This story was inspired by the 1945 movie ‘Brief Encounter’.
Final Encounter by J.M.Hulme
The interior has changed but the old familiar smell still lingers. I can taste the coal dust. I stand, expecting to hear the whistle – a sound that excites me even after all these years.
The woman behind the counter is looking at me. She must think me weird just standing here. I walk over to her.
“Tea please,” I smile.
“You seemed lost for a moment my dear.” She turns to collect a white station issue cup and saucer.
“It’s been a while since I was here. I was noticing the changes – although the old scents and sounds seem to be captured in the walls – or certainly within my memory.”
She nods as if she understands. I pay for my tea and take it across to the little table in the corner. Why, on this day of all days did I feel ‘obliged’ to come here? I look up at the clock on the wall – the same brown one, with its enormous Roman numerals. I count the seconds, as I did then, watching the long hand tick its way around the clock-face. The door opens and a lady enters, headed by an excited child, who rushes up to the counter.
“Hello Lou-Lou – what would you like today?” enquires the waitress.
“A Penguin Biscuit,” shouts Lou-Lou.
“Please!” warns the lady, who I presume to be Lou-Lou’s mother.
My mind goes back to when I was small. Had the same thing happened to me?
Several people then enter in quick succession. Perhaps a train is due. A businessman equipped with briefcase, newspaper and umbrella is soon followed by two chattering middle-aged ladies, possibly sisters, carrying shopping bags ready for a day out in town. A youth arrives next, sporting a black tee-shirt exclaiming, ‘Don’t Wake Me! I’m Not a Morning Person.’ Now an old couple enter – husband and wife, judging by the way she’s ordering him about.
Only the elderly sit, the others hover, glancing from time to time towards the window. The old lady deposits her husband in a chair facing the counter, while she collects their drinks. His back is towards me. When she returns she nods.
“Lovely day,” she beams.
“Yes, It’s beautiful,” I reply.
“We come every Thursday. I’m always pleased when it’s dry. He loves the trains.” She lowers her voice a little. “It’s Alzheimer’s you know. He settles here. He’s used to it, aren’t you love?”
It’s difficult talking to someone sitting with their back to you – but the wife doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. I guess it’s an outing for her too and she’s grateful to have someone to talk to.
The train rumbles into the station, causing activity in the Café, as people collect their belongings and make for the door. The lady has to restrain her husband from rising.
“Not today dear – there’s no one coming today.” she says gently.
He sits down again, obviously disappointed.
“He often does this. Thinks he should be going somewhere or meeting someone,” she explains. “When we lived in Chorley he’d get off the train at this station for the hospital – he was a doctor you know. I think he remembers.”
“It must be difficult for you.”
“I’m used to it my love. I used to get in a flap but we’ve learnt to live with it. People are very kind. They understand. I’ve not seen you here before have I?”
“No. I’ve not been here since I was a little girl. We lived in Catchworth and Mom used to bring us to the shops here in Milford. We’d always arrive back early enough to have a drink and a biscuit before catching the train home. It was our treat. It’s the 6th anniversary of her death today – somehow this seemed the right place to be. Silly isn’t it after all this time?”
“Not at all! If this is where you feel close to your mom then it’s the right place to be. If anything happened to my Alec, I think I’d come here too.” She pauses. “Tell me about your Mom. What was her name?”
“Laura. Her name was Laura. She was lovely. Although I would say that wouldn’t I?”
“Is your Dad still alive?”
“Yes. He worshipped her. It was dreadful for him when it happened, I didn’t think he’d ever get over it – but he’s seeing someone else now. He needs a companion I suppose. Men are so useless on their own, aren’t they?”
Alec then calls his wife’s name and we both turn towards him. She shakes her head and reaches out to pat his hand, as you would a child. Perhaps to her that is what he is now.
“Have you always lived in this area?” I ask.
“Alec went to work in South Africa for a time – he’d a brother living there – but he couldn’t settle, so we came home. It seemed important to him to come back to this area – and as long as he was happy ….” Her voice trails off and I can see the love in her eyes as she looks at him.
We chat for a while, until my train becomes due. I then get up and walk round the table to face the old man.
“It’s been lovely chatting to you both,” I say. “Perhaps we’ll meet again sometime. Goodbye Alec,” I take his hand and he looks up at me – with an expression I can only describe as wonder – and for a moment I hold his gaze.
“Goodbye Laura,” he says, tears forming in his eyes. “I knew you’d come back.”
I turn to his wife.
“He gets confused dear,” she whispers.
Yet as I leave I have a strange feeling he knew exactly what he was saying – and my heart lifts – and I feel glad.