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The Storeroom of Desires
the city the rain came, swooping down like a
diamond army. The receding sunlight shone
on the angled water drops and the advancing rain
cloud, no longer singled out by light, looked
cantankerous and half inclined to change its mind.
Myra thought about the process of changing your
mind. The shift of emphasis, the sudden angle,
falling away like rock scree, nothing to support it
any more; or sometimes like a knot disentangling
itself; sometimes like a hard edge softening; focus
becoming dimmed and blurred. The real intentions,
real desires, did not come from mind at all - she
was not sure where they came from, where they
began. Somewhere in the soles of the feet perhaps,
with their desire to feel new earth underneath
them, understanding the necessity of movement,
change, fluidity; of not staying too long in one
The countryside changed quickly. Hills appeared,
feathered with white at the top. The train-track
wound itself half-way up the hillslope, curving
like a coiled snake, looking down on a rushing
which turned into a loch. Hills became mountains,
their snow-caps moving further down, thinning out.
It was warm in the carriage and the gentle rocking
of the train was soothing. Just the sight of flowing
water and wild bare mountains was stripping the
tension of city life from her, as a wood-plane
away all sharp edges, all roughness, until the wood is smooth and satiny as skin.
Someone walked down the passageway and stopped
"Is it alright if I sit here?" he asked, pointing to
the two empty seats opposite her. "I was in the
other coach, but I was told the train divides and
the front part goes a different way."
"Of course," Myra said, though she did not mean it.
She would have preferred solitude. She was
greedy for this time to herself. She had a few
days, just a handful, away from all varieties of
responsibility - alone, in a friend's cottage, with
no phone, no TV, no distractions, she was going to
get on with painting. She could feel the taste, the
wrap, the fold of solitude already, silk against
She was reading a book, but she also watched her
fellow-passenger from the corner of her eye, as he
stowed his rucksack between the seats, took off his jacket and woolly hat and settled into the seat
opposite, spreading a newspaper, a flask, two books
and a packet of sandwiches on the table.
He had curly brown hair, just long enough to fall
over his eyes and be pushed back, a gesture which
he made quite frequently. His age was difficult to determine. There was something very youthful about
him, so at first she would have said mid-twenties;
but sometimes, in her quick glances at him, as he
looked out of the carriage window, she saw
something in his face, something of such repose
felt he must be much older than that, to have
acquired the kind of serenity she saw there.
She had hoped he would not be one of these people
who wanted to talk - but there seemed no fear
of that. Despite the books he had placed on the
table, he simply
gazed out of the window, completely absorbed by the
scenery. His sense of stillness was so marked
that she found herself taking longer and longer glances at him. He looked so involved in his own
thoughts that she felt he would not be aware of her
gaze. Also, there was something familiar about
him and she was trying to place it.
Sometimes people simply reminded you of someone
else even if you cannot quite remember who it is
- but in this case, the resemblance was not so
simple. That gazing, far-seeing, almost arching of
eyes, catching on some distant horizon, reminded her
of Michelangelo's David. His jacket or his
shirt of whatever it was draped over the shoulder,
signifying, so she thought, his very careless,
tenuous connection with the material world. A
necessary burden perhaps, but one he had no
no intense connection with. He recognized its
existence and the part it had to play in human
lives - but
he had no real need of it, he did not worship at
its altar; did not set it up as one of his
His Lares et Penates tended another hearth and its
bright embers could be seen on the horizon, with
the anticipation and the memory, of sun.
The sallowness of his skin and the slightly rounded
cheeks, as well as an air of concentration,
reminded her of Giovanni Rosso's guitar-playing
angel. The sense of tenderness between the fingers
and the strings, the complicity, the knowingness,
which is what creates the music.
Myra wondered what Renaissance quality it was about
him that made her think of Florentine painters
and sculptors. He was certainly not Italian, for
his voice had contained no trace of an accent. She
tried to remember if his voice had sounded
Scottish, Irish, American or from some region of
but there had been nothing in his accent that she
could remember to place him in any way. Perhaps it
was just her recent trip to Florence that was
throwing up these images. She thought back to the
in summer, with the hot sun on her skin, sitting on
the hotel balcony in early morning, with the jumble
of red rooftops, yellow walls and green shutters,
like a skewed, inebriated checkerboard.
