Gone Fishing – a short story

Morning sunshine. Today’s the day! Just keep your cover till you get here, you’ll be fine. See you soon!

I groan at my phone, what a way to start the day. I’m barely outside the house and I’ve already tripped over the doorstep. All that’s there to light my way to the station are the lampposts, with their fuzzy glow. They look as if they’re sound asleep. I should just chuck a stone at them, that’d wake them up.

Earphones plugged into my head, I slug along the street. Maybe if I turn the volume to max it’ll keep me from going back to sleep and wandering into the road. Even in the sleep-deprived state I’m in, this turned out to be a great decision, choosing to live in this part of town. As a first year, the place to be is Cranbrook Avenue, with the uni, quite literally in my case, being in your back garden.

Here, it’s further away from uni, but overall, nicer. No vodka-drenched freshers slouching against your front-door at 2 AM because they couldn’t quite make it four doors down to their own home. No potential collisions between students on bicycles and rough, city-born bus drivers on that narrow road.

My room is upstairs, at the back of the house. It overlooks the armada-like rows of adjoining gardens that belong to our neighbours. Kids play on their swing set, abusing it as kids do, twirling the swings into a tangle and attempting to walk up the slide, while their parents hang the washing on the line. No crappy plastic washstands, with clothes dribbling on the floor, surrounded by a pool of oozing takeaway boxes for these families.

At night time, even when you can’t quite see everything, it still looks nicer than Cranbrook, that’s how good it is. And here I go, off to fucking Scarborough.

Even the grottier parts of town gain a sort of vintage charm as I get closer to the station. The crumpled mix of a Polish supermarket, second-hand electrical appliance shop and a barber’s look rather snug in the pre-dawn light.

The station looms ahead, and with it the tender mumblings of a city half-awake. Cars and buses appear from nowhere in particular, trundling past me. Once I reach the station, I yank my earphones out and I’m greeted with some echoy babble from the tannoy. How do people even understand that thing? Is it there to incoherently bark out train times, or is just there to create a bit of ambience?

The place is full of engines that throb in the air, everywhere you go they change from key to key. Christ, its cold in here. There’s only me and two or three other people here. There’s some young, skinny guy; hairy face, messy hair, chequered shirt, and a caterpillar-coloured rucksack hugging his back. He nearly gallops past me, through the iron gates and bounds onto the platform like the Andrex puppy. My phone jangles in my pocket.

Hey again. If anyone asks, just say you’re filming, like last time. Don’t screw this up, or we’re all buggered.

The phone’s bright screen makes me blink, and it dawns on me that this is really happening. I can’t back out now. I almost run to the platform, where the dark, steely blue of the train comes into full view. Its engines let out a tense hum which pounds in my head. I breathe in the sharp, cold air, mixed with the faint cloggy patches of diesel from the engine. It’s a right stinker. The mix of piercing cold air makes breathing feel sore, yet the thick diesel makes it feel as though the stench becomes lodged up my nostrils.

I splutter all over the platform, tiny drops of phlegm throw themselves down onto the grey ground. My coughs ring out all around the station, soon blending in with the engine’s growls. Swallowing whatever dignity I may have left after my sudden outburst, I swing round to check the timetable. Four minutes to go, best get on board.

Stepping into the metal beast, the engines instantly die down, changing from the ringing rumbles outside to a soft murmur. The brightly lit interior only adds to the darkness outside the windows, I wonder if this is what being inside a coffin is like?

The skinny guy from before has already claimed a seat for himself, one of those four seat sections placed in the middle of the carriage, with a table in between as well. He’s not even using that space for anything. Greedy sod. I make my way to the end of the carriage and pass a fat, balding man in a one-coloured business suit. You can see the stretch marks on his stomach as it envelops the pulled down plastic tray in front of him, like his belly is eating it.

On the tray is a laptop, opened and more awake than I am, and at his side are a collision of different-sized notebooks and folders, all swelling with thickly written papers. I collapse into my seat, instantly feeling drowsier than before. I scrunch myself up as comfortably as possible, and with a whistle, the engine wrenches itself away from the station and into the dawn.

Outside, the sky’s slowly turning blue, while all the buildings zoom past with their black outlines being illuminated. At the far end of the carriage the door yawns open and Mike strides through, his rectangular name-badge gleaming along with his face.

‘Tickets, please!’ his crisp voice cuts through my drowsiness and I jerk to attention. Even though there’s a whole stretch of carriage between us, I can smell his aftershave, potent as ever, like my mum’s whiskey fish stew. He deals with the bald guy first. He jumps when Mike bends down towards him, resulting in a crashing sound and the fluttery flop of a bunch of papers falling to the floor.

‘Tickets please, sir!’

‘Oh for God’s sake, look what’s happened!’

The guy’s bald head bops up and down for a few moments, interjected with grumbles, while Mike waits patiently.

‘Can I see your ticket please sir?’

‘It’s in that bag, oh bugger, my laptop, and I hadn’t saved anything yet!’ he waves a hand toward a brown laptop bag, which Mike dives into. Turning away from the commotion, I relax a little and return to gazing out of the window.

