Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

43 thoughts on “Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

  1. You came up with a very realistic explanation for the odd way the man is perched on the edge of that bench. I have boarded the uptown subway mistaking it for the downtown one. Easy to do, actually.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a bad dream! My son visited last weekend and we shared our stories like Your story here…. he arrived at the airport only to find he’d booked his flight from a different airport. Or when I visited family and stopped to pick up rental car which was reserved somewhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is similar to being fired, except that it means the job no longer exists, and you don’t lose it for incompetence. Some companies give good severance packages when that happens. My wife was made redundant from the bank in 2018, because of the rise of Internet banking, and not through any fault of her own. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great new story πŸ™‚ I know I have said this before, but the tone of this one so far reminds me of some of director Mike Leigh’s early television work and maybe a bit of Life Is Sweet. Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My heart sunk, poor bloke, not that its ever happened to me πŸ™‚ Well except for the time I went to catch a plane; if only I had checked the time and not the ticket number! Whats more I had no mobile phone to call my lift back πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve noticed you’ve finished your serial. Will you be posting the full story soon? I know what he might have felt like. These days it is difficult to get any information unless you are in a big station. So sad for the both of them. But, we all know men never ask for directions and don’t ask questions either… Great story, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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