Fiction

Dear Jack

By Harrison Abbott

13 Nov 1992

Dear Jack,

I witnessed a sad story on the train today.

There was an old woman and a young lad on the platform. I’m guessing they were grandma and grandson. He was seeing her off. I’m guessing that they weren’t really close, because they were both so awkward together. The boy was trying to be polite and warm; the grandmother was trying to show her love, despite being so shy herself.

The train came and the boy hugged her. The platform was thronged with people heading home from work. The grandmother went on the train, disappearing into the crowd. Disappearing from the boy, that is; I could still see both of them. The grandmother tried to wave at him from the train doors. But he couldn’t see her, and was peering vainly over the tip of the crowd. I was watching, transfixed, on the platform. Then the train was ready to move on, so I had to blow the whistle to make it do so …

I stepped back into the train, and the doors shut behind me, with the grandson still on the platform. The grandma was in the immediate carriage before me, where I needed to check the tickets. I hurried into the carriage, to try and see where she was sitting. But, when I got into the carriage, there were so many new people before me, and I needed to check all their tickets, and the train was already moving.

I spotted the grandson on the platform. Just then, I looked to his grandma: she had seen him and was waving for his attention. She still had a girl’s shyness, but her wave was that of a woman, eight decades in experience – something not many of us can compete with. But the boy never saw her, and the train carried on and the chance was gone.

I went up to the grandmother. But I didn’t really need to check her ticket. If her grandson had seen her outside and waved bye, I would have left her alone. But she just looked so awful, sitting there. I figured that if I asked for a ticket, it might jolt her out of sadness – something like that. She didn’t look up at me, only responded politely and transacted the ticket.

I suppose I’m still your overly-sensitive twin brother, Jack. I don’t know why these moments have a big effect on me. Write back whenever you can – and it doesn’t have to be about these blooming moments on the train.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

20May 1993

Dear Jack,

There was a violent assault on the train, last night. These three bullies beat up this little guy.

The bullies were singing football songs and they went and serenaded the little guy, right to his face. They were touching him in a laddish way. The little guy wasn’t liking it, so he pushed one bully’s arm away. The bully hit him. The little guy charged them. So then all three of the bullies nailed him.

This all happened in the space of about 90 seconds. It’s amazing how violence can happen so sporadically, between men, like that.

I confronted the bullies and shouted at them to stop. Surprisingly, they did. They looked at me like naughty schoolboys. They stood up and froze and everybody else on the train was watching.

The little guy was trying to sit up. I asked him if he was okay, and he said, yes, and he stood up and walked away from the scene. He just went out the slide doors by the end of the carriage with his bag. And the bullies were glad to see him gone.

I felt like an idiot, standing in the corridor, being the only sense of authority around. These three people had just beat a young lad. It was astonishing, how that could happen in public. Everybody else in the carriage stayed silent. It was as if they’d just watched an advert, which was trying to be funny, but which would be banned very soon. And, since they hadn’t laughed at it, it would be okay to pretend they hadn’t seen it.

Except, I shouldn’t judge all the onlookers, when I didn’t do anything proper myself. I didn’t ask the bullies to leave. I didn’t go to follow the beaten-up chap to see how he was. I didn’t even inform the police, which should have been my first impulse.

When the train ride went on, I kept watching those bully beaters in the carriage. I wanted justice. My injustice made me ashamed.

It’s pretty hard, Jack, being a ticket inspector. That is my status in life. I’m just the chap that checks your tickets, and I’m insignificant. Please, please, write back soon, dear brother.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

5 Oct 1993

Dear Jack,

I saw an insanely beautiful woman ever, today. I was too intimidated to even ask for her ticket. She had berserk eyebrows and blonde hair. And, once, she stood up and walked along to the toilet. She was wearing tights and I could see the long contours of her legs.

Maybe my last two letters were a bit dark, Jack. I didn’t mean it to be that way. I’d just like it if we could chat again. Even if it’s just a few letters. I know I was not a good brother in the past, but I can be now. Please just write me a letter back soon. Even if you want me to stop correspondence, that’s all I need to know.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

23 Jun 1994

Dear Jack,

I made a blunder with the customers today. I just mixed up the tea with the coffee, and that’s all the mistake was. But I reacted badly because the coffee was so hot. Or, was it the tea? I poured the coffee into the cup, and the customer at the table said, no, haha, she asked for tea. I was angry with myself and I grabbed the cup up, too quickly, and the liquid went all over me. And I screamed and I swore loud.

