Story of the Month

Long Day’s Journey by Dave Walklett

The train sped through the European countryside in the blackness. Through the window, despite the night, he could see a covering of snow.

He looked across at the woman opposite, swaddled in her fur coat, scarf tightly pulled up to her chin, clutching a bottle of clear liquid he supposed was water. She looked back with eyes of fear and hate. He looked at his watch; over four hours they’d been on the train and in that time had exchanged no more than a dozen words.

From farther down the train came the sound of shouting, of doors sliding open and slamming shut, the sound edging closer. Then a green-uniformed figure appeared at their compartment door, sliding it open, shouting:

‘KARTE! Pass, bitte!’

The man stood, indicating to the woman to remain seated. From inside the small bag on the seat beside him he pulled out an envelope which he handed to the guard-soldier— whatever he was. The official removed tickets and passports from the envelope and apparently satisfied, smiled, returned the items to the man, saluted, and left the compartment without another word.

‘We must be nearly there. Coming to the border. It’s only a couple of minutes after.’

The train slowed, now passing through a town and suddenly there was light everywhere. The woman started to raise herself from the seat.

‘Wait a minute. Don’t move yet.’ he said. ‘When we get off, we’ll have to run.’

The woman narrowed her eyes and, again, that look of hate.

The train stopped. Few other passengers disembarked but the couple, with the man dragging a suitcase and the woman in his wake, having stopped momentarily to check platform numbers, raced for the underpass. Down steps, along the tunnel they raced and up to another waiting train. They scrambled aboard.

It seemed only a few minutes later they arrived at their destination. Again, he dragged the woman off the train and out of the station to where a car waited. The driver turned as they climbed into the rear seats. The man mumbled something in German and the car moved off.

After a short while, the car approached a barrier across the road and slowed. A soldier, rifle raised, appeared. The man let himself out of the car and spoke to the soldier.  They summoned the driver from his seat, and both entered the guardhouse, leaving the woman alone in the car. Five minutes later they were back. The woman had fallen asleep. The barrier was opened, and the car passed through onto a military housing estate.

In the early hours of the morning, there was nothing to be seen; just row upon row, road after road, of houses, most with cars outside. There was no life.

The car was brought to a halt and the driver pointed at a house.

The man shook the woman awake. They both walked up the slippery path to the front door. The man pressed the bell.

All around was silence.

A light came on in the hallway of the house. Then the door opened a little. Then wider. A voice from within asked:

‘Who is it?’

‘It’s me, mum! Sorry we’re a bit late!’

The door opened fully, revealing an older couple, both in dressing gowns.

‘Where the Hell have you been? We’ve been worried sick!’

‘Yes, I know. It’s a long story. Oh, this is Ellen, my fiancé.’