Roisin Steed – Tracks of Tears

roisinRoisin Steed (nee Glynn) is from Galway. She was Educated at Our Lady’s Bower Athlone, spent twelve years in England. Roisin Glynn Steed worked in the tourist board in Galway and spent twelve years in London where she worked with The Daily Telegraph newspaper selling Irish property and afterwards for the Law Society. She won a prize in Deirdre Purcell short story competition and also won many letters of the week in Sunday Independent prizes.

Tracks of Tears

Harry awoke with a start, the dark room engulfing him in trepidation. His wife Sarah stirred restlessly beside him sensing perhaps that something was wrong. “What is it?” she asked reaching out to touch him. He was covered in perspiration, his pyjamas sticking to him uncomfortably. “Nothing” he lied. “It’s nothing at all”. “You go back to sleep now, I’m just going to get a drink”. He went downstairs to the kitchen and poured himself a large glass of milk, sitting down heavily at the table to drink it. His heart was hammering wildly against his chest and his hands shook so badly that he could barely lift the glass to his mouth. Another nightmare, only this one was worse than all the others. When were they going to end? He was driving through Samson’s Tunnel, the long black tube, when he was certain that he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Yes Jim”, he called back thinking it was his colleague but there was no reply. He turned around and was astonished to find that there was nobody there. A cold chill ran up his spine and as he approached the end of the tunnel the ring of light became her face, grotesque and sneering at him. The train trundled on ploughing through her distorted features and as it did so he felt the hand again, this time cold fingers at the back of his neck. It was then he woke up.

Harry Smith had worked as a train driver for the best part of twelve years. It was what he had always wanted to do since he was a young boy, running around with his friends and playing on the tracks. The sheer power and speed, the tunnels and tracks fascinated him. Often they would stand in a line on the grassy hill beside the track, and watch George Flynn drive by waving at them as he passed. “I’m going to be a train driver like George when I grow up”, he’d announce, “me too” they’d say in unison. It was only Harry who fulfilled his dream. However the dream was short lived and lately it had become a nightmare. He couldn’t believe how unlucky he was with the number of suicides on his particular stretch of track. Twelve years in the job – five suicides. Why did it always have to be him? Most of the other drivers had experienced one or two in their time, and Frank Poole who had been with the company for sixteen years hadn’t had a single suicide to bother him. The only thing Frank had was a big mouth, and he delighted in telling everyone about his suicide free record. “I’m the best driver in the business” he’d boast to anyone who’d care to listen. Nobody did. Frank was forty five years old and he never missed an opportunity to have a dig at Harry. “How is the man with the highest track record?” he’d scoff or “here comes suicide Harry”. For some strange reason Frank thought it was a measure of his skilful driving that he had never experienced a suicide under his train, rather than sheer good luck or in Harry’s case bad luck. All the other drivers despised Frank. He was smug and arrogant, always looking for trouble because of his size. Big and burly with coarse features and a foul mouth, he had been in more punch ups than Muhammad Ali, taunting anyone who would come his way. Usually he found himself alone during lunch time or tea breaks because the others steered well clear of him. His wife Una had suffered his temper on more than one occasion, frequently appearing with a black eye, or bruises on her face. He was a bully and a coward.

Harry sighed, pouring himself another glass of milk as he tried to calm down. All the counselling hadn’t helped one bit, and he’d never get used to that awful feeling in the pit of his stomach every time he clocked on for work. The latest one was the worst of all because before she jumped she looked straight at him, a sort of lethargic demented look and he knew he had seen her before somewhere. He racked his brain trying to remember but just couldn’t and what was worse was, that he was beginning to get a migraine headache. He massaged his temples with the tips of his fingers, elbows leaning on the table. From his peripheral view he could see his wife enter the kitchen, concern bringing her to look for him. “Are you alright dear?” She pulled a chair over beside him and sat down. “Another nightmare?” he nodded and she took his hand in hers rubbing it gently trying to soothe him. He told her about the dream and the hand, “It’s only been a month since it happened Harry, it’s bound to still be fresh in your mind”. “But it was the same place” he said, “the same tunnel”. “Come back to bed” Sarah said, gently taking his two hands and pulling him up on his feet. You need all the sleep you can get right now”.

Next morning Harry was exhausted and feeling more like seventy five than a man of thirty five. The suicides had taken their toll on him and no matter what anyone said deep down Harry felt guilty and believed that in some way he was responsible. Of course if somebody was determined to take their own life, then there was nothing that anybody could do, least of all train drivers. It happened so fast that often they couldn’t even determine what it was until afterwards.

