Call of Duty


Remember your duty! I think to myself. Silence fell on a quiet station platform. Only a few trains pass at this late hour. As my wife Iris always says, “It’s not a great time to travel, but if you want to get a lot of thinking done, there is no time better than when the train is dead quiet.”

The few trains that do pass by roar like booming bison pressing the wind close into every corner of the surrounding buildings, flinging leaves and cigarettes into the air. Their mechanical hooves thundering along the tracks, the carriages of the train only disappearing when they plunge into the sunken valley to the south.

This night will not rob me of my sense of duty, however many shivers lighten my grip on the platform.

The sweet song of nighttime birds waking up slowly fills the air as the dark sky turns ashy, and soon enough the sticky insects that crawl through the looming shadowy trees above join in their ditties. To give meaning to such mean things as insects is a child’s game, but they are the perfect company for me tonight.

I’m enchanted with my own resolve it seems, and I cannot see anything out of place. Open air, country night pressing on city life. The heavens wide open above me, I feel the knowledge I’ve stored up over the years wash away and all that I am left with is some sense of life beyond the sphere of Cornwall, beyond the tight-knit group of my fellow intellectuals I have mustered around me. My vision does not stop expanding. The trees shudder with the night breeze, and some way off a car engine purrs along a quiet, deserted road.

Sleepy eyes, sweet symphonies above, cold feet below…no inducement will keep me from my solemn purpose tonight. I watch the clock above platform 2. Watch the minutes slip by, and each one seems to broaden my sense of purpose, but the birds have picked up their tempo, treacherously. The nerves creep in.

I finger a gold chain around my neck. It bites colder than the close night. No ordinary star glints from so far away now. And you. You who helped me lose my mind, which seems to ride that star like the last train home after a night in town – drops its glimmer and I lose its position. The promise I have made tonight is not as impossible as my fingers seem to think. They pull at the chain around my neck, hurting themselves and hurting me –  and you still do, even at this late hour.

The sea will swallow you and this chain will flatten as it should at the bottom, a sunken story amongst the soft silt. The truth? It will lie peacefully where so many have lain before in your bed, and your bed will be under the eddies, the new and old currents of Falmouth Bay. The salty lights of fish eyes will peer at you like street lamps, looming before you quietly, then disappearing. Curtains will fit your windows on every side, curtains of sea anemones  and saffron spikes. Eventually invading your flesh. Precious company you will keep, my love.

Yesterday I would have sympathized. I would have come in the morning and squatted down on your sofa, heard all of your fables of false happiness. Under one roof we could have sat and discussed them together. But around my neck, I now realize, above what I have ever seen or understood before, I have fallen for a golden line and a cheap promise. You gave me your word. You belonged to me. You will now belong to the sea, Sarah.

This train of thought I cannot get off of at the next station, and I cannot return via Plymouth. I have had enough, and the insects crawling over platform 2, know this too – they are ready, as much as I am.

I look up and see there are flowers above my head. Pretty white stars, they shine so dully in the lamplight, and the clock strikes 1.30am.

Charming forests of men cannot conceal or soften that which you have always sought to deny to yourself, and which you profess you have already mastered. Your hands, I promise, will be left empty.

I board the train when it finally arrives. And my hands stop shivering as the warm carriage soaks up the night chill.

You understand I cannot stop now, I have bought a return ticket you see, for later today. I lift the card which reads ‘Open return, from Redruth to Falmouth’. Any bloody route, permitted.  I take a mouthful of rum I bought too cheaply at the off-license. If you want someone to blame, the timid old dear at the counter will do. Allowing me to buy four bottles, a hat, and about ten foot of ribbon and cable ties. As a university lecturer I’m well known for my… well, I don’t rightly know tonight.

But, to not so much as ask me “What’s all that for, eh?” at the closing time too? I would have answered brilliantly, don’t you worry my love, something poetic, maybe even lyrical.

“It’s for my darling daughter’s birthday party. You see, I’m going to surprise her.”

The train thunders on and slowly leaves the valley behind.


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