Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Strangers on a Train.

Trains have always held a fascination for me.  And I suspect the rest of the world.

 How many children grow up with Thomas the Tank Engine and move onto the Hogwarts Express?   Does anyone remember The Little Engine That Could and The Railway Children?

How many mysteries and thrillers take place on a train?  How many romances do they meet on a train?
Maybe not so many these days but back in the day trains featured prominently in Mills & Boon romances.

Trains still have that fascination.  Who could forget the climactic scene in Mission:Impossible with the helicopter following the train into the Channel Tunnel.

Just recently I read a lovely story by Ruthie Knox called Big Boy where a couple meet in a train museum.  It will be released in an anthology next February with the other talented authors in the Strangers on a Train series of novellas.

So railway stories are by no means dead.

Westlander at the railway station in Cunnamulla
I first travelled in a train as a small child from Cunnamulla in far south west Queensland to Brisbane.  It took close on 24 hours leaving on Sunday and Thursday morning and arriving in Brisbane the next morning.  The trip home left on Friday evening and Tuesday evening.  I can remember going up to the station, which was the end of the line, to watch the train come in for entertainment.  We didn't have television until 1974.

When I moved to Brisbane the late 70's I travelled on trains quite regularly.  The old wooden carriages with individual compartments inspired my Writer's Challenge story which I am posting below.

Strangers on a Train - A romantic short

Bridget smoothed her hair complacently.  The Jackie Onassis style shoulder length bob suited her thick blonde tresses, the ends flicking up with only a tweak once she took out the rollers.  The train lurched as it started to move and she checked her beauty case, sitting on the ornate metal luggage rack.  Pink, to match her two piece suit. She looked just right for her interview.  As long as she could remember, Bridget wanted to be an Air Hostess.  Today would be her big chance.

These trains still ran in the 70's when I was in Brisbane
A bang jolted her from her happy dream as the door of the compartment opened and a  battered guitar case landed on the floor, closely followed by the owner.

‘Are you insane?  The train was already moving.  You could have been killed.’

The young man straightened up to an impressive height and pulled the door closed.  ‘I’m cool with it, babe.’  For in spite of long, glossy dark locks, he was most assuredly a man.

His lean face with the high cheek bones looked like one of the paintings she’d seen at the National Gallery, the neat moustache and goatee framing a half-smile on a beautifully shaped mouth.  She was being observed by melting brown eyes with long black lashes.

Flustered, she tried to assert herself again.  ‘Do you make a habit of leaping on and off trains?’

‘Not usually.  I just happened to want to catch this one.  I’m on my way to Roma Street.’

 So he would be with her almost the whole trip.  ‘I’m going to Central Station. Do you have an appointment in the City too?’
King George Square back in the day

‘You might say that.  We’re having a sit in at King George Square.  Peace, love and all that.’

‘You’re a protester?’

He looked at her sharply, no doubt recognising the distaste in her tone.  ‘You might call me that.’

‘My brother is serving in Vietnam.  He’s been there for two months.  We're very proud of him, serving his country.’

‘I’m sure you are.  I hope you never have to see him come home injured, or worse.’  His response was mild, the expression in his eyes sincere.  She’d expected a rant against the war.

Bridget watched him seat himself in the corner of the compartment, stretching his long legs at an angle.  His guitar case rested on the overhead rack beside her beauty case.  ‘Do you know someone who was hurt?’

‘A few of my mates.’

‘I’m sorry.  I don’t know anyone who’s been fighting in Vietnam.  Apart from my brother.’

‘Then today is your lucky day.’

She stared at his long hair and beard, the psychedelic t-shirt.  ‘You were a soldier?  Why aren’t you still over there?’

‘They sent me home.’

‘Why?  Did you do something wrong?’

He laughed.  ‘So it’s true what they say.  You are some dumb blonde aren’t you?’

‘I’m not dumb.’  She watched horrified as he tugged the shirt out of his well worn jeans, revealing tanned flesh with a sprinkling of dark hair across his chest.  ‘What are you doing.  You can’t undress here…it’s…it’s a public place.’

‘Cool it, Princess.  I’m just showing you why I’m back home.’

Roma Street Station - Clock tower is at King George Square
Trying not to stare at the ripple of muscled chest, the even pattern of lines and bumps down his stomach, Bridget sat primly in her seat.  ‘I can’t see that showing off your…body is proving anything except that you are some kind of exhibitionist, or lunatic.’

Standing up, he gripped the baggage rack to steady himself.  ‘Whatever you say.’  She watched him twist on the spot, revealing the long length of his spine below the wavy brown hair that came to just below his broad shoulders.

‘Oh…my…’  Her throat closed, swallowing the words as she stared at the crinkled mess of red and white scarring that covered most of his back, vanishing below the waistband of his jeans.

Tears prickled and she blinked to try and force them back.  The stranger slumped back onto the seat, pulling the shirt back over his head and shoulders, smoothing it down over his stomach.  ‘If your brother is as pretty as you, Princess, you don’t want to see him messed up like me.  Not for a pointless war that no-one is going to win.’

Bridget had to stop herself from asking him if he really thought she was pretty.  There were more serious issues at stake.  ‘Of course we’ll win.  America and Australia together will defeat the communists.  Daddy says so.  He was an officer in the last war.’

‘Ah.  So you’re a Daddy’s girl.  I bet you have the kind of job to mark time until Mr. Right comes along to marry you.’

‘Of course not.  I’m going for a job interview today.’

‘Really.  Selling perfume at David Jones I suppose.’

‘No.  I want to be an Air Hostess.’

The silence in the compartment was deafening.  She could hear the rhythm of the wheels on the train as he stared at her.  As if she were some kind of strange beetle.

‘What’s wrong with being an Air Hostess?’

‘It’s exactly the sort of job I was talking about.  Are you planning to marry a pilot and have lots of little pilots in suburbia.’

‘I’m not planning on marrying anyone.  It’s 1971 and I’m a liberated woman.’

His eyes scanned her body.  ‘You don’t look very liberated in that outfit.’

‘I don’t mean that kind of liberated.  I mean…I’m going to be a career woman and travel and be independent.’

‘Wouldn’t you rather come with me and make a real difference to the world, Princess.’

Central Station- the far clock tower is King George Square
The train was pulling into Roma Street and he stood up to get his guitar case.  He looked at her appealingly.  ‘If you come, I promise you won’t regret it.’

Stubbornly she shook her head.  With a shrug he jumped from the train and she watched him walk away.

Emerging onto Ann Street, Bridget hesitated, remembering melting brown eyes, a soft appeal.  Her interview was to the left, King George Square to her right.  After a moment, she turned right.

Waiting for a train to go by in Stanthorpe a couple of weekends ago
Steam trains come to Stanthorpe regularly and are very popular.