You step off the train and take your first scent of the air that was once so familiar to you. You recognise the station. Every inch. But the smell, it’s different. You think this as the cool, sea air rises in your nostrils. You place one foot forward, wondering briefly whether it’s right to savour it. You’ve been gone a long time. Too long perhaps. Too long for him. You hear the train conductor hail, the doors slam. It’s only when you’re half way over the pedestrian bridge that the train pulls away.
It’s quite cold and you remember the time he’d call to see if you wanted picking up. You look at your phone and realise that now that could never happen. You thought twice about things like that in the past. You were only being considerate. If you could measure a person’s love out in offers refused, he’d fill an ocean.
You continue walking and all you hear is the sound of gulls overhead. You hear them as you think he would have heard them too, all those years ago. You remember the times he’d recount his childhood of serving ice cream at the beach. What was it, you say? Three and six? You don’t even know what that means. Did you ever, really, understand him? You think that time can be cruel. You carefully measure your footfall down the last remaining steps.
You begin walking the gentle incline up from the station, bringing to mind the many times you’ve done it before. How do things change so much, you think, but always stay the same? Gradually you think. Did you stay the same when you got old? Did I watch you change like I’m changing now into the same man you were? Did it matter to you that I came back to visit? Did I come back enough? Those last days when all you wanted to do was go to bed.
You ask yourself the kinds of questions you know now not to expect an answer to. You see cars with passengers in the backseat and wonder if they recognise you. There he goes, young Jimmy’s son, must be tough you know, all that to bear. And the wife, how does she cope? If only he’d been the talk of the town. He’d died quietly, you think. How everyone does now. In their own little bubble. Away. Just a few people to hear.
You keep on walking and your breath is getting quick as you reach the alley. The leaves are cracking under foot and the sunlight peeks through the leaves like its tapping you on the shoulder. You tug your bag against your back and check the road for cars. It’s altogether quiet today, kind of fitting. Respectful you think. You hear the church bell toll and reckon there must be a service in the morning too. You find things coming back but not like they used to. You think something’s been taken away but this time it actually has.
You wonder how long it’ll be before you discover something you can’t do, something you need help with. You think of the future. You’re melancholy. You were worse. It had been tough. It still was, sure. Can you keep missing someone like that though? He had others there for him now. Others to care.
Matthew Allcock is an English Literature graduate from Goldsmiths College, London (2009), and recipient of the Winifred Hyde Prize for highest mark in the current session. A writer of literary prose and poetry for several years, he is currently residing in Whitstable, Kent and was long-listed for Cinnamon Debut Poetry Collection Prize in 2012. More of his writing can be found at mattallcock.blogspot.co.uk/ and he makes music under the name Lipsis.