Caution: Do Not Read the Signs
It’s a late train and not moving, something to do with leaves on the line. There are few passengers left. Some man behind me is sleeping and a glimmery girl opposite is peeling her eyelashes off to cry. I look away.
No Eye Contact – Penalty £200
I read the sign above me. There’s a comfort to signs. This one’s new; the shiny sticker’s plastered over an old one like a scab. I haven’t disobeyed a sign since Caution: Danger of Death. Electricity. The paint was yellow, a stick man had a flash of lighting in his chest like a fork in a chip. The doll someone threw on top of the sub station had to stay there. I kept walking past to see it on the roof, bleached by the sun like a sunbather getting it wrong.
No Smoking. Quiet Carriage
The girl on the train is still crying. I look around. The man is not snoring. The girl’s eyes leak silence, drop drips onto feathery eyelashes in her hand.
I look out the window when I’ve read all the signs in the train. I look out to see you, see me, stood on a platform, looking up, wondering if we’ve missed the train home.
There I am—twenty-one, so small, a splinter of who I am. And there’s you, pouting between laughs—tall, yellow haired, a young giraffe on the platform.
Keep Back from the Platform Edge
I bang on the window, but neither of us look. I want to shout, ‘If you’re quick you can still catch a bus. There will be no need to walk home. You don’t need to invite anyone inside.’ I want to wrap us in advice about the benefits of sleep, warn about the unreliable high of staying up talking all night.
Warning: Trains Run Either Way
Out there, I am taking out chewing gum, offering. My pockets are minty fresh. I forgot I once took gum everywhere in case of emergency. I wave out the window, want to yell, ‘You don’t have to be ready for kissing at any time!’
You are accepting my gum, touching a hand like a lily that may fall apart.
In Case of Emergency Do Not Use
I wonder if I run out now, if I can get back on this last train before it shifts.
The sign on the door near my seat is confusing. I am not sure if I may not use the glass door in an emergency, or if I may only use it in an emergency, and exactly what an emergency is.
There, I am, out there, twenty one, and deciding a walk home may not be such a bad thing. And you are there too. I want to tell me not to do that laugh like that. I need to tell you not to write poems about supermarket trolleys and songs to wheelie bins.
Is it an emergency if no one dies? If the only damage done doesn’t make a crash?
I don’t know.
No Eye Contact: Penalty is a much better sign. I look at it full on. The driver climbs into his cubicle. The crying girl is now just a girl, putting fake eyelashes in her purse and taking out her earrings like she’s getting ready for bed.
Outside, I am with you; my train pulls away. I leave us walking towards the exit, taking pointy footsteps towards love, lazy mornings, wet afternoons, and nights. I’ll ride all the way to the coast just to pick one shell off the beach, to bring the sound of the ocean home.
Angela Readman completed an MA in creative writing at The University of Northumbria. Her flash fiction has won the National Flash Fiction Day Competition and been published in various online journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Metazen, Pank and The Pygmy Giant. Her longer stories have been published in Unthology and short-listed in the Costa Short Story Prize, The Bristol Short Story Prize and The Short Story Competition. She was recently short-listed for The Asham Award. Her short-listed story will appear in a Virago anthology later this year.