He’d said goodbye to his sister, Gladys and her family at her home a few days before boarding the train. She’d stroked his cheek once, whispering, “Be careful.” His mother pressed her wet cheek to his face at the station, she could not speak. Her eyes shone as she stepped back, grasping his father’s arm for support. Jack held out a hand to his father who held it tightly, his jaw gritted. No words were exchanged. His father’s clouded eyes warned ‘be careful’ as his mothers had shouted, ‘come home safe.’ Jack’s had replied, ‘don’t worry.’ His father reluctantly let Jack’s hand slowly slip from his, as his mother caught his sleeve, squeezing his arm. Jack smiled at her, as he hefted his bulging kitbag onto his shoulder and turned away, mingling then disappearing into a sea of khaki which slowly boarded the train. Jack stood up on the carriage step, searching the waving crowd for Irene but he did not find her face. He turned and ducked into the carriage. Florrie craned her neck, looking for him again as suddenly he appeared, pushing down a small sliding window in a nearby carriage, and leaning out to look for them. Now they spoke. They rushed to him, all chattering at once. “Write whenever you can,” his mother called, her voice cracking. “You hear gunfire, you get down. Do you hear?” his father shouted as the train began to rumble, “Keep your helmet on, always. Do you hear me son?” His advice became desperate as the train emitted a long high-pitched whistle and a fog of steam engulfed the crowd on the platform. Jack called out through the mist, “I will, yes I will, of course. Don’t worry, I’ll be all right. Goodbye mother, bye dad. I’ll be seeing you.” His last words were lost in the swirling smoke of the train as it shunted, clanked and moved rhythmically away, chugging behind great white plumes as it disappeared. John and Florrie stood blankly watching the carriages, then the empty track until the smoke had completely dissipated and no trace of the locomotive could be heard. They turned, heavy hearted to discover they stood alone on the platform.
A First excerpt
7 October 2019
A few lines edited today that I must have written last year, or the year before, read again with fresh eyes.