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The Storeroom of Desires

by


Morelle Smith

Just outside 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 sullen, 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 place.

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 river 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 shaves away all sharp edges, all roughness, until the wood is smooth and satiny as skin.

Someone walked down the passageway and stopped beside her.

"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 work and 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 her skin.

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 that she 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 the 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 heartfelt, 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 household gods. 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 England, 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 time 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; like 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 sanctum 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 them 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 seen, 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 alien life.

They passed a small stream that was completely frozen. On part of its steep bank, layers of snow had 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 through.

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 had been before. He was smiling as well. She had the ridiculous impression that he had been inside her thoughts 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 imagination.

"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 been 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?"

"Twice."

"Me too. The second time was just last year. There was something about you that reminded me - of Florence."

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 got a cup of tea, emptied the little tub of milk into it and stirred it with the thin strip of white plastic that 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 a tender kind of indulgence, the kind you would direct towards a child struggling to master some skill, 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 envisage completing.

Perhaps, Myra thought, he is an angel, come to earth to study our strange ways and eccentricities, to 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 anymore.

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 them 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 his 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 was still the same person, they still spent time together and talked, but their paths were heading in different directions.

"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."

"Oh yes."

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 perspective.

"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, the 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, the 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 homecoming.

"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 be."

"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 how you reminded me of Michelangelo's David and Rosso's angel; just a minute ago you looked like Chris too -"

"And now?"

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 spring, 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 not matter what you said, where anything was permissible, whether or not it made sense; where talk was 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 source 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 clothing - thick jackets and jumpers - in his farewell embrace.

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 every 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 with 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 toes, through every strand of hair. Dennie's kiss light as the rain on her cheek, light as the threaded beads of stars drifting in the river, in puddles, snagging on her hair, night sky needlepoint. Star stage scenery. Dawn light pressing up from the horizon. Wakeful birds.

"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 not 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."

"And now?"

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, catching light 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 as she 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 the train?"

He stood up, without waiting for her reply. Myra looked at him a little warily, to see if he had gone 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 that 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, pale 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 round.

"I don't remember the train being this long," she said.

"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 coiffure 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 or 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 his 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 his face 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 presence.

"What is your purpose?" he asked her.

His voice had a melodic, faraway quality, like distant evening birdsong. It did not alarm her, but she 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 see."

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 the 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 once.

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 of separation, the same homecoming. Then he pulled off his leaf-cap and his curly hair tumbled around his face.

"Harlequin, Arlecchino, one and the same," he said, still smiling.

"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 time?"

"No, I didn't. But why the trick? Why change like that?"

"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 confused."

"Your mind tells you that. But another part of you I believe - knows much more than you think you know."

"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 heaped 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 relaxed 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 kinds 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. But possibly."

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 not like 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 sparkling with humour too; Chris's mouth and jawline -"

She looked at Arlecchino and saw all the characteristics she had described, passing across his face. 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, were 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 meet."

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 eyelids. 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 diamond-patterned jumper.

"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 his 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 and 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, there's no 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 hearing."

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 a minute."

"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 surprising. 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 luggage rack.

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 her jumper.

"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 tree bark and moist spring earth, still feel the touch of his cheek against hers, the warmth of his breath, like apples ripening in the sun and still hear him saying, "Have a good journey. 'Til we meet again."

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