Walking down the narrow streets, like crevasses cut
into the earth-surface, where no sunlight fell;
living in a subterranean world, then emerging into sunlight and a wide, sunbaked piazza, with whining
velos and rumbling cars and buses. Walking through
the Uffizi, with enormous images of angels and
madonnas and stern-looking patriarchs. Like
arriving at the source, moving into the inner
where creativity itself was born. God's workshop,
full of nuts and bolts, colours and fabrics, planes
and lathes, ground powder for paints. These images
were found all over the world, but the originals
were here - sometimes more sharply defined,
sometimes with more subdued colours, but all of
enormous, much bigger than their reproductions. And
the whole world, it seemed, queued up to see
the same paint and images that Botticelli,
Leonardo, Fra Lippo Lippi and all the others had
touched and given birth to.
Outside, the scenery was changing. The mountains
were becoming higher and the snow was reaching
to the edge of the train tracks. One mountain, its
peak caught in
sunlight, showed smooth surfaces, as if a knife had
sculpted the snow into waves, like
butter icing. Myra smiled to herself at the
contrast between the memory of the hot, windless
Florentine sun and the sculpted and painted figures that her imagination was linking to the stranger
sitting opposite her - between them and the snowy
landscape outside. At the edges of ice, of frozen
pools of what would normally be bog and marshland,
the clumps of snow were smooth, rounded and
circular, giving them the appearance of belonging
to some other planet - small offspring of the white
mountains perhaps, newly-hatched circular globes of
They passed a small stream that was completely
frozen. On part of its steep bank, layers of snow
sagged and wrinkled, like old skin. Icicles hung
from another part of the stream bank; the landscape
they were passing through was almost completely
white, with small, rough grizzled patches where
stones or marsh grass or tufts of heather showed
Still smiling to herself, Myra looked back at the
stranger's face and to her embarrassment, found
herself looking into his eyes; she had
expected them to be focussed on the distance, as they
before. He was smiling as well. She had the
ridiculous impression that he had been inside her
and that because she had made associations with
Renaissance figures, that had formed a bridge that
allowed him to step across into the world of her
"Its very hot in here, isn't it?"
Hearing him speak was like listening to a statue
come to life and she hoped he had not noticed that
she gave a start at the sound of his voice. She
realized it was hot, though she had barely
conscious of it before. She peeled off her jumper,
to hide her confusion, folded it and put it
underneath her jacket.
"You're right, it is. Maybe it was the heat that
made me think of Florence in the summer."
"Ah, Florence. It must be the most beautiful city
in the world."
"You've been there?"
"Me too. The second time was just last year. There
was something about you that reminded me - of
Now why on earth had she said that? Next thing, he
would be asking her what it was about him that
reminded her of Florence and what was she going to
say to that? Oh, your eyes remind me of
Michelangelo's David and your cheek and jawline
remind me of Giovanni Rosso's angel playing the
guitar. But he said nothing, just smiled at her and
looked back out of the window.
The tea lady came through the carriage with her
trolley of tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits. Myra
cup of tea, emptied the little tub of milk into it
and stirred it with the thin strip of white plastic
came with it. Her companion did not order anything,
but opened his flask and poured himself a cup of
coffee, still with the faintest of smiles on his
face. Not really a smile of amusement, but more of
tender kind of indulgence, the kind you would
direct towards a child struggling to master some
which you could
see, with a few more tries, she would manage, but
which she, still grappling with the
newness and difficulty of earth life, could not
Perhaps, Myra thought, he is an angel, come to
earth to study our strange ways and eccentricities,
get some understanding of how we function because human beings have become so bizarre in their
behaviour that even their creator is at a loss and
so has set some heavenly messengers the task of
reporting and interpreting our behaviour. This is
necessary because we have stopped communicating
with God because we think he does not exist
She smiled to herself again. If her companion was
indeed an angel, then he would probably not
approve of what her emotional and mental energy was
often preoccupied with. Before her angelic
travelling companion had sat down opposite her, she
had been thinking about Chris. Remembering
nights spent in his room, with coloured scented
candles and incense burning on the low table by the
bed. The velvet pillows and cushions, the bells
hanging from the ceiling, tinkling when either of
entered or left; the array of images pinned up on the walls; the Indian bedspread hung over the
window. Remembering the soft hairs at the corners
of his mouth, the faintly acrid, metallic smell of
silver earrings, the warmth of his skin, the thin
line of muscle in his lips, tightening, then relaxing; the
weight of his body on hers, the smell of his sweat;
the way his fingertips travelled all over her body
and his tongue explored all the crevices and hidden
places - under her arms, underneath her breasts,
round the curve of her thighs. "Like honey," he
said, "you taste like honey."
