I wanted to shove them into the tracks. I’d lost count of how long it’d been, but I was too conscious of the touches on my body; the scrape of an arm here, the brush of a leg there and the complex manoeuvres to get out of the way. Bodies pressed against me at every angle in the carriage even before the train pulled to a screeching halt, a crackly voice from the ceiling mumbling incoherently, “Sorry for the delay, everyone, there is a fault with the train, but we will be moving shortly.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
Why was everything going so wrong today? I was already running later than I’d expected with my taxi getting stuck in traffic on the way to the station, rain drowning me as I raced from the car park to the inside of the station and my train being delayed by half an hour. Scrambling onto the train, I felt my bag thud and bang against the other passengers, mumbling quiet apologies as I scanned the compartment for a seat, which… I didn’t find one. Placing my head against the wall of the train, I couldn’t help but worry about what my parents would do to me if I missed this interview.
Mum and dad tried to prepare me for it, sitting me down and yelling question after question, my mum taking brief breaks from the cigarette in her hand and my dad pulling himself away from the tip of the bottle to do so. With my head aching and my spirits drained I trudged back to my room, soon hearing the usual yelling of voices. Small knocks rocked my door gently and I stifled a groan, mumbling “come in” against my pillow. Alice and Kellie tiptoed in, a third, smaller pair of feet — Cameron — waddling behind. Alice lifted Cameron onto my bed as the two girls clambered onto it, lying over or on me.
“Fightin’ ‘gain,” Cameron mumbled as he picked up my arm and placed it over him, his head nuzzled against my chest.
“They always fight,” Kellie responded, her head on my legs as she looked up at the ceiling.
“Amy’s lucky she doesn’t have to live here,” Alice mused, lying beside me with her head on my shoulder.
Kellie nodded with a sigh, hand up towards the ceiling, “That’s ’cause Amy’s mum was smart enough to get ’way from dad.”
“Yeah, but stupid enough to get knocked up.”
Sighing, Kelly sat up from her spot besides me and narrowed her eyes slightly. “Why are you still here?”
My eyebrows raised involuntarily as I looked at my baby siblings, their question stumping me like a fork in the path. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’re eighteen now.”
“Yeah! You’re an adult! You can go anywhere with Nana’s money!” Alice exclaimed, referring to the money our grandparents had set aside for us. “Where would you go?”
“Go?” I asked.
“Yes!” My sisters exclaimed in unison, Cameron chiming in with a little cheer.
“I would go and live on a beach!” Alice exclaimed, yawning a little bit as specs of dust littered her eyes, “Playing with dolphins in the sea and building a beach hut.”
“Well, I’d go hiking and live on a new mountain each night!” Kelly added. “I don’t care if it would be cold, the view would be amazing!”
“You’d live in the cinema, would you, Cam?”
The four of us laughed together, almost able to drown out the ever-growing roar of our parents downstairs.
I knew what I would do if I could go somewhere. I’d use the money my grandparents had left me to travel, carrying nothing but my artbook, the pages browning and creasing, and the watercolours and pencils usually stationed under piles of clothes in my drawers. The Aurora Borealis would be my first stop, then maybe Italy, somewhere in Rome.
Glancing down at my siblings, my thoughts collided with each other as the sickness of guilt ravaged me: why are you even thinking about it? You can’t leave? You’re eighteen, you can if you want! But they need me! And you need to leave. I can’t just abandon them! They’re not your responsibility! Yes, they are! You deserve to live!
I blinked back tears and tried to swallow the lump in my throat, my grip on my siblings tightening, and I could’ve sworn the smallest whimper escaped from my lips as Alice mumbled a sleepy, “I’ll look after them.”
“Sorry for the delay, everyone.” The conductor’s voice crackled a little clearer through the speakers as the train began moving again. “The train will be arriving shortly.”
I looked at the time on my phone, quickly calculating in my head if I could still make the interview. This would be it, this would be my life, travelling back and forth on a train, back and forth, back and forth. How much of my paycheque would I even see?
Trying to ignore whatever feeling was gnawing at my stomach, I flipped open my rucksack, wanting the sandwich I’d made earlier, when I saw the familiar black of my sketchbook, a bright green post-it note sticking out from the top, and the glint of my watercolour case.
Go. Was written in Alice’s handwriting.
Stay in touch. Was written in Kellie’s.
Luv u. Was Cam’s familiar chicken scratch.
The train pulled to an agonizing halt as everyone in my carriage scrambled wildly to leave or find a seat before the next set of passengers devoured them. Lightly I stepped off the train and glanced at the trains and timings on the board. I was in London with the opportunity to go anywhere I wanted, the money from my grandparents tucked safely away in my bank account. I could go… I checked my phone again, time freezing for me.
Look after my paintings for me, I texted Alice and Kellie, tucking my phone into my pocket and moving towards a ticket machine.
Rebecca T Powell is from the United Kingdom, finishing her final year of university studying English Literature with Creative Writing.
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