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Train of Thought

by Matthew Smith 6 days ago in Short Story
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Music is often the last memory to leave us

David slowly opened his eyes. As they adjusted to the harsh light, he began to examine his surroundings. From what he could tell, he was on a train. There was the rhythmic clack clack clacking of the tracks, and the chair beneath him was made from the hard, scratched plastic associated with public transport and hospitals.

While David was not yet panicking, he certainly felt that panic was a realistic possibility in his future. He did not remember being on a train and had no idea where he was headed. The more he thought about his predicament, the more worried he became.

Waking up on a train is never good, even if you immediately remember why you are there. The possibility of missing your stop can make even the most rational person fret. But David didn’t even have the luxury of remembering where he was supposed to be.

He looked to his left and right, there were no passengers beside him, but the train was by no means empty. A family of five was sitting a couple of rows in front of him, stuffed into a four-seater section.

The young children sitting precariously on their parent’s laps. The dad had a set of headphones attached to his phone, and he was sharing them with his young daughter.

There was a young man, possibly a student, walking down the aisle, and he could feel the presence of someone behind him as their knee dug into his seat.

He looked outside the window, where gorgeous green fields basked in the glowing sun. Relaxing as this view might have been, it didn’t give David any indication of where he was.

“Tickets, please”

A young woman at the back of the carriage was walking down the aisle, checking the tickets of any newcomers to the train. Anxiety shot through David as he realised that he didn’t have a ticket. Many people would have found the presence of a ticket inspector reassuring. They would have a chance to explain their situation and get the help they needed.

But David had always found such situations caused him anxiety. He invariably ensured that when he travelled anywhere, all of his documents were perfectly in order, so there would be zero chance that he had to deal with any issues.

Anxiety could be good like that. It forced you to be prepared for any eventuality by causing you to worry about situations that were incredibly unlikely: a blessing and a curse.

Right now, David was definitely beginning to panic. He had checked his pockets several times and, each time, had been forced to accept that they were empty. He couldn’t even find his wallet. How could he pay for his ticket without his wallet? Would they call the police? Would they throw him off the train?

But wait! Hadn’t his daughter bought him a mobile phone recently? Maybe he could call her and get her to help him?

This brief moment of hope faded away pretty fast. Calling his daughter would not help him in the immediate future, and it would only cause her to worry. In any case, he couldn’t find his phone, which he always kept in his front shirt pocket, despite his daughter’s concerns that it would fall out and get lost.

This entire internal monologue played out while David sat in complete silence. The ticket inspector was almost upon him. He could hear her feet approaching. His chest felt tight, and he felt vaguely sick. Wild thoughts and predictions flew through his head, but just as they reached a crescendo, he saw the ticket inspector walk right past him.

Relief, pure unadulterated joy spread through David. She hadn’t noticed him! She was now checking the tickets of the family in front of him before moving on to the next carriage.

But why had she ignored him?

It didn’t make any sense. Ticket inspectors were employed to check the tickets of every passenger, and here he was, a ticketless passenger, being wholly overlooked.

As troubling as this thought was, the threat of being caught had reduced, and David could now go back to asking himself why he was on this train.

He needed to think back to the start of his day.

He wakes up to the sound of the radio, “In the Deserts of Sudan, and the gardens of Japan”, blares out of the tinny speakers. A cup of tea, dark brown with just a drop of milk, is resting on his bedside table.

Who made it? It must have been his wife. Yes, that’s right, Melody always made him a cup of tea in the morning. Getting up at 6 am to get breakfast ready while he slept in until 6:30 am.

“Hit me with your rhythm stick.”

He would drink his tea in bed, his little luxury, and then walk downstairs for a bowl of Kellogg’s Cornflakes and egg and soldiers.

"Hit me, Hit ME"

There was something not quite right about this memory, though. Didn’t his phone have an alarm on it? Didn’t he use it instead? That harsh noise jolting him from bed each morning.

Also, that song! He was sure he hadn’t heard it played for decades.

He was also struggling to remember Melody’s face, which is not something that a husband should struggle with after having seen her so recently.