Chris, like a velvet night you could sink into and
drown. And when she came up out of the dark
water, gasping for air, he had disappeared. She
missed him in a way, but not in the way you miss
someone who has died or has gone to live in another
country with no forwarding address. For he
never cut off from her, he just seemed to have gone
off on some tangent, his path had taken a turning
in a direction that she was not heading. It was
subtle and at the same time, quite noticeable. He
still the same person, they still spent time
together and talked, but their paths were heading
"What is the path made of?"
Her companion was leaning forward slightly, elbows
on the table. She noticed he was wearing an
oddly-patterned jumper, diamond shapes of different
colours and was surprised she had not noticed
it before. If he is an angel, she thought, then he
is much more tolerant and understanding of human
desire than I imagined they were. Then she realised
that was the answer.
"Desire. The path of our lives is created by our
desire. That's what moves us on."
"And if our desire is for another person?"
"Then there is something about that person that
will help us through the next part of our journey."
"But you sometimes wish for someone who will be a
constant companion, don't you? Who will
combine all the best qualities of all the men
you've ever held close to you."
It did not seem surprising that her companion
should know her thoughts as clearly as if she was
speaking them aloud. There was something about his presence that suspended critical judgement,
seemed to fly over it and gain a different
"What was it about Chris that drew you to him?"
"His capacity for giving, his willingness to take
risks, to be vulnerable, the softness of his mouth,
way he looked so peaceful, so in repose, when he
was asleep; his lack of any kind of condemnation,
lack of jealousy; his willingness to engage with
the best in other people -"
Her companion pushed his hair back from his eyes,
which were a greenish/blue colour. For a
moment, he looked like Chris - the same soft
fullness of the cheeks, the narrowness of the lips,
sense of someone floating, in repose. Momentarily,
the blurred profile of Rosso's cherub, Chris's
almost hairless cheek and the jawline of the angel
(for that was how she thought of him) all blended
into one and Myra would not have been surprised if
a guitar had materialised in his hands.
But instead, he smiled. Myra had to look down at
the table because his smile made her feel what
Chris and other people before him, had made her
feel - as if she had arrived at the place she had
always wanted to reach. Curious, how the smile of a
stranger could feel like an embrace, a
"Look, I'm no angel," she said.
"Neither am I."
"I thought you were."
"I might not be the same as you - exactly - but I'm
very close. Like you - very like you - only - in a
slightly different place."
"How do I reach that place? Thatís where I want to
"You're already there. You're here. Can't you tell?
Don't you remember me?"
"Well, you look like - you remind me - this sounds
a bit ridiculous, but earlier on, I was thinking
you reminded me of Michelangelo's David and Rosso's
angel; just a minute ago you looked like Chris too
He turned his head slightly. A different light was
shining in his eyes, something sparkling, humorous,
like compressed laughter waiting to be released. Something impish, mischievous, around the mouth.
That quality of delirious lightness, of words
bubbling up from some invisible source, like a
reminded her of Dennie. The way their conversations
spiralled, until she felt giddy and she had to hold
onto his arm, to anchor her to the earth. His
ability to make her feel like a child, where it did
matter what you said, where anything was
permissible, whether or not it made sense; where
from exuberance and both the frivolous and the
serious could be jumbled together, like a juggler
throwing coloured balls in the air.
Around the eyes too, there was a luminous quality;
an intensity which could seem to contradict the
lightness, yet somehow complemented it - and though
the eyes sparkled, the colour deepened. And
that too, was Dennie. Like the water at the well
they had visited, the night of the full moon, his
was underground and you only
saw it when it bubbled up out of the earth and you
felt it like a mild shock when you put your fingers
under the stream of water; like a mild shock, the
tension she felt through all their layers of
thick jackets and jumpers - in his farewell
Memories of walking with him through empty city
streets, in early morning. Their footsteps falling
audibly on flat, hard pavements, echoing slightly,
in these streets full of sleeping people's dreams.
Moving softly through the dreams. Her feet in
canvas shoes, feeling light as rising sap, having
discarded her heavy winter boots. Toes curling in
her shoes, gripping the hard concrete, feeling
slope and angle of the pavement, every gap between
the paving slabs, every rounded cobble pressing
against her instep, feeling every texture of the
road through the soles of her feet.
