THE PROBLEM WITH MOVING trains is, they are tricky to exit without causing rather a lot of fuss and bother. Dawn could do without the fuss and bother, especially with him in the carriage behind. It’s the fourth train she’s boarded today, and she’d been hoping to have lost him by now. Even ducking into the station loos to change her clothes hadn’t helped. Maybe she should have chopped off her hair like they do on the telly.
‘Anything from the trolley, love?’
Dawn jumps as a cart comes clattering into carriage B, pushed by a young man with a proud smile and a modest collection of beige cookies. Perhaps he could help. She could whip out her eyeliner and scribble a note on one of his napkins… Help, I’m being followed by the man in the Metallica T-shirt. The one with the huge shoulders and the red hair.
But then what? He’d just say it wasn’t him and that there’s no proof.
Dawn needs to hide; start again.
‘No thanks,’ she smiles at the trolley boy, regretfully pinching at her belly fat, knowing it will make him grin, tut and leave her the hell alone. It does.
If only laying off the cookies would get rid of the heaviness sitting on the inside of her stomach. She can deal with the flab, it’s a reminder of motherhood, of how her body had stretched and strained and carried. That the past fourteen months had been real. She’s been having some trouble with that lately: reality. That’s why she’d spent the previous week trying to convince the staff at the Barton Wing that she was fit for discharge. They’d agreed after the paint-by-numbers piece she’d displayed of her recovery. Of her nearby friends, all on hand to help. How they’d rally around with their cuddles, cups of tea and daily reminders to take the medication that’s lodged in the bottom of her rucksack under Rosie’s cot blanket that still smells like her. Of course, she’d had to lie, there was no way anyone could be there for her, not after everything she’s done.
The overhead lights on the train flicker on in response to the early winter’s evening, illuminating the grubby floor and the empty crisp packets strewn across the stained fabric of the seats. The approaching darkness also means Dawn can see more of the inside than outside through the window. She looks away from the glass, wishing she could close her eyes for five minutes. She daren’t though, she needs to keep her wits about her.
Four young women occupy the table at the front of the carriage. The curly-haired one says something witty about their sociology lecturer and they all laugh. Self-assured laughs. Aren’t-we-clever laughs. Dawn can’t work out whether it feels an age or a minute since she was the one on the train on the way back from uni, snickering with Mel and her other student midwife buddies. It’s still less than two years ago. Two years since her twenty-year-old self had plonked her springy backside on a train, carrying her dreams, an engagement ring and a glint in her eye.
How the mighty can fall.
The girls grow silent and Dawn inches herself downwards, easing her shoulder blades against the back of her seat. She needs to stay calm. Relaxed. This is the only way. A clean slate with all the old stuff rubbed off. None of the memories, none of the people. A new place.
Step one – get off the train and onto the next without him following. If she can’t get that one right, the rest is pointless. Step two – start new life. Get herself and her rucksack somewhere safe, dry and not too fussy about references.
She distracts herself from the reanimated group at the front by imagining what her new flat might look like. Her new job. Obviously, she won’t be able to do what she was doing before; she no longer has the required paperwork. But something. Something good.
How can she even hope for good things after what she’s done? Happiness can’t happen, not without her. Not until her.
But that’s step three, and she can’t start that until she’s sorted the first two.
That’s why she’s spent all day riding rails that span the length of England, from north to south and back up again.
He may have followed her onto this train, but the next station is soon, and she reckons she can lose him at that one. Then there’s just one more journey to take. The one that leads back to Rosie.
WHEN LIFE SENDS YOU right to the bottom, sometimes it helps to climb a hill and look at the world through higher eyes. Dawn catches her breath and decides what to do as she stands at her thinking spot by Dover Castle. From here, all of the town can be seen, its edges drawn around by hills of green. The stone harbour wall cuts a semi-circle through the sea, making space for ferries to come and go between Calais and the cliffs of Dover that stand like sparkling white teeth bared from England’s biggest grin.
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