bleedin well get on with it then,’ shouts up one of the boys.
Evelyn sees a pigeon fly past, flapping slowly like it’s in slow motion as the noise of the station dies away.
‘Maybe I can help,’ she says taking a few steps forwards, thinking he must be a drunk or something. ‘Will you talk to me?’
He glances at her. Then down to the tracks as the footbridge starts to shake. Evelyn reaches out her open hands to him, feeling like she can’t breathe as she sees his legs trembling and feels the rumblings of the train through her feet. He falls to his knees clumsily as the train passes under the bridge.
‘Fucking faker,’ yells a boy over the noise of the squealing brakes.
The Waiting Room
Evelyn crosses the lapels of her blazer over her chest as she sits on the wooden bench. Pools of light stream in through the steamed up panes of glass, bouncing off the marble-look lino floor. This place reminds her a bit of a church, she thinks, maybe it’s the smell of the wooden benches, or the still quietness, or the coldness. An irritating buzzing noise startles her as a strip light flickers on overhead, casting an orangey glow around the waiting room.
She turns her head as the old Victorian door swings open.
‘These are flimsy things for hot drinks.’ Joe says holding the door open with his backside whilst balancing a fawn ribbed cup in each hand, ‘I always manage to spill some,’ handing Evelyn a cup then shaking droplets of coffee from his hand.
She takes the cup as the door bangs shut and she leans forward awkwardly slotting it inside the empty stack on the floor.
‘Well it’ll be early retirement for me,’ Joe says sitting down next to her, taking a slurp from his cup.
Evelyn turns to look at him and he catches her eye and smiles. She’s been trying to think who his eyes remind her of and she realises it’s her dad’s; watery, pale grey, with a glint of something. She was never quite sure what it was, but she knew that glint sought other things. Things he couldn’t find at home. She blinks, turning to look out of the window, seeing shadowy figures and hearing hushed voices as they pass by the window.
‘So they know about what happened? ‘Evelyn asks with a cough.
‘Yes, I just bumped into Jackson, my supervisor,’ says Joe resting his cup down on the ground. ‘He’s wanted to get rid of me for years, now he has reason too.’
‘Are you’re sure you’re okay?’
‘Yes love, like I said I was just having a bad day. I feel a right fool now,’ he says rubbing at his thick white beard. ‘I’m so grateful that you came up to the bridge and spoke to me, talked me down and all that. Then listened to me rabbit on for hours - you’ve made me realise,’ Joe says, his eyes filling up, ‘that I need to get in touch with my girls before it’s too late.’
Evelyn feels her chest heave. She’s happy for Joe, but she knows it’s too late for her.
‘My dad jumped fifteen years ago,’ she said, tears spilling silently down her cheeks. Joe leans across and gives her a tight hug, the kind that she hasn’t felt since she was eight years old.