Feeling Dennie's arm brushing against hers as they
walked, feeling the stars brushing the night sky
their Chinese lantern slightly swinging lights.
Feeling a soft night rain on her face, as they
stood at the
bridge, listening to the river shifting its night
freight of water through her skin, between her
through every strand of hair. Dennie's kiss light
as the rain on her cheek, light as the threaded
of stars drifting in the river, in puddles,
snagging on her hair, night sky needlepoint. Star
Dawn light pressing up from the horizon. Wakeful
"What is it about Dennie that draws you to him?"
"The depth of his eyes, as if there is something
enormous hidden there and it makes me want to find
out what it is. The way his eyes can light up,
slowly, like a candle flame that's just been lit
and the light
is waving and flickering and it moves and bends and
shifts with every passing breath of air. The way it
reflects, adapts, reveals emotional subtleties and
changes. The way he makes me laugh, makes me
feel light, makes me feel life is fun, for
enjoyment. I can skirt around his intensities
because he does
not load them onto me. I like his hesitations, his caution, his vulnerability. I like the way he does
push, does not demand, he suggests, he offers, he
leaves room. He comes up close to me, but does
not suffocate me. He throws something around me,
something intangible, protective, encircling,
something that makes me feel safe, but not
something that makes me feel enclosed."
His body went through some change of energy. In
place of the repose, there was a kind of electric
current moving through him. His face became more
mobile, his eyes lost the depths they had before,
he ran his fingers through his hair, drawing it
out, right to the ends, so his hair fanned out,
like a fiery corona.
He looked so much like Paul that Myra became
convinced that he was some kind of impersonator
who also had the skill to read people's minds. In
him, she saw Paul's gestures, his quick way of
talking, his animated, intense clumps of speech, like sunbursts penetrating through clouds. And she
could feel again the lightness of his touch, the
tenderness of his kisses, the fineness of his hair
ran her fingers through it; the lightness of his
body too, its fragile quality; his caring, his consideration,
his concern. His shyness and his ability, despite
that shyness, to reach out and touch. The way he
moved her hair back from her face, to kiss her.
"And thatís what draws you to him?"
"OK. Thatís enough. I can see you're some kind of
impersonator. You've made your point. But
you've taken me through such rapid changes, so many
emotions, it's like life compressed, condensed, I
can't keep up -"
"There's something very interesting I want to show
you. Will you come with me, to the other part of
He stood up, without waiting for her reply. Myra
looked at him a little warily, to see if he had
through some further metamorphosis, but he looked
again as he had the first time she saw him, a
mixture of cherub and angel, dark-skinned with long
curly hair. When he smiled, she felt again that
curious sense of trust and homecoming that made her
feel as if she had known him for a long, long
time, only she could not remember quite when it was
she met him.
They walked through the train carriages, swaying
slightly with the gentle rocking movement. The
landscape of snow outside the windows stretched out
like undulating waves, first of all in gentle
hillocks, then fanning out into towering mountains.
The reflected sunlight cast a glow inside the
carriage, lighting up the faces of the passengers.
Some were talking softly but many were simply
sitting there, with expressions of repose,
happiness and anticipation on their faces. The further she
moved along the train, the greater was Myra's sense
of moving towards something resembling the
purity of the gold light shining on the smooth white surfaces of the mountains; towards something
erased edges and angles, barriers and frustrations
- something that obliterated deafness and silence
and the gaps between people. Something that calmed
beating blood and bridged fears and conflicts.
Something that used space as a reality, to weave marsh grass and birdcalls, to link the tumbling,
yellow foam of a nearby river, with its rush and
haste and its bubbling champagne rock-tumbling
necessity - to link this with the sweat of
fingertips, the loose hair swinging across the
face, the lids falling over eyes, to hide the yellow-bubbling
river of desire.
Her companion put his hand over hers, as it rested
on the back of one of the seats. Myra turned
"I don't remember the train being this long," she
"Not much further now."
In the next carriage, the passengers were not
wearing the usual drab, utilitarian dress of modern
Western society, but were clad in a variety of
bright costumes, colourful and diverse. There was a
woman dressed almost entirely in white lace, layers
of it, with every conceivable variety of stitching.
Round her waist and wrists, the lace was
creamy-white, like snow mixed with sunlight. Her
had threads of gold in it and the pale yellow shawl
round her shoulders fell in tumbled folds around
her, like the champagne river.
