I took the first step out from my front door, the railway not a stone’s throw from me. In the air was that humid, summer smell; pollen and hay, not freshly cut grass which lets off that pungent but homely smell, rather the smell of water when it hadn’t rained or the smell of the sunlight, though it does not smell. The stench of heat perhaps. It smelt earthy, it smelt wonderful and clean.
I came down past by garden, the deserted toys and rotting fabrics the last signs of my childhood. Beyond my fence was the railroad tracks, some from old steam trains which no longer ran. There was no grass nor weed growning beside the tracks, the stones which centred themselves between the steel and the sleepers were frequently sprayed, though I liked to pretend the trains still ran and kept the growth down. At the bottom of my path I stopped dead, staring at the track. My inner child called for me to follow it down, out into the wilderness with nothing more than my shoes, trousers, shirt, and a flat cap which my father left me., as well as a twenty pound note which had been in my jeans since before I cared to think. The question of when they were last washed still stuck in my mind since before I came back home. Then at last I set out, down the track heading out into the country.
I had plenty of time to think as I walked, plenty of time to consider everything in a more clear and full picture. First I thought about my love life, well don’t we all? I was twenty four years old, my girlfriends had been something of few in number, I liked to pretend of course that I’d had more, but four seemed plenty in mind for me. My friends told me it had been too few, I questioned how good friends they were, but I often lied and said there were six or seven. The first was always the hardest for me; I was young and stupid, I didn’t know how to ask girls out, heck I’d done it once before and look what happened then! Turned out she was a lesbian anyway, so I couldn’t feel too bad. Nope, I asked my second girl out, a girl called Lucy. She was like a dream, the kind of girl people dream of finding and then realise how insane they are. She look stunning, I’ll give her that; she had this deep auburn hair which looked closer to fire than a lit fag, a brilliant white smile like she’d drunk a tin of dulux to get it that white, and eyes so blue the only thing comparable was the sky and that was darker. She was younger than me by a few months, maybe three, but that seemed perfect for me, you know? Some men like younger women, some like older. I always thought it was the same with women, I dunno; I’ve never tried being one. Well Lucy was like the dream girl, you know, the one you picture yourself spending your entire life with. I spent almost a year with her before I learnt that she was one of the bad ones. Turned out she thought I’d been cheating on her, which made me laugh really. I hardly had the nerves to ask her out in the first place, how was I meant to ask another girl out while dating her? But one thing I learnt, one very important thing, you cannot argue with a woman and win, even if your right. I thought I had won that one, until I found she’d put about five litres of water in my car’s fuel tank, set fire to my father’s grandfather clock and decided that she’d cheat on me as revenge for me doing nothing. Well, when the grandfather clock went I didn’t care anymore. That was enough of that for me.
The second girl I thought of was called Sarah. Sarah was like no one I’d ever met: she was beautiful but didn’t let her looks get the better of her. She was intelligent too, much more than I was I’ll have to admit, and more than that she listened which is more than I can say for most people I’d met at that time. I don’t know what attracted her to me, but for some reason she liked me. I like to think that it was my looks, in part I think she liked being the intelligent one in the relationship, but when people ask not I say it was because I listened to her too. I listened really well actually, I could answer her questions quickly and I could remember everyone she worked with, everyone she had quarrels with,. pretty well everyone she mentioned really. Sarah was a great person, and I can’t fault her, but we weren’t in love. We’re still friends, but nothing ever came of what we had. I guess we were just two souls looking for love at that time, neither could find it with the other. Later I heard she’d found herself a man and had a child, I think he was named after me, but I won’t tell him that.
My third attempt at dating was the shortest of the three. She was actually someone who I wouldn’t have ever thought myself going out with before. There was no reason I wouldn’t or shouldn’t have, I just never considered it really. She was a woman with dwarfism called Betty. I remember our first date, she wore this little red dress and had a fake diamond earring her brother gave her. I think we would’ve been good together really, but we only had two dates. Our first date was on a Friday night, the second was nearby to Easter on a Thursday next, but on Easter Saturday a lorry knocked her off her moped. She died two days later. I wasn’t invited to the funeral, but I lay flowers there every Easter, I’ve got to don’t I?
