Got Away

Got Away

Read this short fiction with a coffee.

The walk always helps but it’s never fast enough. I come up and around and through and out of the suburban maze onto Oxley Road along the eastern side until I can cross at the lights. Even at the late hour traffic through here remains constant with industrial demand; trucks worming their way down this road away from the city and further flung distant warehouse to distant warehouse. When I cross it’s easy and alone and I don’t look but I know I’m watched by impatient drivers who’d rather I wasn’t. The train station’s ahead and bright with landmark lights.

I beep my way in here at the strike before the eleventh hour and meaner across the overpass to platform two, inbound. I’m not alone but there aren’t a lot of us, not the dregs but the unusuals. We’re more ghosts than commuters, barely present in each other’s lives, shapes under the lights, waiting. It’s ten minutes from my arriving to the train’s and we pass it all silent, on our phones, scrolling and speaking to a world far beyond but not here, now, before us. As it arrives I reckon we’ve all learned nothing beyond that constant crash course reminder in trawling for easy dopamine. The carriage is loud, long, silver, and it might have been sleek once. It’s worn now with age and the hot sun and the wet lashing summers and dry cool winters that get properly to cold once or maybe twice. I climb on, the doors opened by that flashing green button instead of automatically like in real cities, and I sit on one of the upholstered plastic seats facing backwards. I settle in but it won’t be long.

I’m trying not to look at my phone and instead I just watch the scant lights of the night out here on the western edge of even moderate density. Headlights like yellow diamonds across the murky window. When I think of diamonds I think of one in particular and I can’t help but wonder where it is now. I’d like to see it again just to look at it in the daylight, in the sparkling sun, but instead my wandering eyes see her.

She’s in the opposite corner and she’s on her phone, the brightness up high, white on her clear, tight face. A jaw and nose and lips like from a magazine and she’s at a distance enough that I might be filling in the edges. This likely as close as I’ll get because there lingers that fear about potential when you’ve already half-decided what comes next — air conditioning, one cold beer, and a good night’s sleep for the time in a while. All I know about her is that she’s on the Ipswich line with me heading towards town. I don’t know if she was already on board or if she got on when I did. It’s not love but it’s the kind of thing you get caught up with on the train. On the platform maybe I’d talk to her because then at least the air’s clear and warm and we can both retreat somewhere we can’t see each other. Modern problems I figure and more’s been done with less. She looks up and she sees me looking a little too long and I get that stupid smile and I don’t look away right away but I hold it and then move it on. Shuffling in my seat a little. One, two, and I look back and she’s still looking at me but not coming. A smile on her face too.

Once I’d have filled in something like a whole life together in the fleeting moments. In a time with an overactive imagination and an inability to commit to anything except another way to get high. Now it’s a commitment of another kind I can’t bed down and I’m not looking to find out how true that is here with a railway stranger. There’s someone sitting in the rows between, off to the right, and it wouldn’t be so bad, would it? It’s a reminder to do it again some day, to speak, to say it, as the stations are firing by and I’m getting closer and closer and she’s still on board. Eyes back and forth but nothing because I can’t and so mine sink and then hers do and that’s all it is onboard. I’m infatuated the rest of the way. Next stop: Milton. I look out to my right out the window as if to escape. I do not succeed.

But the train does stop where I need to be and I stand and in my standing I hope she does too but she doesn’t. She just looks. I step into the aisle, onto the exit, get a hand to the button on the door and it springs open and I pause and I look up and I can see her looking too. smile. She smiles. I disembark.

Trains have a funny way of taking off what feels like behind you, even if you’re quick. Buses have to inhale and stand back upright and indicate into oncoming traffic. They’ll even wait if they can see you. But trains persist like hungry steel snakes disappearing to where they know food lies and where their electric blood can cool in the depot after a long hot day. All I can think as it goes is that we might do all this again because they are, at least, predictable machines.

The night is warm on the walk home and she seems to fade from me as fast as she appeared. I’ve talked to friends about the ones who’ve gotten away and they’ve always been for all of us a bit serious. That makes me wonder if the one who got away wasn’t actually just a moment you didn’t take, like that, rather than something that just kept not working. The latter sounds to me too much like gears liable to crunch together at the intersection of your actual lives more than it does like a getting away; like a slippery fate. I’m not much one for predetermination. But… Paths are cut ahead for us with the best of intentions and yet still we can stray at a whim. That’s about as close as I get.

Railway Terrace does nothing to dispel me of that with its pubs, bars, construction, gyms. Mixed-use residential and commercial scattered all about the tight, river-bound suburb. The more the merrier, I reckon. The closer the things I love the better. I say that though without any of my old substantial square metreage. A smaller floorplan though. More literally, maybe, if someone does move in. Now I just split the strata one of many ways, sort of like my heart right now I guess.

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