Murder on the Train

Submitted into Contest #168 in response to: Start your story with someone looking out a train window.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction Mystery

This story contains sensitive content

Murder on the Train

TW Alludes to emotional and physical domestic violence

She sat opposite me without a word, her head turned towards the window, her eyes unblinking. Her stony expression almost veiled her fear. I joined her in gazing at the passing landscape, each of us gaining and offering comfort from this shared activity. The rhythmic whoosh of the train continued, oblivious to everything but its mission of heading forward.

Trees, fields of irregular geometry, and houses haphazardly scattered about the countryside, all rushed by, blurred. Like reality, I thought, except we had not left her past behind; it was here with us, following as we surged forward on this train.

I turned to look at her, my eyes striving to meet hers. On her lap, her fingers, white, turned her wedding ring round and round. Otherwise, she was still and silent. When she glanced at me, I detected the faintest nod. Then the window beckoned her again.

My skin prickled from the significance of that nod and the enormity of what I knew had just occurred. The dichotomy of regret and relief became an imposter in my chest as I struggled for my next breath.

Two hours I had waited in my seat, not knowing, and wondering what was happening less than twenty metres away. Two hours could redefine who I was. Even if I feigned ignorance, I couldn’t lie to myself–I would know. And I wouldn’t change anything. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my best friend and after all, I suppose I planted the idea in her head.

One day, she showed me her left arm. “You can’t let him do this to you.” A purple and yellow bruise covered her skin like a map of the pain and aggression she endured regularly. Her fear–the invisible bruise–infused her movements with apprehension and timidity.

“What can I do?” she lifted her palms up on either side of her and shrugged. “He has a way of belittling me, he’s so…” her voice trailed off and then she looked up and said, “intimidating”.

“I wish you’d called,” and not for the first time, I felt utterly useless.

“I couldn’t. I just wanted to beat him and hurt him, but mostly, I wanted to stay inside and lock all the doors.”

I understood. She wanted to imprison the shame of her bad choices. As one tear escaped, others followed–gentle, dignified tears that carried a weight of sadness on their trail down her cheeks.

She whispered, “I sometimes dream that he’s dead.”

“Can’t you tell him you’re leaving? That you’ll call the police?” I was fighting my exasperation at this unrecognisable woman. She was my best friend when everyone else had ignored me. Kind, intelligent, beautiful–I should have hated her–she was everything I wasn’t. And yet, she was the only one who made me feel seen, and now I prayed for invisibility.

“He has a way of twisting things, making you question your own mind. He convinces you he’s right and you start to believe you are stupid and delirious and then you doubt your own sanity.”

The weariness dimmed the spark she used to carry with her everywhere. When she sat there, explaining all of this to me, I wanted so badly to hold her–my closest friend ever. At school, when I was told “you can’t sit here, we’re saving this place for so and so,” she had called me from a popular table and asked her adoring fans to move up and make room for me. The mean girls’ glare followed me to the place they coveted beside her. Now this.

“I would do time to rid the world of that piece of shit.” I spat the words out and thumped the table with my clenched fist.

“Maybe that’s the only way?” she said.

I thought she was joking, trying to find some humour to lift her spirits, but she stared at something in the distance–over my head, through the bi-folds of her custom-designed kitchen and past the orchard at the end of her vast garden. She can’t be serious? I thought and said nothing more.

The following weeks were uneventful as life, work at the bookstore, and Netflix binges occupied me. A few weeks later, I received the phone call.

“Pack a bag.” Mia sounded more cheerful than she had for a while. “We’re going on a trip.”

“Where, why, and how long for?” I could be so boring sometimes.

“It’s a surprise; because I have to get away; and maybe forever.” Now I was intrigued. “There is a catch though.” She hesitated. “Seb’s coming too.”

I thought all sense had left her. Seb and I did not get along; in fact, you could say we despised each other. Mia had to sneak me into her social calendar without arousing his suspicions.

“Don’t worry, he won’t know. He wants me to accompany him to some stupid business meeting in Glasgow. His PA’s probably off sick and he doesn’t like to sleep alone.”

I flinched at the nonchalance in her voice.

“You’ll sit in a different carriage–still first-class of course–I have a plan.”

Her enthusiasm convinced me to trust and follow her, like in the old times, but her suffering blinded me to logic. Now I sat here on this train hoping against all hope that my usual default setting of small and invisible was working. Is it possible to unwish a wish? Could a train move backwards and take time with it? As beads of sweat settled on my forehead, I fought for control. Instinctively, I pulled out the hairband that constrained my hair so that I could hide behind my long fringe. Then I set about composing myself. Glancing at my watch, I closed my eyes, frustrated, as I saw we had no choice but to remain on this train for another 20 minutes until the next stop.

Still, Mia did not move, did not speak. Her features, set like a marble sculpture, failed to deceive me, and I read the recipe of relief and fear that bubbled inside her. Her face was perfectly formed, smooth, firm, in proportion, with a small dainty nose. I’d always wanted a small, dainty nose. I’d wanted her toned stomach, pert butt and shiny hair, with its soft waves that fell about her cheekbones and jawline. A pang of guilt brought me to my senses as I reminded myself I wanted what she had to have. He tolerated nothing less.

We needed to be calm but sharp when we approached our stop and walked off the train. No dawdling, but no obvious haste. Nothing that would draw attention to us and the unfinished bottle of whiskey in Mia’s bag, nor its link to the sleeping man in the next carriage.

“Business or pleasure?” The cheery conductor approached to check our tickets. Mia turned to him, smiling …

“Pleasure,” she said.

October 14, 2022 17:22

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1 comment

Wendy Kaminski
03:34 Oct 29, 2022

Great story, with a lovely and subtle ending! I enjoyed your imagery very much, particularly how the landscape blurred by the window was a metaphor for reality. I also thought the realization by the main character that the enviable best friend "had to have" those traits was excellently placed and highlighted. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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