Then, just a week ago there was my third girlfriend. That one hurt most. Her name was Maisie, she and I were the same age excepting a month, we had the same deep brown hair and green eyes, we were even a similar height. I met her almost four months ago, we spoke for a while as friends then eventually I just asked her out, and you know what? She said yes. You know I felt something for Lucy as though she were growing on me, but it took a year to feel it. I felt something with Sarah as though she were like to my own sister. I even felt something of care for Betty briefly, before she died. Maisie, no, I didn’t feel any of that. That was definitely love I felt for her. It came on quick, she made me laugh and I cared for her more than anything in the world, even myself. I’d have done anything for her, I’d have burnt my favourite things in the whole world if she needed me to, but I didn’t. I loved her, I loved her more than I can say and more than anyone whose loved could ever understand. Thing is it takes a long time to say these things, you can’t say them after four months, it’s not right, it would be too soon. And Maisie, well, she just wasn’t willing to wait. I went to her house one night to surprise her, but she surprised me see, so did the man she had wrapped her legs around. It broke my heart, and if you don’t know what that’s like you’re the luckiest person whose ever lived, or too young to understand.
Its like fire. Tastes sour in your mouth and twists your insides like the worst indigestion. I can’t even describe it, worse than when you go to see the dentist having forgotten to clean your teeth for the last few months and you have to lie to them, or when your mamma told you off when you was little. You know the worst thing is some people just accept it and move on, some people get angry for the betrayal and some people try to recover their relationship. Me, I just turned right around and walked out. She called after me but I didn’t hear what she said. I knew it was over then, no use getting angry or trying to mend it. All I wanted to know was why, and what I had done to be deserving of this.
After I thought about my love life I’d come a way down the tracks. My house had disappeared over the horizon, I was nearby to the countryside by then, I could smell the cattle and the fields which seemed so sweet but dung like. I wasn’t sad then, it was sunny and warm, it felt like I was a new person, like I was young again. Well, having thought about my previous girlfriends I decided it was time to start thinking about my family.
Of course I had a family, a large one too. My eldest brother worked as a nurse. He’d tried to be a doctor but failed in school, so trained to be a nurse and managed to scrape through his studies, with my other brother’s help of course. Paul was his name, turned out he was exceptionally good at being a nurse and he even managed to catch some people stealing medication, they was selling it on the internet. Paul got himself a promotion, earned a lot of money and in his spare time he liked to go fishing. A very simple person with simple pleasures. Got married, had two children, lives over in Wales now.
The next brother was called Phil. I never liked that name, but for some reason my grandparents did, so my parents were pressured into it. Phil was a strange child, he preferred his own company to anyone else. When he grew up he became one of those computer people, you know the type who can do anything with computers but take it apart and they haven’t got a clue? Yeah, that sort. He learnt everything before he was fifteen, then went to college to learn how to take it apart and see what everything did. He died when he was twenty though, cancer in the brain killed him. I miss him now and then.
I had myself three sisters: Sue, Vera, and Rosy, they all learnt to be musicians and got themselves married. I don’t hear from them much now. I’ve one other brother too, Garry, he’s the black sheep of the family so they say. We don’t hear from him now. I wonder how he turned out sometimes, but sometimes I don’t want to know. I’m afraid of what I’ll learn.
That just leaves my folks I suppose. Well not long after Phil died my mamma got real sad. The doctors gave her pills which made her happier, but they didn’t really help I don’t think. By that time most of them had left home anyways, I was old enough to too. She just had enough, found a gun somewhere and one day decided she’d had enough of life.
As for my dad, he died when I was too young to remember him. I know I was older than I think I was, when I hear stories that other people remembered from when they were five or four it makes me sad how I can’t remember those from when I was six or seven. I don’t remember anything about him, not even the colour of his eyes. I’ve seen some pictures, but it took one of my siblings telling me that was my own father for me to know who the strange man was. I hate that. More than that, I wonder how he’d feel about who I’ve become.
You know life is a lot like the railway tracks. Not like the train, I mean like the tracks themselves. Sometimes you get these real peaceful times when you can sit back and listen to nature, just relax and enjoy everything happening around you, then suddenly you get a whole load of weight come crushing down on you, straining and stressing you. Nothing lasts forever, not the strain nor the peace, until eventually by one means or another you break. It’s not a matter of when you do, everyone knows your going to, but where first. The railway tracks are a good place for me, I love coming out into them, watching the fields and the birds, hearing the children playing a way off. Sublime. It gives you time to think, time to clear your head. Some of my family were Christians, I don’t know what I believe, but I like to think that something else is on the tracks. There’s never a single track, there are always two metals, two sets of wheels on either side of the train, you know? As I balance on one side, I like to think someone else is on the other side to walk beside me. Whether you believe that’s God or a ghost, maybe my father who I never knew, my mother who cared too much as they do, Phil who did not deserve to die, or Betty who died too young, its nice to think that even in your solitude you’re never completely alone. Someone’s always there to support you and to tell you its time to go home.
There’s not much I can recall of my childhood, but I know that I visited these tracks before. I remember playing on them with my brothers and my sisters, even as I walk alone on them I feel as though I’m paying homage or something. All I hope is that in fifty years time I’ll come back here and remember everything again, and feel everything again.