Sarah fixed breakfast for him but he couldn’t eat a thing. The distorted familiar face of the young woman puzzled him. He went to work in a daze. “You look like shit” Poole announced as soon as he saw him. Harry ignored him, hanging his jacket behind the door of the staff room and putting on his overalls. He really didn’t need this today. Jim Brody arrived and broke the atmosphere, whistling the song “Trains and Boats and Planes”. Harry smiled, wishing that he could be like Jim, always happy and cheerful. Nothing ever seemed to get him down. Jim was in his late fifties and had been with the company all his life. His wife Nora had died at the age of forty six from cancer, which devastated him and was the only time that his colleague ever saw the other side of Jim. He never re-married, preferring to spend more time at work because he didn’t have Nora to go home to. They had two daughters, married now with their own families and if Jim wasn’t working then chances were he’d be with his grandchildren whom he adored. He was very popular with everybody except of course Poole, who was secretly quite jealous of him. Harry had a lot of time for Jim, and they often worked on the same shifts. Sometimes if he wasn’t working Jim would travel on the train with Harry just to keep him company because he hated going home to an empty house.

Sarah often invited him over for dinner with herself and Harry. The two men started chatting and Poole shuffled out knowing that he wasn’t wanted. “Don’t let him get to you” Jim said, “It’s what he wants”. “I know, but sometimes I want to kill him just to shut him up”. Harry punched his rucksack in frustration, “You wouldn’t be the first person to say that” his friend laughed, “and you won’t be the last”. They went to the canteen together and Harry brought the tea over to the table where Jim waited. “You look tired Harry. Sure you are not overdoing it?” “I’m not sleeping well – I’m having nightmares”. He sat down with the tea, passing one to his friend. Jim lit up a cigarette dragging deeply on it. “Isn’t the counselling helping them?” “Not at all, in fact the nightmares are more frequent and worse than ever”. “Perhaps you should see a Doctor”. “No thanks, this is something I’ve got to get through alone”. Jim studied him for a few seconds. Harry had been through hell in the past few years and Jim had watched him go downhill unable to do anything for him. He offered him a cigarette and lit if for him. Harry’s nerves were shot to pieces and he was smoking sixty cigarettes a day instead of his usual twenty. For the first seven years that Harry had worked for the company, Jim had never known a happier man – he loved his job and couldn’t wait to get into the train every day, arriving first every morning, carefree and eager to get on the tracks. All this started to change on his eighth year when first a young man and then a middle aged man jumped in front of his train. The following year a thirty two year old woman took her own life under his wheels. Harry nearly had a nervous breakdown and it didn’t help either to have Poole goading him, telling him he was jinxed. On the tenth and eleventh year nothing happened. Jim really felt that his friend was beginning to recover, until this year. It was the month of May and already two young people had flung themselves in front of his train – a twenty year old man and the most recent one, a twenty three year old woman. Anybody would be a total wreck under these circumstances. One could never get used to it. “How is Sarah?” he asked to break the mood. “She’s fine Jim, though I feel sorry for her at the moment having to put up with me!”

“What you both need is a night out and I’m going to give you just that” Jim said smiling. “My treat. Say tomorrow night, the three of us will go out for dinner and a few drinks”. “How about that?” “Great, I’ll tell Sarah later and thanks Jim”. “I think it’s about time I repaid your wonderful hospitality. Yourself and Sarah have been so good to me”. Harry glanced at the clock and sighed, “Its time I went to work”.

Work these days was a trial and often Harry thought his shift would never end. He spent all his time wound up wondering what was going to happen next and imagining the worst. He couldn’t help it; her young face was always on his mind. He’d never be able to forget.

Perhaps he should see a doctor after all. As he was approaching Samson’s Tunnel he began to break out in a sweat thinking about the awful nightmare, “Damn it” he said, “what’s the matter with me?” I’m facing reality now and I’m wide awake he thought to himself, but he was trembling as the train roared under the tunnel, perspiration running down his face and stinging his eyes. Then it happened! In the pitch black train he felt a hand on his shoulder. He roared out, his heart pounding as in his dream “Oh! God this cant be happening” “Its alright Harry – its alright”. Jim’s voice tried to calm him, “its only me”, he stood beside Harry. “I came to keep you company, thought you could do with a friend. I’ll take over now – you need a break”. “Jesus Jim you scared me half to death. What the hell do you think you are doing?” Jim looked hurt. “I got on the train to surprise you, not frighten you”, he moved to his friend’s side, “you looked so tired today that I wanted to help”. Harry went and sat down. His clothes were saturated and he was feeling ill. This job was no longer for him – he’d make tomorrow his last day.

That night Harry slept peacefully, his mind at rest now because he knew what he must do. Next morning when he arrived for work, Poole’s taunts no longer bothered him. “This is our killer driver”. Frank said, introducing a new recruit. The young man looked at Harry and smiled, not really aware of what Poole had meant. Harry changed in to his overalls and decided he had time to go for a walk before his shift began. He found himself on the Bonnington Route and chuckled to himself, “the safest route in the world!” He walked for an hour or so until he came to Bonnington Bridge; then he checked his watch 10.50 am. He climbed up to the near side of the railings and looked down. It was then he remembered where he had seen the young woman before. She had been on Samson’s Bridge the previous week and she had waved down at him smiling – her long black hair blowing in the wind. He’d waved back as he drove by in his train. She must have been checking it out. He looked at his watch again 10.56 am. He perched himself on top of a clump of grass and waited. Four minutes to go and Frank Poole’s train would be along. He’d make sure that Poole saw him before he jumped!

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