A man wore an oddly plaited cloth around him, part
of it thrown over his shoulder like a Highland
plaid. The colours were brownish-red, orange,
yellow and a green the colour of olive leaves in
sunlight. His hair flared out from his head like a
lion's mane and he
wore a curious kind of head-dress that rose up
almost vertically, resembling two twisted branches
a pair of stag's antlers.
Almost at the end of the carriage there was a
harlequin type of figure, whose diamond-patterned
costume, instead of the usual black and white, was
made up of all the rainbow colours and some in
between. Some liquid light flashed in and out of
the shapes of colour, giving the impression that
whole body was alive with shimmering fire. He was
also wearing a tight-fitting cap that looked as
though it was made of plaited leaves of all
different varieties and the traditional mask over
was made of some silvery-white substance that
reminded her of woven wild cotton-grass.
As Myra drew level with him, he looked at her, the
first of these curious passengers to register her
"What is your purpose?" he asked her.
His voice had a melodic, faraway quality, like
distant evening birdsong. It did not alarm her, but
did not know how to reply.
"Tell him you are with Arlecchino," her companion
whispered in her ear. "For he is the Store-Keeper
and we cannot get in without his assistance."
"Get in where?" Myra replied, a little petulantly,
for she had not been prepared for anything
problematic in this increasingly bizarre and oddly
comforting passage through the train.
"To the Storeroom. That's what I've brought you to
So Myra shrugged her shoulders and repeated what
her companion had told her. The Harlequin
removed his mask and smiled at her and she stared
at him, for he looked like her companion's
double, apart from the fact that his hair was hidden under his cap of leaves.
"Then you are with me," he said, "for I too am Arlecchino."
He got out of his seat with a graceful, gliding
movement and in two strides had reached the end of
carriage and pressed a button, making the doors
slide back. Myra was still turning over the idea of
identity in her mind, wondering if the two people
who looked so similar yet were dressed so
differently shared more than just a name. Had he
been referring to something more intrinsic than a
name, was it some more subtle substance that they
shared, or was it just coincidence?
She stepped through the doorway and then stood
still. What confronted her was far bigger than any
train carriage should be and as far as she could
make out, was roughly circular. But the most
astonishing thing about it was the enormous range
and diversity of the contents, which were so varied
and abundant that she could not take it all in at
She focussed on one area, which seemed to consist
of a rapid, foaming river, with banks made of
diaphanous curtains of changing colour, a bit like
the colours shown by the spotlights of the aurora
borealis. Trees around the banks shivered in some
faint breeze. When she shifted her gaze, the river
seemed to become less alive, more static, more like
a picture or some background wallpaper. She
brought her attention to
what was closer to her. There were benches piled
with gleaming nuts and bolts, a variety of carving
and wood-working tools, whole bales of cloth, silks
and cottons of every conceivable colour and
design. All of these things looked brand new,
freshly woven and folded, still warm form the silkworms' cocoons and the hot sun playing on the
cotton plants and the warm sap of the trees from
which the tools were made. There was not a speck of
dust to be seen anywhere.
Myra took a few steps forward and as what she
passed disappeared from view, new scenes
appeared in the distance. She passed silken threads
and feathered head-dresses, velvet robes and
boots made of softest leather. But what most drew
her attention were some people moving around at
the far end of the carriage. She felt a light touch
on her arm and turned round. The Harlequin was
standing behind her. She had almost forgotten the
other people, she had been so immersed in the
variety of this place.
"Where is," - she thought of her companion and
remembered the name he had whispered to her - "where is Arlecchino?"
The Harlequin smiled, an identical smile to her
companion's, evoking in her the same sense of loss
separation, the same homecoming. Then he pulled off
his leaf-cap and his curly hair tumbled around
"Harlequin, Arlecchino, one and the same," he said,
"But you can't be! You were sitting just outside
the door to this carriage - and he - my friend -
had been sitting opposite me, talking to me for the
past half hour."
"Perhaps I was not always sitting just outside this
door. Let's say - perhaps - that for some reason I
wanted to explore - to move down the train to where
you were - to talk to you - and changed my clothes,
so they would appear more suitable -"
"But he whispered in my ear, after you asked me
what my purpose was."
"A little trick of voice projection. It's not
difficult. Did you ever see both of us at the same
"No, I didn't. But why the trick? Why change like
"To wake you up a little bit. Give you a better
idea of who I am and who you are."
