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Going Gently


By Shea KeatingPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
Going Gently
Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

Movement, quiet conversations, a door sliding shut.

She doesn’t open her eyes.

A jaunty ding, a monotone voice.

She remains still.

The room shakes, then settles to a hum.

Then she knows.

The sounds are familiar, but they don’t make sense: a train car, passengers walking up and back, doors closing, a safety announcement. She can’t make herself understand why these sounds are happening around her; she doesn’t remember getting on a train. Doesn’t remember buying a ticket, doesn’t remember deciding to buy one. Not long from now, she’ll think back to this moment and realize it was the beginning. But here, present in the moment, she feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and thinks: him.

He did this. She’s on a train and doesn't know how she got there, and it’s because of him. Her mind almost derails with the why – but as she’s learned in the last several years, the why doesn't actually matter so much. The why can always be answered with because he can. Because it makes him feel powerful. Because he knows she won’t tell him no; because he knows she’s learned not to.

It started so small, so normal, the train station at the start of a journey. Standing at a precipice, platform to tracks. A day at home, a joking punch to the shoulder, the way one of her brothers might have done when she was younger. But it was much too hard. In the moments after: the eye contact, the venom in it; both of them knowing a line had been crossed, neither of them acknowledging it. She saw the challenge in his eyes, daring her to fold. Remembers tilting her chin up in defiance: I’m stronger than you think.

The second time was almost nothing, a train beginning to move. They’d been entwined in bed, and suddenly his grip on her hair was too hard, too much. And again, he was watching her, daring her. Looking for a weakness, for a chink in the armor. She wouldn’t give him one, just raised an eyebrow: Is that all you’ve got?

The train has only been moving for a few minutes and already that moment of slow waking, of precipice, of listening to the sounds of life all around her, is a moment in time that she misses. The semi-conscious, optimistic, new-love world where none of her mistakes have sullied anything yet.

The train shudders and picks up speed, and suddenly the mood of the crew shifts; she’s sure no one else has noticed, but something in the way they glance at each other makes her unable to stop watching them. She watches them worry and then silently agree not to, their friendly smiles reappearing before anyone has a chance to realize they were missing. It’s the pretending that gives her a pit in her stomach.

Something is wrong. The train is moving too fast, obstreperous, chaotic.

The second time he hurt her wasn’t the last; maybe this train is. A fatal crash, or a miracle that will send her back to him in one piece; she doesn’t know which ending to hope for.

She doesn’t remember most of the in-betweens; doesn’t remember when a bruise stopped meaning injury and started meaning badge of honor. She just remembers the violence picking up speed over time, until it was an entity unto itself, moving fast enough that she couldn’t get off. She remembers the bruises getting harder to explain, the broken bones and increasingly farcical stories to explain them away. Eventually she’d stopped seeing them; friends, family, anyone who might care enough to ask. She didn’t want them to worry, didn't want to hear them say the words victim or abuse or mistake, didn’t want to hear I told you so, didn't want to try to explain that she could handle it. She doesn’t know exactly when she walked away from their well-meaning eyes without looking back, doesn’t remember when she decided that she was on this train now – committed, unable to leap from the moving cars and still expect a safe landing.

All she knows for sure is that at some point, he pushed her down the stairs and she didn’t even register surprise as she fell.

By Tengyart on Unsplash

There’s a screeching from below, metallic and clangorous, alarming. Sparks, then billowing smoke; the view out the windows becomes partially obscured. This time, the crew don’t bother to pretend all is well. There’s no hiding the sound, or the trepidation in their brows, or the unrelenting speed of the train. Too little too late, she thinks, eerily calm. She wonders if this is what shock feels like, or if she’s simply immune to panic.

Or worse, that some part of her is relieved.

If this train, this moment, is truly out of her control, what then? She’s so accustomed to being powerless these days, trained into a state of helplessness. What’s one more surrender, really?

Some part of her knows she’s in trouble – has been, increasingly, for some time. If you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature over time, they say it will boil alive before it realizes it should – and could – jump out and save itself. It was so gradual; that’s part of it. The rest of her just refuses to yield. She can’t admit she’s had enough, that it’s too much, that he’s terrifying or that she’s terrified. Because then he wins.

So she had let herself drown in him, let her body plummet, let the water boil, let the train derail, allowed it all to happen – because anything else would be subjugation, and she had never been the type to submit.

Alarms begin to sound. The crew is shouting instructions, but none of them seem to help. Some people begin to scream; she does not. She tries to tune out the wailing of people whose lives and loves are worth returning to, listens instead to the sharp clack-clack of the train, hears the way it sounds wrong. Unstable. She can relate; she knows intimately what being unstable feels like; now she has a sound to match. Dying in a train accident, whether by his hand or not, is easier than dying by his actual hands. There will be less pain.

She’s all too certain now that death is the only way this story ends.

These people, she understands, want desperately to live. People are in their seats, screaming or crying or praying, whichever they think will help. The crew is gathered around what appears to be an emergency brake and are fighting against the futility of its use. And she is…..detached.

As the train moves ever faster, she feels an unexpected swell of anger. She barely remembers anger; she’s had all of her emotions strapped down so tight she’d almost forgotten they existed.

Why should she calmly go to her death? Why should she allow him to send her, gentle, into that good night?

The clack-clack slows, but not enough – or at least it seems to; she wonders if time has slowed only for her, if this moment is lengthened by the universe so she has this one final moment to make her decision.

By Derek Story on Unsplash

The audacity of his assumption, that he’s trained her well enough to accept her fate, fills her with a fury she’s never known. She is not gentle, has never been gentle. She’s survived him, hasn’t she? Taken every blow, outlasted every bit of pain? She has spent months fighting, surviving; she knows exactly how much pressure it takes to cut her skin, knows the exact angle at which her neck starts feeling like it will break, knows exactly which parts of her body can withstand the most pain. How is this her life, sitting here with bags under her eyes and a web of bruises down her ribs? How is everyone around her willing to fight while she sits silently by?

When she looks around, waking from the deep reverie she’d sunken into, she sees that the crew are still pulling on the emergency brake; the train seems to be more restrained now, but hasn’t slowed enough. The crew are getting visibly tired. One of them is on a phone, relaying information; the others are pulling with all their weight.

It isn’t enough.

She is a survivor, she realizes, and she has no intention of giving up now.

She stands; other passengers stare at her, but she lets them; fights her way to the front of the train car anyway. She doesn't look back to see if they’re willing to help; she knows they’re behind her.

She knows that now, every person on this train wants to live.

When they all grasp the emergency brake and together manage to hold it all the way down, the screeching of the train increases to a painful pitch.

The clack-clack slows, slows, slows.

The train car shudders, shudders, shudders.

An awful tilting feeling.

A series of horrifying snapping sounds.

Sparks, sparks, sparks.

More smoke.

One long, shrill, sepulchral tone.

Her vision goes white and she thinks, the end.

This is the end, but at least I fought for it.

The train stops.

Like a sign, like a miracle, like divine intervention, like something out of a movie, the train stops.

There is a long, weighty silence. She looks around.

She sees that they have fought and survived, sees that they are going to get off this train and live.

She smiles.

She’s going to get off this train.

And live.

Short Story

About the Creator

Shea Keating

Writer, journalist, poet.

Find me online:

Twitter: @Keating_Writes

Facebook: Shea Keating

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (1)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran2 years ago

    Wow, this was such an inspirational story. I loved it so much! Very well written. You did a fantastic job!

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