STRANGER ON A TRAIN
One hot day, Stella made a long journey on a stopping train. Station succeeded station and on each platform, greetings and goodbyes took place. How similar they were: the same hesitations, the same puckered lips, the same forgotten items, the same mixture of relief and joy.
Stella leaned back in her seat. The old plush of the carriage’s upholstery affronted her nostrils a little. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, it was as though she had been struck by lightning. There he was on the other side of the carriage: her dear love, her sweet friend, darling Jamie. Except that Jamie had been dead for seven years. She was sure he was gone, and indeed, to make sure, she had gone to see his body at the undertaker’s. She suspected at the time that she had been the subject of some gigantic hoax. To be sure, the body had looked like his: his hair, his rather long nose, the scar on his neck. So it must have been him. To some extent.
The stranger was exactly like Jamie. He had an identical disengaged manner, and a slightly scornful way of handling a book. Although he might be a messenger from another world, the stranger consumed a bag of crisps exactly as Jamie would have done, wiping his mouth often, brushing the crumbs from his jacket. Stella had to speak: “Jamie? Is it really you?”
His head turned towards her, and it seemed as though his eyes were made of glass, though that might well have been a trick of the light. The beloved voice she knew so well said: “well, that is my name. But do I know you?” Jamie had not been her lover - well not exactly, not quite - but they had identical tastes in colour, space and timbre. Why would he not acknowledge her? Stumblingly, Stella said well, he was the very fetch and image of a dead friend. “Ah” said the stranger “I have forgotten a lot. But I think I might have remembered you”.
With that, he arose to alight from the train. Stella scrambled together her belongings and followed him. He did not seem pleased. Did the dead feel embarrassment as acutely as the living? She trotted beside him along the platform. She touched his hand, which was cold. He lifted his hand up, and she saw the livid bruise which she had caused. The skin began to slough off, showing the bone beneath. She touched his face, and immediately there were changes too - a mottling, a raw texture. She threw her arms round him, knowing even as she did it that it was clumsy, and he seemed to shrink into his clothes. Finally, out there on the hot platform in the sun, in full sight of the crowd, she was left keening and clinging onto bones inside a linen suit. The only words that could be heard were his: “you should have left me as I was.”