Just One Stop

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that takes place on a train.... view prompt

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The intense heat of the late afternoon sun beat down on Maisie’s face as she leaned back against the wall, the hot stones hard and rough through the thin cotton of her summer dress. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, savouring the warmth and soaking up the peace of the deserted station. Bees were buzzing lazily behind her in the briar hedge, and high above she could just make out the beautiful song of the skylark. She felt she was in a little bubble of her own. Far away and protected from the horrors of the rest of the world.

As her ears picked up the distant sound of a train approaching, she opened her eyes and watched contentedly as it neared the station, steam billowing from the funnel and whistle urgently blowing. She followed its progress as it slowed alongside the platform, shuddering to halt with a squeal of brakes and a long hiss of steam. The guard had appeared on the platform and was standing importantly, legs apart, flag in hand, waiting for the sounds to die down.

“The train now standing at Platform One is the stopping train from Bristol to London. It will be departing again in five minutes. Five minutes.” His duty performed, he stepped back and stood, hands behind his back, his keen eyes watching the train.  

Maisie smiled to herself. The train standing at Platform One indeed.  There was only one platform at Lower Whittingdon. She wondered how he would cope at a larger station. Idly her eyes moved along the now stationary train, wondering if anyone was about to alight. A door opened further along the platform and a solitary man got down, his newspaper tucked under his arm and his briefcase clutched tightly in his hand. He groped in his pocket for a moment then pulled out his ticket and strode towards the exit. Maisie looked away with disinterest. Just Mr Brown from the village coming home from the office. Home to Mrs Brown and whatever dinner she had managed to scrape together from their rations. 

Slowly she got to her feet and wandered along the platform towards the front of the train, thinking to have a chat with Joe, the engine driver and Colin the stoker. As she passed one of the carriages a movement caught her eye and she glanced through the window. A young man was staring back at her. 

He had the most penetrating blue eyes she had ever seen, and shiny chestnut hair that flopped across his forehead in a most distracting manner. Her step faltered as she passed his window and in that split second he smiled at her. Maisie tried to keep moving, but something in the smile made her pause – and she found herself stopping and smiling back. The young man stood up and opened the window of the carriage.

“Hello.”

Maisie looked up at him. “Hello.”

“Are you getting on the train?” His voice sounded hopeful.

Maisie shook her head. “No. I just enjoy the peace and quiet of the station.”

“You live here then? In Lower Whittingdon?”

She nodded. “Yes. All my life.”

The young man smiled again. “I live in a village too. In Devon. I’ve been home on leave for a few days.”

Maisie moved a little closer and saw that he was wearing the uniform of an RAF Officer. “You’re going back to join your unit?”

“My squadron. Yes. In Kent.”

“You’re a pilot?” Maisie moved slightly closer to the window.

“Yes. Spitfires.”

“Oh.”

“The train leaving from Platform One is the 6.15 to London.” The guard stepped into the middle of the platform and waved his flag, his whistle poised at his lips.

“What’s your name?” The young man leaned further through the window.

“Maisie.” 

“I wish we could talk more, Maisie. I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Maisie stared up at him, suddenly breathless at the thought she would never see him again. 

The guard blew his whistle and with a loud hiss the train began to edge along the track. Maisie glanced over at him, then compelled by a sudden instinct, she leapt forward and pulled open the door of the train. She almost fell up the step and landed in a heap on the floor. Scrambling to her feet, she hauled the door closed behind her, ignoring the angry shouting from the platform. Then breathlessly laughing, she stumbled into the compartment and found herself face to face with the young man.

“I didn’t ask your name.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Maisie gave a self-conscious giggle. “So, what is your name? I don’t want to have risked my life jumping on a train for nothing.”

“Charles.” He was staring at her in admiration. “My name is Charles. I can’t believe you did that.”

“Neither can I.” Maisie sank down onto one of the seats and shook her head. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”

“I can’t imagine you have.” He sat down opposite her and grinned. “It was most impressive. So are you coming to London?”

Maisie shook her head and glanced over at him. “No. Just one stop. I can only go one stop. Then I must get off.”

“How will you get home?”

“I’ll walk. It’s only five miles to the next station, and only three if I cut across the fields.”

