Saturday, 3 February 2018

What happened at the Railway Hotel? (conclusion)

[Short story, Part II]

I felt elated – a sense of having found something, proof of something – but what? Who were they? They must have been the same people I'd been seen with at the Railway Inn, I felt a sudden surge of enlightenment. I felt I must listen... Open my mind and just listen... It was cold and draughty in the compartment. I tied my woollen scarf into a thick knot, pulled my hat down over my brow and settled into the corner by the window to have a doze once the ticket inspector had passed through. I shouldn't really be feeling tired, but I felt was. I was sickening, coming down with something, cold or 'flu. By the time the train had reached Brackley, the fever must have been high - I was shivering and feeling wretched. I felt myself dozing off, half an eye on what was going on outside.

I fancied a different world outside; oil-lit halts, milk-churns,rectories, horse-drawn dog-carts in station forecourts; not today's world of BOAC 707s crossing the Atlantic, television shows and chromium-plated grills of Humber Super Snipes parked outside neon-lit department stores. But out there in the passing countryside, my mind's eye could see quieter times, from half a century ago, from before the Great War, well before I was born. The fever was altering my perception. I was forgetting about yesterday's strange happenings, and losing contact with reality. Quainton Road, Wendover, Great Missenden... villages passing by, milestones of our nation's history; thatched roofs, garden gates, footpaths over the Chilterns; greys, browns, greens, moss-covered walls, dead leaves, damp. Cough. Shivering. Lousy. I drifted off into a fitful sleep, dreams of earliest childhood, the texture of reality - floorboards, carpets, wallpaper patterns, tiles in the nursery...

At Marylebone station I was woken up by a railway man who was shaking my shoulder. "Sir! We're here! London! Wake up, sir!" For a while, there was a discussion whether or not I'd need an ambulance. A first-aider was summoned, who noted that I had a temperature of over 102F. Feverish indeed. I said I just needed to go home, and was helped into a taxi.

Back at Folyer Court, Winifred Atwell or Russ Conway were hammering out tinkly tunes on next door's flat's television or radio on full-blast, I changed into my pyjamas, crawled into a mercilessly cold bed, yearning for my Edwardian nursery. I was soon asleep, the fever turned the bed into an oven, I was sweating profusely and dreaming again, tight, circular, frustrating dreams from which there was no escape, minor problems exacerbating themselves in my mind, unable to break free unless I woke up.

Three days later I was well enough to go outside into the street, buy some supplies from Budgens and a newspaper from across the road. Recuperating at home, I went back over that day at W_______ _____, that day that had become obliterated from my memory. What did it mean? I really had no idea, no clue. 

Whilst I never let myself become obsessed by the event, it never went away. When an opportunity to return on a work visit to W_______ _____ to discuss a few teething pains with the new signalling installation, I took it. 

This was to be the following May, and quite a different atmosphere met me. I was not staying overnight, I'd be there and back in a day. My first port of call was the Railway Inn, but to my surprise it was closed; downstairs windows boarded over and a large 'TO LET' sign on the front. I asked about. The Frobishers hadn't been able to make the place pay, so they emigrated to Canada. No, Australia. No - definitely, Canada. 

At the depot I talked through the problems with the engineers, word was the yard, and the depot - and the whole line - would be closed within a few years. There was an air of resignation among the workers; morale was poor. Over tea, I said that I'd last been in W_______ _____ on the night of the meteor. Suddenly, the men sitting at the table perked up and struck up a more animated discussion. The consensus was that this had been something more than a shooting star. Why, the very next day a couple of RAF chaps turned up with an American officer, and were clearly investigating an incident that was more interesting than a mere lump of rock falling from space.

I listened to many different stories from that night, but could tell that many of the story-tellers were fabricating or dissembling. Clearly something extraordinary had occurred, but what - no one was able to offer a rational explanation. Flying saucers tended to dominate the discussion. I returned to London that evening none the wiser, but on the train I met a nice young lady, on her way to a job interview with the LCC as a teacher. 

Her name was Phillipa, she came from Rugby, and we'd struck up an unusually easy (for me) conversation, I told her of my previous journey to W_______ _____ and of my strange meeting at the Railway Inn. She was a petite woman in her mid-20s, with short mousy hair and a ready smile. She was amazed by my story - because, as  she said, the same thing had happened to her. Literally, the same thing. A Nordic-looking couple had stayed at her aunt's bed and breakfast at P_____ ______; they said they were on a canal holiday and wanted one night ashore to have a bath and a large cooked dinner. It was last November, and Phillipa was on half-term and helping out. Two things struck us as strange; Phillipa could not remember these people at all; her aunt described them but she herself had no recollection. She went for a short walk with them to the nearby woods - but again, other than what her aunt had said - no memories. After they left, she contracted a viral infection with a high fever, just as I had. 

Before we parted at Marylebone, we had a drink at the Globe; I bought Phillipa a port and lemon, while I drank a light-and-bitter. We agreed to meet again - she landed that job - and within the year, we were married. We both said that fate had conspired to bring us together. 

In the spring of 1965, our twins were born. Boy and girl. Blond hair - not something that had run in either family. We jokingly nicknamed them Lars and Lara on account of their Scandinavian appearance. Today, both of them have amazing careers. Neither ever married, nor had children. But Lars went on to devise some of the most cutting-edge IT solutions (including some very hush-hush applications in Big Data), while Lara works in DNA research and has twice been shortlisted for a Nobel Prize.

In our retirement in Mevagissey, Philipa and I have sometimes dared ponder whether there is any connection between our children's part in the progress of human science and that strange night in November 1960. Divine intervention? Something else that we could not begin to fathom? The implication was too huge to bear thinking about; it's something we keep to ourselves and we share with no one, not even our children.

This time three years ago:
Demand and inequality in the global economy

This time four years ago:
Sorry, takie mamy koleje

This time five years ago:
Visit to Warsaw's Jewish Cemetery

This time six years ago:
Under Rondo Dmowskiego 

This time seven years ago:
My Most favourite bridge

This time eight years ago:
Street lighting under the snow

This time nine years ago:
Ul. Poloneza - archival video before the S2 was built

This time ten years ago:
Aerial juxtaposition over Jeziorki

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and intriguing time-slip fantasy - delicately wrought and entertaining in its detail and good nature

Frater Homebird III