"Well, I don't think it's worked. I just feel
"Your mind tells you that. But another part of you
I believe - knows much more than you think you
"If you were the person sitting opposite me, then
what were we talking about?"
The harlequin then repeated, almost verbatim, their
conversation in the carriage.
"I still don't understand," Myra said, "but you've
convinced me. So where is this place we are now?
You said something about its being a storeroom."
"And so it is. The Storeroom of Desires. Every
conceivable desire, from the most physical and
material - which is the part we are in now - to the
more subtle, emotional and spiritual - need to be
clothed in their physical counterparts, in order to
exist in your world -"
"My world? Isn't it yours too?"
For the first time, Myra saw something that was
almost like sadness in Arlecchino's face.
"Not exactly. The gates are not always open to me.
When they are, depends very much on you. The
gates to my world are always open to you, but you
have to seek them, you have to want to enter, you
have to desire it."
Myra was trying to make sense of Arlecchino's
words, when he said, "Let's go further on."
Then she remembered she had seen people further
down the carriage who had aroused her interest,
so she walked on, passing through a variety of
landscapes, with just a few steps. She recognized the Sacre Coeur in Paris, the Duomo at the heart of
Florence, the brown bare mountains of Turkey, the
flat deserts of Iran, the bright colours of a
market in Isfahan, the deep reds of carpets, the
oranges, the purple onions, ground-nuts in their
shells, yellow lemons, green cabbages, kohlrabi and
fennel; heard the jingling of bells on the horses' harnesses, the chatter of the people, felt their
movement like slow waves washing at her feet. So
different, she thought, from the stiff, tense way that
people walk in Western cities.
Then they emerged into a sunlit beach, lapped by
warm water. She did not recognize the place, but
people were moving about, doing all kinds of
different things. Some were painting, some were
writing, others were playing music and a small
group a little further down the beach, wearing all
of fantastic costumes, seemed to be rehearsing a
play. Some of the people looked familiar, although
she had difficulty putting names to the faces.
"I recognized the other places - France, Italy,
Turkey, Iran - but I don't know this one."
"The other places you've already been to."
"I know that. But here - I don't recognize, yet the
people are familiar."
"People you've known in the past can be people you
will know again in the future."
"You mean - this is part of my future?"
"Not definitely. Because nothing is preordained.
Myra looked more closely at some of the people she
recognized. And realized that in every case
there was something about them that did not quite
fit her memory of them. Someone who she thought
was Paul had his gesture of running his hands
through his hair - but in other respects, he was
Paul at all. Someone she thought was Chris, on
closer examination had the same repose in the face,
the same beauty in the slope of the jaw, but he did
not talk like him at all.
"I don't think I do know these people, after all.
It's just bits of them I recognize."
"Which bits do you recognize?"
"The way Paul runs his hands through his hair; Dennie's eyes, which are deep as wells, but
with humour too; Chris's mouth and jawline -"
She looked at Arlecchino and saw all the
characteristics she had described, passing across
Not one of the physical attributes that drew her attention to certain people was missing. And the
qualities of mind and feeling she valued in others
were also reflected there - including the beauty of
Michelangelo's David and Rosso's angel.
And it came to her so suddenly, with such a shock
of revelation that the scene in front of her went
momentarily hazy, that the physical attributes and
emotional qualities that attracted her in others,
those that resembled him.
"It's you, isn't it? Everything I'm drawn to in
others is because it resembles you."
"I'm the one you're always looking for."
"Then why haven't we met before?"
A strange clawing, numbing sensation was climbing
in her throat. It felt like a cry that had been
struggling for years to be heard, pressing to be
born. She swallowed it voraciously because she felt
that it could rob her of this experience; already
the Storeroom of Desires was becoming flaky and
blurred at the edges and she was not willing to
leave it yet.
"But we have met before," said Arlecchino, "many
times. Every time you hold someone close to you,
you hold me. And it is always so good when we
She did not know how it happened, she did not
remember making any gesture, but they were holding
each other, her fingers felt the texture of his
hair, the slightly roughened cheek, the smooth jawline, the
soft place on his neck, beneath his hair. She felt
the muscles of his lips, the soft skin of his
skin smelt of tree bark and lichen, with a faint
tang of sweat. His breath was like crushed apples,
honey and sun-warmed wood.
