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This is November, under London. This is a business trip, supposedly, free from personal agenda. This is a lie I tell to appease my guilt and my terror, but the truth arrives on time. The next station is Holborn. Change for the Piccadilly line. This is six in the evening on the day of the fireworks, fifty days before Christmas. This coat is too hot. Sweat, twenty-five metres below the freezing streets, boiling in a scrum of peacoat armpit. I am free down here. This train is ready to depart.
This is the fingertip laid on the edge of what if.
This is Covent Garden. This is a Piccadilly line train to Heathrow Terminal 5. I am due at the end of this line tomorrow morning where a plane will continue the westward journey, trolley suitcase unruly, passport in hand. This is a return ticket, half completed. The next station in life is more difficult. This train of thought terminates the marriage. Mind the searing edge of his ire when you tell him tomorrow night, the indignant disbelief that it comes from me, that I drive the train and I see the maw of tunnel ahead and I throw the brake, not him. Picture him at the airport on the other side of the next continent, Ford Explorer idling in the short stay parking lot, squinting in the greasy twilight rain as he plans his next round, choosing carefully between screaming and the silent treatment. The amygdala is operating an exit only policy due to overcrowding.
The woman now approaching the Freemason’s Arms on Long Acre is me. She does stop here. This is a drinks event, completing the business trip. Please stand clear of the doors.
I have learned to double-click the oblong button on the side of my watch with a step and a half to go in front of the snapping gates of the Underground. I have learned to brush the watch face over the yellow sensor and snatch it away, slipping into the network below. I have spent ten years in the land of freeways and semi trucks and interstates to nowhere, with more nowhere beyond. I have found the end of those roads. Down here, I have memorised the lines I wish were mine. I have folded the top inch of boxy plastic five pound notes so they fit into my wallet, whose dimensions are measured for American bills, which I no longer want to earn or spend. And yet I am meant to go back. By the time the drinks event ends, the tube is closed and I take a taxi to my hotel, where I don’t sleep.
I sit hunched with my suitcase on my way across a cold city when the tube opens in the morning, passing through Covent Garden again at six a.m.
Please mind the gap where my self-belief used to be. This is Hounslow West. Customers for Heathrow Terminal 5 should change here and wait on this platform for a train to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5. This is a Piccadilly line service. The next station is Hatton Cross. This is where I could turn around.
This is a British Airways check-in counter, and this is its attendant. This is a navy and red neckerchief, eyes of winged liner and a broad lipsticked smile above a button-down shirt. This is my passport. This is my green card, checked to see if I am adequately credentialed to board a flight west. This is your gate, dear, as she circles it in biro and this is my hand snatching my suitcase back off her little conveyor belt before it slips below counter level and weaves its way to a transatlantic jet. This is her surprise, my tears, my red coat wet from the rain but my back suddenly straight, passport snatched back too, snot sniffed and eyes wiped. This is me, changing here.
This is the station at Heathrow Terminal 5, again, glass and chrome and plastic airport panelling, train at rest, doors open, nose pointed east. This is gripping my suitcase between my knees as the train departs, carriage empty save for me, ripping the starchy SEA tag off the handle, crunching the brittle plastic and paper in my fist, pulling the adhesive away from my smarting skin. The ability to give a fuck about what I have just done is partly suspended between exhilaration and abject dread due to unplanned engineering works.
Osterley Hammersmith South Ken Knightsbridge Green Park holy shit Holborn King’s Cross, change, Circle line. Two stops.
The next station is Barbican. There are no alternative routes. Exit here to save your soul. Stay here for the rest of your life.
About Jane Copland
Jane Copland is the Creative Nonfiction editor at VirtualZine. Her work has been published in Witness Magazine, The Independent, Newsroom New Zealand, Ellipsis Zine, JMWW Journal, Hayden's Ferry Review, trampset and other publications. She has forthcoming work in Identity Theory, and is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Her stories have also been shortlisted in the Fresher Prize, New Millennium Writing, and the Nobow Press short story competition. She is from New Zealand and lives in the UK.
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