I kept swearing as the pain delved into my hand and until I held it under the public toilet sink. There are no staff toilets on public trains.

My manager called me into a meeting the next day. I thought I was going to get fired. But he simply asked me if I was okay? He asked me if I didn’t like working on the trains anymore? I told him that I did; I just dislike making mistakes.

What’s your opinion of that, Jack?

Best Wishes

Harry

#

15 Feb 1995

Dear Jack,

I was walking down the carriages yesterday, checking the tickets, when I got to one specific man. He was about my age – mid 20s – and he was reading a Tintin comic book. It was the Tintin in America one, Jack – you remember? I know you do. I exclaimed to the guy; I mean, I even blushed, that I knew Tintin too. I told him I used to read the comics when I was little.

And he saw me blush and he didn’t try to make fun of me for it. And we just had a little conversation about Tintin. My face was red the whole time but I said Tintin in America was my most favourite one of all, and he chuckled and he said he liked Destination Moon especially.

He smiled a lot and I wanted to stay and talk about Tintin the whole ride, but I had work to do. I figured I could come back later on to his carriage to try again. But when I got back there later he had left.

It reminded me of yourself, Jack. We both loved those Tintin comics. Do you still have them at your place? I’d love to see them all again, in their colourful glory.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

1 Sep 1997

Dear Jack,

I’m feeling chuffed today. My manager called me into his office. The manager is a special man; I knew he was going to say something pleasant to me.

Since I’ve been working with the railway, as a devout man of platform and service for five years, my salary will go up by one third, and I’ll receive all company bonuses. They’ll even give me one more week holiday, my twin brother! And, so, I wanted to suggest that I could come visit you, Jack?

Since I’ve got some more money, I could come to where you are. You’ve still never responded to any of my letters. But, if I could just see you – twin to twin – we could reconnect. Don’t you feel the same way?

It is as if I don’t have any home myself. I realise I mucked up, so long ago, with the family. And I hurt you, especially. I understand all that and I’m ashamed of it.

The train rides can be exhilarating. I travel all around the country. Sometimes I travel around the full circuit of the entire nation. It can also be exhausting. And I’m so lonely, and would love to see you again, Jack. Sorry for the repetition.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

3 Jan 2000                                                                                   

Dear Jack,

There was one occasion around Christmas, when all that familial tension was in the air. There was a little girl who was lost in one of the carriages; she tried to go to the toilet and had strayed from her parents. I asked her if she was trying to look for her parents, and she nodded with a screwed-up face that was about to start crying.  

I already knew where her parents were – they were in the next carriage, and the girl had just gone into the wrong one. I told her this and she followed me confusedly. Until we got to the next carriage and the doors slid open. I saw the parents of the girl. They were panicking, searching for her.

They saw their girl running towards them. Then they looked up, and saw me, and seemed to make a connection between their daughter being lost and myself. They began shouting at me hysterically. It was the strangest thing, to feel like a criminal. I didn’t respond, because it was so surreal, being blamed for the disappearance of this young child, when I had brought her back to them.

Incidents like this make one’s mentality change irrevocably, Jack. Christmas seems to make people act crazy. Families and failed expectations and alcohol – off-key things are always bound to happen with that mix.

There was another time when a man and woman were bickering with each other in front of everybody. ‘Everybody’ was a crowd of relatives sat around two tables, drinking and playing Monopoly. The man and woman kept taking the mick out of each other whilst they were playing. The relatives kept laughing along with it, but it just kept going and going, and the laughs became more and more fake.

Blimey, there were about ten of them, the whole family. The whiff of sibling rivalry, mixed with a classic board game: that’s never a good recipe either. The woman delivered a sentence which she knew would derail him. (He was rolling the dice and he landed on a great Monopoly property, and everybody cheered, before she said it.) She went, “Story of his life: he always relies on luck, for success.” The man went silent, and, with his money, put a Hotel on his property. Then, when it was the woman’s turn with the dice, she rolled and her figure landed on his new property with the Hotel on it.

The man sat, with a smug smile. The fine would nearly bankrupt her. She quietly payed him the money. Everybody else was giggling good naturedly. Then the man said, “Yes, she should be paying me back. I’m the only bread winner in our family of course. And have been for some time. And I pay for her roof and her children and her chronic gin consumption.”

And they exploded at each other. Full colosseum-show of words. The others stopped laughing. A relationship was reaching its climatic end; this man and woman, husband and wife, were at the end of their marriage, and they couldn’t express it save through a public outburst of rage.