And then the sound that was crouching in her throat
gave a great leap, like a shout of victory. She
was thrown forward by the force of it and something slammed into her belly, just below the ribs. The
Storeroom wavered, jiggled and then vanished and
when she came to, the table was digging into her
midriff, the old train was emitting a horrible
screeching sound as it slowed down and eventually
became stationary. Arlecchino was putting his
jacket on, over his multi-coloured
"You're not leaving?"
"I have to get off here. It's time. But we'll meet
again. Have a good journey."
He reached down and kissed her, then he was off
down the corridor, rucksack on his back. A few
seconds later she heard the door slam and the train
moved off again immediately. It seemed as though
he was the only person to get out.
She sat for a few minutes, still feeling the slight
roughness of his cheek against hers, the warmth of
skin. Then she got up, walked along the passage and through to the next carriage. She did not
recognize anybody there; this little train heading
north to the Highlands was mainly full of climbers
back-packers wearing big boots, thick sweaters and
with heavy-duty waterproofs slung over the
backs of the seats.
She went on into the next carriage. The passengers
were settled comfortably in the seats, gazing out
of the windows or talking to each other. One group
at a table were playing cards and cans of lager
were pushed up to one end. The end of this carriage
was the end of the train - she could see the
driver's compartment was ahead. A ticket collector
came out of a small side carriage as she stood
uncertainly in the passageway.
"Can I help you?" he asked her. "If it's the
toilets you're looking for, the nearest one's back
at the end of this carriage."
"I was looking," Myra began, "I was wondering if
there was a buffet car - further on -"
"This is the last carriage in the train," the
ticket collector said, "and unfortunately madam,
buffet car, but there is a trolley going through
the carriages. Perhaps you missed it?"
"I'm sure I'll find it. Thank you."
Myra returned to her seat. The old man reading the
newspaper on the opposite side of the carriage
smiled at her. Encouraged by this, she leaned over
and tapped his newspaper.
"Excuse me," she said, "but do you know the name of
the last station we stopped at?"
He lowered his newspaper and peered at her over the
top of his glasses as if by looking very hard at
her he could understand what she said.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm a little hard of
Myra repeated her question. The old man wrinkled up
his nose, as if concentrating very hard.
"The last station - ah, that would be Bridge of Orchy,
if I remember rightly."
"No, I'm sorry, that was almost an hour ago. I mean
the last station - just a few minutes ago."
"The last station was Bridge of Orchy. There was no
station a few minutes ago."
"But the train stopped! Didn't you hear the brakes
squeal? And it was so sudden, I hurt myself on the
edge of the table."
"Dear me, are you alright? Do you want me to call
the ticket collector?"
"No, no I'm fine. I just wanted to know - where it
was we stopped."
"Ah now, wait a minute. We did stop a few minutes
ago, yes I remember now there was a bit of a
noise. But it wasn't a station. A signal box I
think. One of those junctions. But it was only for
"But my friend got off then. Didn't you see him?"
The old man peered at her again and held a hand
behind his ear.
"My friend," Myra repeated. "He got off when the
train stopped, just a few minutes ago."
The old man shook his head quite vigorously.
"Oh no, no-one can get off there. Only at the
regular stations. No-one can get on either. It's
not a station you see. Not a regular
stopping-place. You have to get on at a station."
"But my friend was sitting here, opposite me.
Didn't you see him get off?"
The old man peered at the empty seat. There was
nothing on the table except the book she had
placed there herself. No sign of newspaper,
sandwiches, flask and Arlecchino's books.
"That seat's been empty since we left Glasgow.
Perhaps you had a little nap, my dear. Not
It is very hot in here, isn't it? Perhaps you
should open your window. I've opened mine."
And he gestured to the small window just below the
It's very hot in here, isn't it? She had heard that
before. It reminded her - Arlecchino had said that.
Soon after he sat down. And she had agreed and
taken off her jumper.
She put her hand down the side of the seat, where
her jacket was folded between her and the
window, lifted it up and there, underneath it, was
"I'm sorry to have bothered you," she said to the
old man. "Yes, I think I will open the window, get
a bit of fresh air. It is quite stuffy in here."
But she knew she had not been asleep. You do not
take your jumper off in your sleep and fold it
under your jacket. And besides, she could still
smell the scent of Arlecchino's skin - tangy like
bark and moist spring earth, still feel the touch of his cheek against hers, the warmth of his
apples ripening in the sun and still hear him
saying, "Have a good journey. 'Til we meet again."
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