On the train between Newton Abbot and Topsham, Jimmy Vincetore was thinking about the same journey he had made the previous week, same line, same stops, same time of the night.
The main difference was that last week he had gone back home to his girlfriend having not seen her for six days. They had rowed, and the next day she had left — for good? Yes — maybe for good.
This week she wasn’t there in his life anymore. He was going back to an empty house. Their eight-year relationship — the familiarity, the moments of another human being moving alongside him in close proximity — was gone. She wasn’t speaking to him. Vaguely, days ago, she had said she was staying with her sister. Vaguely, she had said she wouldn’t be paying October’s rent — but there had been no “This is really it. It’s over.” No confirmation, at least, except for her saying so in the middle of the argument. But Jimmy felt this time — unlike in other arguments they had had in the past, which had been infrequent, not even annual — that his blend of exuberant, naïve passion might have lost its appeal for good.
On the train, he breathed calmly, sat back in his seat. He seemed normal sitting there, maybe a little blank in the eyes, but it was the 21.12 and the few people in the carriage also looked tired. He was thinking how much that train had featured in their lives. He remembered a month earlier when they had commuted to their work in the summer school. Then, through the window he saw the darkness over the sea, the line of the lights at Teignmouth, and remembered them meeting friends in Teignmouth for drinks two years before. As they passed Paignton, he closed his eyes and tried not to think about the time five years earlier when Naomi beat him at crazy golf. On and on, he remembered more moments.
He tried to square the two realities, the easy time the week before just as he had been about to see her again — before the argument, he had been in a good mood, ironically — and the sad, heavy aftermath. He opened his eyes, looked up at the LED display listing the stops. In the strip light, which ran the length of the carriage, the stops were reflected backwards and upside down — Dawlish, Star Cross, Exeter. The idea he was living in an alternate reality, a mirror world, appealed to him, and he let the thought sit with him.
But the half-baked feeling behind the idea seemed sad when compared to what he understood: that this world where they had ruined their relationship was the only reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could go back in time and stop them arguing, or him storming out of the room and telling her, “I wish you weren’t here.”
Stations came and went. Each time there was the same commentary from the pre-recorded announcer. “The next station is Exeter Central. We are now approaching Exeter Central—”
Or, “The next station is St. James’ Park. We are now approaching St. James’ Park—”
Jimmy Vincetore tried being optimistic. He wondered if they might reconcile, or, if they didn’t, that all this was for the best — that he had wanted to break up too. But his mind was a two-colour swirl. One colour, the memories of their times together. They were in Pompeii, they were at a wedding together in the south of Italy, taking pictures of themselves, Naomi was telling him that she loved him in that quiet way she did, which felt the same as the gentle way she had handed him blackberries on the day they last truly saw each other, back in the housesit in the countryside two weeks earlier. The other colour was the argument — how full of resentment he had been when he had tried to talk to her about something that had upset him, and she been dismissive and mocking. Then he thought how she had had a difficult week, and that she had kissed his head and said, “I love you, please stop.” He remembered continuing arguing. The bad memories and the good memories were colliding, and the bad memories twisted into the good memories. He tried to find a calm way of accepting this new reality. He closed his eyes, felt his mind go somewhere without any words, a clear place — good if he could make it last — then in a flush of pain in his stomach, he remembered Naomi sitting in front of him, brushing his leg on the train to get his attention. All she had wanted to do was smile back at him and say “I love you.”
“We’re now approaching Topsham. Please mind the gap,” came the voice. It was the end of the line. Jimmy Vincetore got up. He noticed that the announcer’s voice had changed from a woman’s to a man’s. Vincetore had been riding that train for years, and there had always been the same woman’s voice on the announcements. The man’s voice was strange.
The train officer came along and stopped by the doors. The officers came to the doors to open them and to manage the passengers on the platform. Vincetore slowly followed the officer onto the platform. Outside, the platform was dark. The streetlight above the station was the only light.
“What happened to the bird?” another passenger said to the train officer.
Vincetore, as he passed, saw that the train officer had reddened eyes. The officer seemed surprised that someone was talking to him.
The man — in his mid-fifties — said, “The bird who does the announcements.”
“More unnecessary changes?” the man said. “No. She died in an accident one week ago — recording was kept on until now out of respect, but today it changes. Lovely person. Long term she worked here. Tragic when something you think will last forever is destroyed in an instant.”
Oliver Revolta has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s a writer of weird tales, offbeat short fiction, interactive narratives. He currently works and lives in Madrid.