“Five miles.” He smiled again. “Well we mustn’t waste any time. Tell me about yourself. Maisie is a pretty name.”

“It’s Scottish. My grandmother is from Scotland.” She fell silent, suddenly realising the enormity of what she had done. She was on a train with a complete stranger simply because she had liked his smile. He could be anyone. She sneaked a glance at him under her lashes and found he was staring a little awkwardly at his hands. He was feeling as uncomfortable as she was. This made her feel a little better and she managed a smile. “I’m sorry. I feel rather silly. I don’t know you and I just got on a train with you for no reason.”

Charles looked up. “It’s the war,” he said with a shrug. “It makes you act out of character. Nothing is normal any more.” He paused and gave her a small smile. “But I’m glad you got on the train. If the situation was different I would love to get to know you. If you wanted.”

Maisie felt her face begin to get warm and looked away towards the window. “Yes. I’d like that too.”

“But as it is we have just five miles to get to know each other.”

“Four now,” Maisie gave a little chuckle. “You go first.”

“Alright. I’m Charles Turner. I’m from Devon and I’m a Flight Officer stationed in Kent. At the moment. I fly Spitfires and have been doing for the last six months.” He paused. “Before the war I was studying to be an architect – but that seems like a different life now.”

Maisie looked at him with respect. “You’re very brave,” she said. “I wish I could do more. I live in the village with my mother and younger sister. My older brother is in the Army. He’s somewhere abroad but he can’t tell us where. My father died when I was five.”

“Do you have a job?” Charles was watching her.

“I work in the bank, as a secretary. It’s very boring. If I can persuade my mother I’m going to join the WAAF when I turn eighteen.” She glanced out of the window at the passing countryside. “We’re nearly at Crockthorne. I have to get off there.”

“I know.” Charles slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out a fountain pen and a crumpled piece of paper. “May I have your address? Then maybe I could write to you?”

Maisie felt her face flush again, but nodded briefly. “Alright. That would be nice. May I write back? Is that allowed?”

“It is. I’ll send you my address.”

She told him her full name and address and watched as he wrote it carefully on the scrap of paper balanced on his knee. She never expected to see him again, but maybe he would write her a letter. That would be nice.

The train whistled and began to slow as they approached the next station. Charles slipped the paper and pen back into his pocket and stood up. “This is it then. Just one stop to get to know each other.” He took her hand and helped her to her feet. “I will write, and maybe when this war is over, we could meet again.”

“Maybe.” Maisie nodded and smiled shyly up at him. “Maybe. I must go.” She turned and opened the door as the train shuddered to a halt at the deserted station. “Goodbye, and good luck.” She jumped down onto the platform and turned towards the far end, away from the station building. With a quick glance back, and a wave, she reached the end of the platform and vaulted up onto the wall and over into the adjoining field. Much easier than explaining why she had no ticket.

As she made her way back home across the fields in the warm evening sun, Maisie realised how lucky they had been to have that time together. They would probably never meet again, but they had still had just one stop to fall in love.

****

“Just one stop.”

“Grammy? What did you say?”

Maisie opened her eyes and smiled at her great granddaughter. “Sorry darling, I was just day dreaming. Remembering something that happened a long, long time ago.”

The child moved closer, her eyes huge and inquiring. “What was it?”

Maisie leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes again. “Just someone I met – on a train. Seventy nine years ago today.”

“Seventy nine years ago! But that would be…” the girl counted in her head. “1940. June 1940. Grammy that was during the Second World War, wasn’t it? You must have been very young.”

“I was seventeen. Old enough.”

“Old enough for what?”

“To fall in love.

“Oh. So who was he? Where were you?”

“We were on a train for just one stop. That was all. And then I got off and never thought I’d see him again. He was going off to war – I was going home.”

“Oh that’s so sad! And so romantic! And did you? See him again?” The girl leaned forward eagerly.

Maisie smiled. “Oh yes. He was your great grandfather.”

THE END


February 01, 2020 22:29

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2 comments

22:03 Feb 12, 2020

This was really cute! I was waiting for a sad, depressing ending where she never saw him again, but the ending made me go "aw" out loud

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Rachael Richey
17:39 Feb 14, 2020

Thank you. :-)

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