After a quick wash, he puts his tie on and heads out the front door. He is wearing a black suit. The shoes are a little scuffed, but he looks very sharp otherwise. Nothing but the best for his dear wife.

A garbled noise shakes David from his memories. It’s the train conductor making an announcement over the tannoy. But the speakers are so bad that he can’t make a single word out.

A young woman stands beside a gravestone. It is covered in flowers. David walks up to her, and he can see that she is crying. David realises that he is also crying, tears softly roll down to his lips, and he can taste the salt.

“Dad, I’m glad we chose the same time to see her, I had to take the morning off work, so I can only stay for a bit.”

The train seems to be increasing its speed. David can feel the momentum rising beneath his feet. Surely this train must arrive at a platform soon.

His memories are jumping all over the place. Did he really go to a graveyard today? Who was it that he was there to see? Was that his daughter talking to him?

Why was this so hard to remember?

David closes his eyes and wills himself to remember the events that led to this train journey.

“I know you wanted to stay where you were, but after the last … incident, I just couldn’t leave you there. It’s too dangerous! It’d be different if mum were here, but you’re all alone, and if you fall over or accidentally burn yourself … again … then I wouldn’t be able to help you at all.”

Had … Melody … had his wife left him? This was definitely his daughter talking to him, Alice? Andrea? Something beginning with A.

Definitely!

Probably.

David was really starting to panic now but he remained perfectly silent. Anybody walking past would see a man sitting absolutely still, not making a sound. But underneath that calm exterior, his heart was beating a mile a minute.

He was trying to process the sadness and fear that he knew he should be feeling for his wife, balancing this with the inconvenient fact that he couldn’t seem to remember anything about her.

“Take a deep breath, my darling. You know that when you get stressed, you need to breathe slowly.”

David sat back in his chair, closed his eyes, and began to breathe slowly. As he did so, his heartbeat lowered, his chest relaxed, and suddenly he was drifting into a deep sleep.

“Hey dad, sorry about that, the line for the toilet was ….”

Alicia stopped mid-sentence; her dad was fast asleep. On the floor in front of him was a small mobile phone. Alicia knew that taking the train would be difficult for her dad, but her car had broken down, and she knew how important it had been to him to visit her mum’s grave on their wedding anniversary each year.

She wasn’t sure whether her dad would even know where he was when they reached the grave. Dementia had turned the once vibrant, loving man into a shadow of himself.

Her dad had always been highly strung. Well, that’s how her mother had put it. Alicia knew that today, a doctor would have probably diagnosed him with anxiety. But anxiety was just one aspect of his personality.

He was a huge lover of music, and Alicia noted that his ability to recognise music was one of the last things to go as his mind betrayed him. She remembered sitting on his lap as they played his records on his beloved record player.

Now she looked down at the face of a man who no longer showed recognition when she walked into a room. A man whose life had fallen apart when his beloved wife had died ten years ago.

A tear rolled down her cheek. Then she brusquely wiped it off and bent down to grab his mobile phone and empty wallet that sat beside it. The train would be nearing the station soon, and she needed to get her dad ready.

“Wake up, dad.”

David slowly opened his eyes; as they adjusted to the harsh light, he began to examine his surroundings. From what he could tell, he was on a train.

Short Story

About the author

Matthew Smith

I have been a freelance writer in the fitness & nutrition niche since 2016. All of my articles have been technical in nature, with large reference lists and lots of science. I'd like to use Vocal to express my creative side, and have fun!

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (6)

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  • Patricia Kay Wheaton3 days ago

    This one really hit home. Taking care of my Mom who has dementia and Dad died earlier this year. Watching her try to piece things together is much like how you described your character in your story. Your story is very well written - thank you.

  • Kat Thorne4 days ago

    Such a sad but beautiful story, great job

  • Ruby Grant5 days ago

    I wasn't expecting such a sad turn of events. Beautifully written.

  • Terrye Turpin5 days ago

    Nice use of the prompt.

  • This story reached deep. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers and Dimentia and it spiraled quickly. I actually wrote a story here on Vocal about it not long ago. I found your writing very skillful and descriptive. Thanks for this! Great job!

  • Dean D’Adamo5 days ago

    nice job with this...

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