The submarine was beached. Jimmy said it looked like a whale. I told him to feck off, he’d never seen a whale, not in the twenty-three years he’d been my husband. He said he’d read Moby Dick. I didn’t remember pictures in the book, he was probably thinking of a graphic novel and thought it was the same. Jimmy looked away from the carriage window and back to the sports page of the paper, ignoring the egg salad sandwich he’d left wilting on the table. I’d told him to have it when it was fresh, but it was too late when he listened.
The train shuffled forward. The hold up, according to the woman with the six kids taking up two tables, was a cow on the line. Her eldest had gone up front and checked. The cow wouldn’t move, even when the driver sounded the horn. The woman said it might be deaf like their dad. The kids laughed and nudged him awake. Jimmy smiled at me.
I shifted in my seat. Ahead, the sign for the toilet said vacant. The sound of the tea trolley got closer behind us, china clattering like a baby’s rattle. I thought of moving to the empty side of our table but wasn’t sure if I’d prefer to face a stranger or Jimmy. I considered walking to the front of the train to see what was happening for myself, but decided the view from the bridge was enough. The criss-cross of iron girders framed the submarine scene differently with each jog forward of the train. The light, colour, or shadow changed like the slides Da showed of family holidays I didn’t recognise. I was tempted to remove my sunglasses to see the real pictures passing the train window, but knew in each the submarine remained a rusted wreck, lying alone and tilted inland on the dry estuary bed.
Submarines made me think of my Mam’s home-town Liverpool, home of the yellow one and the ship sunk by another one near my Nan’s in Ireland. I remembered a photo of me with a tin Magic Roundabout kaleidoscope I got as a present one Christmas. Nobody knew I’d got it mixed up with a periscope in my letter to Santa. In primary school I made a periscope but I still couldn’t see round corners.
The train jolted forward. My stomach lurched. Then again. I grabbed the table with both hands. Jimmy held me back, a hand on my arm and his shoulder wedging me in my seat. The woman with the kids said the train driver was trying to nudge the cow. I couldn’t tell if she was joking. I imagined the train prodding the cow’s rear and the turn of her head to see what was there. She wouldn’t know about trains and tracks and people trying to get places on a bank holiday weekend.
I moved from under Jimmy’s arm to reach up and slide the overhead air vent open. No air came. Instead I felt oxygen being sucked out and the carriage contracting into a space too small for the people it carried. On the door there were instructions for an emergency exit. A simple enough procedure if necessary.
My stomach cramped with period pain. I looked at Jimmy. I hadn’t told him. I didn’t want to disappoint him yet.
Rosaleen Lynch, an Irish community worker and writer in the East End of London, pursues stories whether conversational, literary or performed. A contributor to publications including Magnolia, Dear Damsels, Paper and Ink, City of Stories and most recently a Retreat West anthology, Word of Freedom, celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage.
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