Wednesday, 16 May 2012

'Love Story' by Jenny Woodhouse


‘No, no, no!  Henry, no!’
At first he carries on pacing as if he has not heard her, back and forth on the platform edge, leaning dangerously over the track.  He steps back behind the yellow line just as a train rushes through.
‘That’s not our train?’
‘No, my darling,’ Eva tells him. ‘That’s not our train.’
There are a few people on the platform: will they understand? His accent, his voice, musical like an actor’s, tends to inspire confidence. He is meticulously dressed; he retains his fastidiousness. You wouldn’t know, unless you observed him. She is torn, as always. She hopes someone will see and support her. She hopes nobody will notice. In spite of everything he still feels humiliation.
When they first settled here it had seemed a good idea to live close to the station. The local train took him one way to school, her the other to her office. She had always been moved by his love for trains: the dignified head teacher’s one childish characteristic. They used to fall asleep to the melancholy hooting. The railway still draws him.
‘Shall we go home, Henry? I think our train’s cancelled.’ Sometimes he accepts a rational explanation. His dementia is not Alzheimer’s: some of his capacities survive. It is hard to deceive him, nearly as hard as to explain what is real and what is not. He reads aloud the illuminated sign.
‘On time,’ he confirms. ‘I have to get to school. I’m taking assembly. Then the governors. I need to explain…’
He starts to pace, more and more agitated. ‘I have to explain…  It wasn’t how they thought…’
Whatever they thought is not important now. She is still not sure what it was he might have done or said, and he cannot tell her. But it was out of character. Even the parents involved had remained loyal to him. The governors gave him ill-health retirement.
He is on the platform edge again, gesticulating towards another train. 
‘No!’ she screams. ‘Henry, no!  Get back!’ He makes a small backwards movement, but the line seems to draw him irresistibly. The sharp nose of the Inter-City 125 hurtles towards him.  She lunges with her walking frame, forces him back, pins him to the wall. He is fitter than she, more mobile. With the frame for balance slowly, cautiously, she shifts round until they are standing side by side. She pulls him onto the bench, sits beside him, takes his hand.
‘Silly old man,’ she says.  ‘Between us we’d make one functioning person.’
‘You were always the better half,’ he says. For a moment she relaxes, shuts her eyes.  And he is up, moving again. As she struggles to stand, a young man blocks him and steers him back to her.
‘You’ll kill yourself one of these days.’
‘That might be best for both of us.’ She realises he means it. For a moment he understands what has happened to him. And maybe, after all, he is right.

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