Fewer buildings whizz by than before, as we roll into the countryside. The sun slugs its way upwards, revealing the green fields with speckled cows dotted among them. Out of the window’s corner the outskirts of the city slip further and further away.

‘Morning, Frasier!’

I spin my head round as the aftershave starts to strangle my nose. Mike’s cheery grin bears down on me, now that certainly wakes you up. He’s one of those people who smiles by showing off their teeth. Mike’s mouth is crammed with them, his mouth looks like a bag of mint imperials.

‘Morning.’

My hand scrambles in my pocket for the ticket I bought the day before. He snatches the ticket away from me and, without even looking, feeds it through the little black box that dangles from his neck.
‘Off to do some more filming then?’

‘Yep.’

As he fiddles with my ticket, I can hear the stretch of the rubber straps that hold the box around his gut. They smell vaguely warm too, like he’s had it strapped there for ages. I never see him without it on, for all I know he sleeps with it.

‘Well they’re lucky to have someone who gets up at this time, Will we be seeing you again tonight?’

‘Yeah.’

He thrusts the stamped ticket into my face.

‘Same time I take it? First train in and last train out, you’re the dedicated sort!’

‘I try to be.’

‘Well have fun, kid. See you tonight!’

And with that, Mike bounces on his way, his voice booming to no-one in particular, and soon disappears through the other end of the carriage. I’m surprised I managed to keep my cool, unlike last time. I pretty much erupted when the ticket guy asked for my tickets. He didn’t suspect anything, just looked away like I was a nutter. As the doors close behind him, the train slithers to a halt at Beverley station.

The sun’s finally starting to pour through the thinly-framed windows, several of them dotted along the inner walls of the station. As the carriage doors hiss open, an old woman gets on board, her face wrapped in a scarf like spaghetti around a fork. She heaves her plump frame along the carriage, squatting at a nearby seat.

The bald guy’s still glaring at the hairy guy, whose music seems to be spilling from his headphones and radiating all around the carriage. It’s hardly deafening, what with it being mixed into a cocktail of shuffling passengers and humming engines, but the bald guy appears agitated, as if a bee were swarming around his shiny head.

Firmly facing the window, we start up again, the moving engine now revealing that the name of the station, in plastic blue and white, was the only object adorning the sandy-brown walls. Mike tumbles through the carriage door, the black box poised for action as he bounds along the train collecting tickets. Outside the arched section, the platform slips downward and disappears. The scene changes from thick walls to loose, spiralling shrubbery, which clumsily hides buildings from view.

For about half an hour, this is my view, nothing but unkempt, spiky green that’s littered at the roots with rusty, miscellaneous railway junk. Engine wheels, strips of track, huge chunks of buffer stops that are missing their actual buffers. They’re all horribly wrapped in weeds, whatever life they had now strangled.

Through the greenery, flashes of colour and shape show signs of city life. Cars and vans appear to speed along the roads, their full shapes blocked by sheets of leafs and crooked branches, before changing to buses and lorries. Buildings perform similar acts of magic; shrivelled, boxy corner shops appear to change into drawn-out Sainsbury’s, the orange name spreads along the top like a party banner.

Right, slight change of plan. Mickey’s found that the van got fucking clamped, with all the gear in it! It’s getting sorted now, but once you’re off the train, just keep yourself occupied for a couple of hours.

God’s sake, why did I agree to this? Everyone’s short on money nowadays but I must’ve been fucked in the head to say yes to all this. My phone rattles again.

Go fishing or something. They go fishing in Scarborough don’t they? It’s got the fucking sea next to it, ain’t it?

The greenery begins to fade, as do the buildings, and are replaced by curved hilltops, dotted with short, stubby trees. The smooth gliding of the train isn’t quite enough to overpower that skinny kid’s headphones, which buzz away faintly. Another sound starts to simmer as well. The blonde girl, perhaps? No, she’s got her legs curled up on her seat, reading a magazine. I’ve never seen legs that white before, did she whack on some flour or talcum powder when she got out of the shower this morning?

What about the spaghetti lady? Nope, she’s fast asleep in that scarf. I sit to attention and peer over the rows of seats. Ah, of course, the bald guy. Sounds like he’s growling, he’s got his teeth gnashing away. And the kid’s not even noticed, he’s too busy making his thumbs dance on his phone, twazzock.

Feels like I’m falling slightly into the window, we must be going round a bend. And we are, for the hilltops slide away to reveal the Scarborough coastline, all decked in speckles of light. The scenery changes for the last time to cramped houses, shops and the odd church as we enter the final station.

The tannoy spits out our arrival, making the old lady jump awake. Crawling to a halt, we arise one by one with out belongings. I shuffle off the train, hunched and frowning. This could all go so wrong.

But as I turn the corner with the sliding glass doors in sight, a low voice starts to growl behind me, and echoes all round the station. A door bursts open before me and two security guards come charging towards me. Oh shit, have I been found it? Is it all over before it’s started? I freeze, body clenched.

The security guards dash past me and I spin round – the bald guy has caught up with the skinny kid, grabbing him by the arm and rattling him. The kid looks perplexed, probably because he’s still got his headphones on. The security guards thrust themselves into the mess, trying to break it up. I can feel my body slither into relaxation. Well, I guess I’d best get fishing.

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