Christ, I shouldn’t criticise people, though. I shouldn’t criticise families about exploding at each other around Christmas time, should I Jack?

Best Wishes

Harry

#

17 Sep 2007

Dear Jack,

It’s hard to always keep my temper, working this train job. This long, ambivalent occupation. The weeks stretch on for so long, it’s difficult to keep an accurate hold of memory.

For long bouts, I read books as I work. There is nobody to watch me to tell me off. I read all kinds of other stuff too. So many of the train passengers lose their books or their newspapers on the train. The newspapers can be the most tackily entertaining. You get so many slushy papers and so many pretentious ones. The sheer range of what these journalists publish is crazy …

But, I realise that people who read a lot also seem to sense things a lot. If you consider the word ‘hyperreal’, this seems to emphasise what I’m trying to say to you, Jack. It’s as if consciousness is so overwhelming. To notice sentience so acutely and have it have a profound affect amidst these little stories I observe on the train. How events and people fold around each other. Maybe other people don’t remember such things. They do not care.

Oh, I’m blabbering, now. Maybe I’m also losing my mind, Jack. I wish you would please just send me back any kind of note. All I have is your postal address. The biggest fear I have each day, is that I’m just sending the letters to the wrong address. Or maybe you moved out that flat long ago, and whoever now lives there keeps getting these letters from some random name. But, if so, wouldn’t they have tried to get back to me? If I’m posting to an address so regularly, they must have sussed that it’s important. They would have opened the letters eventually, would have tried to get back to me.

Maybe you’re just not listening, Jack.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

10 April 2017

Dear Jack,

A strange thing happened the other day. The train had entered a tunnel, and the windows went black. Then the entire carriage jolted terrifically, throwing all of us forward. And the train completely stopped. The lights above us went out. We were all stuck inside the tunnel.

The people in the carriage started screaming. They all just panicked, children and pensioners alike. And I thought it was peculiar, how reserved I was under the situation. Within about two minutes, the train had started again, and moved us out of the tunnel into daylight. The conductor’s voice came through the speakers and apologised for the technical fault.

I hated the public reaction to the blackout. Was it really the worst thing to happen to a passenger, for the train to malfunction whilst inside a tunnel? Groups of people can become a unit of emotional response; their panic is deranged within ignorance.

It reminded me of being in school. How the kids would all react the same way, so often. They’d all laugh at the same time. Hysterics in unison, laughing at one of the children, left alone, whilst the adult teacher would blink and not intervene … I didn’t understand how the train passengers could fret over something so trivial.

But then I got thinking about it a little more. And I realise that we’re all allowed to be weak, sometimes. I get scared over tiny things almost every day. I shouldn’t be mean.

Best Wishes

Harry

#

19 Nov 2019

Dear Jack,

Often, when I’m in bed sleeping, I long to hear the clack-clack clack-clack of the train wheels moving. I mean, that, I miss them when I’m sleeping at home. My house is nowhere near any train tracks. I wish I could hear that sound constantly by me. And sometimes I like to imagine that the bed is moving in tandem with the train, and that physically I can feel the lurch and thrust of the vessel I’m placed within.

Maybe I was destined to be a simple man with a simple job. His twin brother won’t talk to him, but, not many people can say that they love their job. There are no memories on trains. There are only stories.

And I wish I could still witness the stories. Because I can’t work anymore, Jack. I’m not a train ticket inspector anymore. I was in an accident earlier this year. I slipped on the tiles on a station platform and bashed my head on the fall. I’m a man reaching 70, for Christ’s sake. I think the train company were looking to axe my salary anyway. They didn’t want a clumsy old man dying on them. And, if they could pay me severance and suggest that I retire, they could delete me with mercy.

And, thus, I don’t have any stories – not any new ones. I just have these train memories, now. Do you think they are trivial? Maybe I’ll just stop sending these letters to you, brother. Maybe this will be the final one.

But I still have a lot of money, and my house is decent. All I have is free time. Hey – Jack? I went down to the bookstore the other day, looking for the Tintin comic books. I didn’t think they’d have them, but I found them all. I just bought every different title I could find. Took them home and I keep reading them and they’re just as brilliant as they were when I was little. Tintin in America still edges it for me, still my favourite. But, I agree, that Destination Moon is fairly fantastic as well.

Write back if you can,

Best Wishes

Harry

THE END

Categories: Fiction

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