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Platform 15

The rain falls harder. It cushions the lights from the street and waterfront. High in the roof of the station, a solitary bird flies. Its wings beat in the dusty air. Its movement is lost to all but those who happen to look up into the ceiling, to peer through the space above them. And I stand here. My expression remote, my eyes lost in thought. Through my mind, races a multitude of images. They cascade one on the other, form like small storms and burst into my consciousness with a subtle force I cannot explain. Tonight, on this platform why should they be so strong? Is there something about the rain, the diffused light of the station that increases their intensity? And why should I, at this point in my life, find myself in a place I thought I knew but no longer recognise? I see only her face before my eyes. It is her face that follows me. I cannot hold onto it. Neither can I let it go. It grasps my mind and I wish it did not. I wish that either she was here in person or that I could walk away. It is like a slow fuse burning but never quite igniting. Or an arrow in flight, seeking a target, but never reaching it. I move toward the edge of the platform. The rails glisten in the rain, shine under the lights from the station. Peering down the line, looking for the expected train, I see nothing: only the shimmer of the signals, the labyrinth of tracks, the glow of red, green or yellow. I put my shoulder bag down and pull a packet of cigarettes from my pocket. I light one. The smoke hangs in the damp air. It floats above me as if in its blueness, its greyness, it were my thoughts forming. As if through it, a light is falling and all that I am thinking is being made visible. Again it is her face I see. Imposing itself on anothers face. Running through the light of a room. Through its long shadows and its enveloping of my gestures. I see her face in the movement of anothers eyes: in their warmth and playfulness: in the curve, the refuge of a shoulder. I sense it in the caress of skin, its smoothness softening the desire, the need to touch. Burying myself in another's arms. All the needing, the longing checked in the meeting of limbs, in hands searching the secret places of another body.

Yet it is her face that appears again and again. It is her face that drives me. It leaves me hanging like a leaf from a tree? I wonder why I cannot grasp her, why she eludes me as though she were somehow unreal. If I try to place her, try in someway to define her, I fail. Perhaps she is not real. Our affair, our relationship did not occur. Maybe dream merged with reality. I impressed this dream upon a real person. She corresponds to some image I carry within me: some half remembered event: a face from childhood. And it is this I return to. An afternoon and I am lying under sun-splintered trees. Shadows stretch across a lawn. Somewhere someone is speaking. I sit up. My eyes focus on the sky above. There are banks of clouds. A face peers into mine. Her hand with its long, fine fingers pulls brown hair back off her face. She smiles at me. Her teeth are white in the sunlight, the hue of her lips fresh and red. The dark of her eyes is warm. My mind still not quite sharp, feels her presence, her appearance plunge into me. Like a river forcing its way through a valley. It darts eagerly, its current moving it on and on. Over a valley an eagle hovers. Its feathers are ruffled by altitude. For a moment it appears motionless, then it dives, coasting through the balmy air before soaring again. She puts one finger over her mouth then kisses me lightly on the lips. Her eyes soften into a smile. There is laughter. A cup is rattled on a saucer. Through the leaves of a laurel a low breeze rustles. I am aware that in this simple action, in this moment, I have changed. The lips that have touched my lips have opened something in me. I stand, the cigarette held in the air. My bag is at my feet. From the far side of the station, a train comes to a halt. Departure and arrival times are announced across the platform. Still I see her. She is in the eyes of anothers face, in the dark, concentrated eyes, the soft skin, the white cotton against olive skin. I hear her voice recur in our conversation, our declarations of affection. There I am walking down the street. My footsteps echo off the pavement. They disappear into the early evening air. The headlights of a passing car glide over a wall. And the canal swells, its water dark and rising under the quietly falling rain. The bird beats against the ceiling of the station. Its wings quiver in the shadowed air. I look up. For a moment I could believe it to be a dove, its plumage catching the lights of the station. But I know it is simply a city pigeon: like those strutting about the city square.

Slowly I step back from the edge of the platform. The rails remain indifferent. My mind is suddenly filled with only one thought. Her face invades every part of me, pushes itself into every corner, every heartbeat, every cell. I see myself leaning against a window, red roses bathed in ocean light. And the door of a hotel room is creaking in the breeze. How simple it is: the act of taking your own life. All it requires is one moment when all the disappointment, all the missed moments, the shortfall in expectations outweigh the desire to live. You find a spot by a railway embankment. You wait for an express train... and jump. In the jolt, the frozen instant when two moving objects inevitably, no matter how briefly, halt each other, is there an end to all conflict?

Copyright Peter Millington. London 1999

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