Cambridge is crowded and clotted with the glow of memories. Delays announced. Freight haulers stop and stare as I board the train and look out at the city of my birth. A whistle – punctuation and we pull away past buildings with turned backs and bridges wearing socks – do not tramp.
Foxton – cars wait as my train dribbles across the chalky swelling of East Anglia.
I flick through a magazine with half a brain – there is not much there to relieve the dragging soup of time.
Shepreth is the rhythm of the wheel on the track – hypnotic. I dream of things I’ve left behind. I try to sleep but the brakes squeal and I look up to a mother and son picnicking on the platform – egg and cress sandwiches watched by passengers, cameras, and British Rail officer with a buttonhole carnation.
Meldreth, I imagine speed as the train unfolds past the furrows that mimic the tractor
flapping with gulls white and rooks black.
Royston – clouds blue. In my eyes the sun sparks from cars. A man enters the train carrying aftershave and delays due to emergency overhead work. He apologises and puts his feet on the table.
Ashwell and Morden. We pull away through the old man’s beard and yellow trees, disturbing birds that prowl the rosehips and swear at the engine.
Baldock – my eyes roll over the underground map on the wall of the train. I do the concept of a pub crawl – downing a Pernod and ice at each of the stations on the Circle Line until I’m dizzy and sick.
Letchworth – an Intercity squeals past – life in the fast lane bound for Kings Cross. Thrashing engines shake the carriage. Diesel-fist scorn then it’s gone. In the swirling, a redhead climbs aboard. Her feet don’t touch the floor. In the train’s motion the knotted tassles of her skirt swing with her feet. Her hand is heavy with jewellery and it rests on knee like a dragon’s hoard.
Hitchin – soft masked, the sun breaks through the tainted mist. An eye, lifeless and insecure that flusters amusing the oil-kissed girders and sleepers. Finger the station with brightness inept. Caresses the fumes and dreams – windows scrape through September.
Stevenage – I knew a man from here. He was unpredictable and inept. I wouldn’t lend him money again. A fairy slides aboard. It spirals into the opposite seat, eager to avoid the pneumatic drill that yells from the station.
Knebworth mouth and the tunnel’s throat. Ears pop slicing through the earth. Gut stone roots of trees unexpected anus.
Welwyn North. A quick stop. Blue sky colours trees with cigarette smoke. From the pools of platform light, a waft of morning city climbs aboard without a ticket, I feel the texture of deceit.
Welwyn Garden City. The bitter smell of hot piss strolls down the train. The arrogant joy rider sits in all the seats and waves through the window like a queen.
Hatfield – I glance from the window as the train brakes. Panic. Stuff my spider-scrawl words into my mouth, grab my satchel, and leap, heart racing, onto the platform.