She walked through the arched portico of the train station, a small bag in her hand. It hung solidly at her side, weighing her down. It was the same bag she’d put the cauliflower in that she’d bought yesterday from the market; the bottom was full of green leaves, partly eaten by caterpillars, partly crushed by the contents of the bag. Brown was becoming the dominant colour. She hadn’t had time to clear the bag out. Not that it mattered really.
Her shoes, serviceable and well-worn, thumped solidly on the tiles. Her thick stockings were starting to sag. She’d start knitting a new pair that night after she’d washed up the tea things and her younger brothers played with their toy soldiers in front of the fire. Her father would take himself off to the pub to read the paper in peace and discuss the new foreman at the mills wi’ t’ lads. Her mother would begin baking the bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. Her time was now used for additional chores, after all she had no need to go to church anymore, her extra lessons were over and her job at the mill was starting next week.
The station was shelter from the harsh winter wind that whipped through her clothes, chilling her skin. But she didn’t feel the cold. She was burning up, damp under her arms and between her legs and a sheen on her face making her nose and forehead shine. But she didn’t unbutton her heavy green wool coat. She had no hat, no scarf and she wasn’t wearing any gloves so that the cloth straps of the dark blue bag dug into her fingers, red raw, turning purple, going blue.
A station guard was lighting the gas lamps.
“Uh, ‘scuse me. Does tha know time please?” Her throat was dry. She’d been chewing her bottom lip. Her nose had started to run as the heat thawed her out. The guard took his watch from the pocket on his waistcoat. She noted the shiny buttons, noticed how he flicked the lid, read the time, nodded, closed the lid with a click and said, “A quarter ter four miss.”
The heat was escaping from the high buttoned collar of her coat but she didn’t unbutton it. She sniffed and ignored the urge to wipe her nose with the sleeve of her coat. She’d find a tissue in the Ladies.
Her throat’s dry.
I long every day for your smile.
Her tongue’s thick in her mouth.
Shush someone might hear.
The skin of her lips cracks in the heat.
Kind eyes, kind touch, always kind to the outsider.
The mirror mocked her – she refused to look. She already knew what she would see: her face held immobile, reality shining dull on the surface. Nothing beneath.
“I’m jest cleanin’ ‘em love.”
An old woman bustled about.
“Th’ one at far end be free.” She walked into the cubicle. Did nothing. The water gushed flooding the bowl and the chain swung from the cistern.
She washed her hands. And washed her hands. And washed her hands.
The bag remained, a bundle of blue shoved behind the toilet bowl.
She forgot the tissue.
The Left Luggage office was directly ahead. She went in. She needed a small suitcase. The guard behind the large wooden counter was arguing with a passenger. She stood and waited patiently. After the clock ticked two minutes she caught the guard’s eye and pointed to a suitcase behind him to his right. He gave it to her, and continued to argue with the rail passenger. When questioned, the guard behind the counter wouldn’t remember her.
She was faceless, nameless, a passenger stranger. She was nondescript. Walking down the aisle to the last cubicle, she reached behind the toilet bowl that momentarily cooled the skin of her hand and pulled out the canvas bag. This she placed in the open suitcase. She shut the suitcase. She lifted the suitcase and walked out of the cubicle past the old lady who, when asked, wouldn’t remember the girl in the green coat.
Sturdy shoes thumped on the tiles as she walked over to the ticket counter and waited.
He’d a wife but she hadn’t known that then. He hadn’t asked her to return home to Cairo with him. Besides she had no passport. Before her death she would go abroad once, to the Isle of Man for her honeymoon, but that didn’t count, not really. One of her sons would emigrate to Canada but she would never be invited over.
He’d kissed her between Hard Times and long division.
A gradely lass.
Small chest. Wide hips. Thick ankles. She was a good girl – mostly – with a genuine smile and a kind touch. She would never be surly, she was far too practical for that sort of folly, a true northern lass.
She would have a secret, but unlike all the others hers would make the headlines.
Yet this single secret – cross my heart and hope to die, stick a knitting needle up my quim – she never revealed. Not once. Ever. Simply because no one asked. Why would she be inclined to tell? Nay one fer foolishness our Sarah.
There was a little girl who had a little curl hidden in her locket. And when she was good she did it reet there on t’ pew whier t’ Matleys sit every Sunday. Shockin’, reet shockin’! A’ve allus said, ‘ant a allus said Maud, that girl ‘ad th’ divil’s own wickedness in ‘er and what she did, ee well, it were reet ghastly.
An’ dus thee railly think it were ‘er Mrs Smith? Sarah ast in a whisper. That woman ther talkin’ ‘bout int paiper.
And when she was bad she was horrid.
She boarded the train. The suitcase was placed overhead, where it would remain after she alighted from the carriage. It would stay there until the conductor handed it over to the Left Luggage office and the guard opened it and then the police were called and the reporter reported and she went to market as normal.
He was on her skin. He breached her skin, to live under it, in it, outside of it, but close. Always close. Egypt didn’t look that far away in the atlas. Not as far as Canada.
Skin on skin. A sin.
Skin on skin. She had wanted him.
The doors began to slam; louder and louder as the conductor worked his way along the carriages.
She stood on the platform watching as the train pulled away.
The headlines hit the stands quicker than she expected. Baby found in suitcase! Suffocated new born found on train! Murder on the 3.57 to Huddersfield!
She peeled the potatoes as her mother tut-tutted and her father grumbled into the paper. A tear rolled. You alreet Sarah lass? Yes, Ma. Knit a new pair o’ socks fer yer brother Sarah, Billy seems ter ‘ave lost one agin. What that boy does wi’ ‘em, I dunno.
It hadn’t stopped crying. She’d had to make it stop crying.
…the question on everyone’s lips is ‘why did she do it’?
If asked, she would have said ‘ow could I explain t’ colour o’ its skin? But no one ever did.