It was a spring day, and the writer sat on a bench under the station clock. He took a deep breath, revelling in the sensation of rebirth in the warm air. In the distance, far off, below the backdrop of craggy, pine-covered mountains, he could just make out a dot that signified the oncoming train.
He was very old, and his thin frame seemed lost within the baggy grey suit he wore. He looked up at the clock, where the thick black minute hand against the white disc had just passed 11.50. Yes, the train would be on time.
He opened a battered brown suitcase, took out an ancient notebook and smiled. A gift from his auntie Nellie when he’d got his first job at the Cravenbrook Times. Now it was seventy years later. Where had all those years gone?
The old writer gazed at a faded poster for a feature film on the station wall. Hollywood stars alternately grimaced and smiled back at him. But if he had made the effort to stand up and walk over, he could have looked in the small print below the big names and seen his own name as the screenwriter. Well, one of them.
“Dan, we can use the script but it’s going to need serious rewriting, we’re pairing you up with Solomon Peebles.”
He’d been over that darned script so many times the print was almost worn out in places. He thought it was damned near perfect. Yeah, maybe it could do with a few edits here and there, but ‘serious rewriting’! His hackles had risen. “Hang on, Quent, Sol Peebles was in diapers when I’d written a dozen books and four movie scripts!”
“Look, Dan, calm down. We’ll fly you out to LA. Take some chill-out time. Lay on the beach, take a hike in the hills, then sit down with Sol for a week and he’ll run through the changes with you.”
The old man ran a hand over his bald head and looked down the line. The train was now visible as a train, no longer a distant speck. He looked around the platform. There were no other passengers. All was quiet and peaceful.
He flicked through his notebook. There’d been many other notebooks since, but here were notes from many newspaper assignments – interviews, court reports, and jottings for his novels and stories too. He took out a pencil and sucked on the stub, re-reading his shorthand for a 1954 interview with Ray Bradbury for the thousandth time.
“Ray, you just won a gold medal for Fahrenheit 451. Congratulations! Do you remember how you got started writing?”
“Well, Dan, my first decision about a career was when I was eleven. I wanted to be a magician and travel the world.”
He’d smiled. “Well, you are a magician. With words!”
“Well, thank you.” Ray Bradbury laughed. “Anyway, my second decision was at the age of twelve. I got a toy typewriter for Christmas. And decided to become a writer.”
“When did you get your first break?” he inquired.
Ray Bradbury took off his owl-like glasses and polished them with a green silk handkerchief. “Well, Dan, er, my first acceptance came from Rob Wagner’s Script Magazine, when I was twenty. In the meantime, I’d written three million words!”
The line began to hum with the approaching train and the old man slipped the pencil back into the retaining band of the old notebook and put it back into the suitcase. He remembered his Auntie Nellie with fondness. How his brother, Paul, and he had laughed at the way she often pronounced ‘om’ as ‘um,’ so she’d talk about ‘nuclear bums’ and ‘IRA terrorist bums.’ His auntie had brought them both up after his parents were wiped out by a German bomb one ghastly night. All he remembered of his mother was rosy cheeks and dark, liquid eyes that seemed to be filled with unconditional love for him. He didn’t remember his father at all.
“Auntie, have any more terrorist bums exploded?” he would ask, trying to keep a straight face. Then they’d all collapse with laughter. Even Auntie Nellie would join in the fun. “I hope not, Daniel. They say there’s a shortage of toilet paper!”
The brakes sighed and the long blue engine slowed, and carriage after shiny carriage passed, until the train came to a standstill. No one got off and there was no announcement. The old man got on and a uniformed hand stretched out to help him up the steps.
The train sprang into life again and began to move slowly along the platform, picking up speed until the rail began to sing once more. Then it was off down the line, whilst small white clouds in a pristine blue sky watched it go until it was just the tiniest of tiny dots in the far distance again.
On the platform stood the old writer’s battered brown suitcase. He was going somewhere where he wouldn’t be needing it anymore. Somewhere where he hoped those rosy cheeks and dark, liquid eyes would be waiting for him.
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2 thoughts on “Train of Thought”
An interesting tale of what was, what could have been and what is to be. I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad and melancholy for Dan and was touched by his affection for Aunt Nellie and how attached he was to the notebook she gifted him many years ago. Since we all are familiar with Ray Bradbury, I’m curious if Sol Peebles, Rob Wagner and Dan himself might be real people. A fascinating and haunting tale, like so many you’ve penned before. Always arousing our curiosity and giving us pause. Wonderful dialogue and flow. A most pleasurable read! 🌟
Thank you, Nancy. Rob Wagner was a real person as those are RB’s verbatim thoughts. The rest was fictional, though the names were drawn from real people.
Was the old man really on a station, or in a hospital bed somewhere, thinking over his life as he was passing away? Let the reader decide!
Thank you for your kind comments about the writing. It’s a story that meant a lot to me, for some unknown reason. 👍