blackmail press 16
The Journey
You move away from the window of the train and sit in the seat by the door. You had waved to Jude until he was no more than a small blot on the landscape and the train had turned a bend and he was gone. You look around the empty carriage and relax your hands in your lap, but not with any sense of joy; you feel rather the guilt rising like bile to your lips.

"I ought to have told him," you murmur softly, the words lingering about your head." I ought to have been honest with him." You fidget in your seat and allow your fingers to pull at your dress fussily as if this would take away the ill feeling that is rising in you; give you some sense of having done the right thing, even though deep down you know you have not.

"I can wait for your answer," Jude had said that morning, after you had not agreed to his proposal of marriage straight away, but had said you would need a little time to consider the proposal in the light of day. However, you knew even before your words had left your lips that you would refuse him. You knew before his words had parted from him that you could not possibly marry him, even if you were not soon to enter a convent on the outskirts of Paris. "I know you need time and I quite willingly give you the time you need," he had said with that sad look in his dark blue eyes.

You do not love him. You know now as you brush invisible flick from your dress that you ought not to have deceived him as you did. Even on the station a few minutes ago you had the chance to tell him; to put him out of his misery, but instead you allowed him enough hope to eventually hang himself with, as if that hope you gave were rope sufficient for the task. You hold your hands tightly in each other and squeeze them as if you were pushing from your fingers that sense of guilt that is gradually rising up in you.

"I will write soon," you had said on the platform as he stood there with that forlorn look on his face, as if deep down he already knew your answer was to be a negative one. "I promise it will be soon," you had said calmly allowing him to kiss your cheek, allowing his hand to touch your chin as he prepared to kiss you again, but didn't. You have left him like a ticking time bomb; primed and timed to go off once you were well away and at some time in the future, once he realised your answer was as he feared it would be. And as you sit back you try to push away the image of his face; that image that seems to be almost branded into your conscience as if you were his property not to be disposed of  by any other than him.

"Why you want to shut yourself away, I'll never know," your mother had said when you had told her about your vocation to be a nun in a contemplative order in France. She would not have approved of Jude, but she may well have preferred him to the convent and its claim on you.

"I never thought a daughter of mine would throw away her life on such a notion," your father had said in that tone he preserved for such occasions as this, when you or your brother or sister wanted to do something of which he disapproved. He would have thought Jude beneath you, but possibly would have welcomed him warmly rather than see you shut up in some foreign country with an oddment of women.

The train draws up into the next station, and you peer through the window, as the people on the platform crowd around the doors, as if they sought to escape some oncoming disaster or hide themselves from their demons. You pull your hands closer into your lap as the door opens and a young woman and a red-faced young man clamber in and take a seat in the far corner opposite you. They hold hands, give each other's hands a squeeze in a quick and childlike way and then smile, and gaze into each other's eyes as if they sought some secret there or some depths where love may be sought.

You look away and wonder how long Jude stood on the platform after the train had gone from his vision. You imagine him standing there, his hands in his pockets, his face fragile and on the brink of tears, staring out after the train in some vain hope that it would stop and you would come running down the track towards him with his answer ready on your lips.

"I think you and I can make a good go of it," Jude had said to you yesterday as you and he sat over looking the sea from the cliff behind the house where he lived with his parents. "We've so much in common, you and I," he had continued, looking into your eyes, giving your hand a small squeeze, wishing to see in your eyes an instant conformation of what he had said.

Even then, you had said nothing to contradict his comments. Had not even expressed any instant reply to put him on his guard. You had merely looked out to sea and said you had to have time to think about it. Yet you knew even before you said that it was the last thing on your mind. Why hadn't I said something to him then? you muse looking at the passing fields and trees, and hearing the couple opposite whispering sweet words to each other, oblivious of your being there with them in the carriage. I ought to have said something yesterday, you tell yourself.
I ought not to have left him as I did, you say inwardly, looking briefly at the couple in the corner as they kiss and gaze sloppily into each other's eyes and murmur words that are too soft for you to make out even if you wanted to. And the memory of the previous day comes back to you, when Jude had taken you to the beach and you walked along hand in hand together, and you want to push it away from your mind, but it refuses to go and lingers brighter and clearer than before.

Even when he kissed your lips and held you tightly, you did not turn aside your head or show any sign of disgust, even though it would have been more honest and kinder in the end, you tell yourself, than this deceit and cruelty you have made of it now. Jude had shown all consideration to you in his fashion; had made attempts to reveal to you openly how he felt and what he wanted, but you had concealed from him all your deepest feelings and desires and had plumbed for the easy way of flowing along with his thoughts and ideas as if they were yours too.

"Excuse me," the red-faced man says, breaking you from your thoughts,
"this train does go to Victoria doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does," you reply, allowing your eyes to settle briefly on him, letting your thoughts of Jude to vanish for a moment or two.

"Thank you," he says, turning to the young girl, letting you and your words pass over into his history and leaning towards the girl kiss her cheek.

Jude had kissed you like that. Had let his lips touch your cheek in that shy way he had as if he were unsure of your reaction. Even then, you had not protested. Had not said you were promised to another; promised to another in a convent across the sea. Moreover, what he would have said you couldn't imagine; you couldn't bring yourself to mention it. It was as if you considered him unworthy of such a confession; not worth the time it would have taken to explain all the ins and outs of why you wanted to be a nun in such a place and in a far away land.

The train stops again and you feel tears swelling into your eyes. No one enters the carriage and you stare hard out at the platform as people pass by the carriage door and enter elsewhere some doors down from yours. You imagine Jude walking back from the station to his parent's house, his hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, his feet treading the gravel noisily as if he were making his way to his Calvary.
The train starts up and moves out of the station. You watch tearfully as the platform disappears and the fields begin again. What would Jude have made of you and the tears you can only imagine. He seems a thousand miles away now.  It seems pitiful to you that he actually believed you loved him and cared for him, when you were only too cowardly to tell him what it was you wanted and why, and that you only managed to bear him near you because you couldn't bring yourself to inform him of how you really thought and felt about him, and his nearness to you.

You pull at you dress and feel your fingers through the thin material. The touch of Jude's fingers on your hips the previous day had almost burned into your flesh; had almost threatened to draw from you a few unkind words, but you held them back, brought them under your control as if the words were over zealous children that needed to be kept in check.

"We can have children enough to keep us happy all our lives," Jude had said, laughing in that way he had, which was simple, but inoffensive to any great degree. And you had simply said something about time would tell; that time would reveal all to you both. And there was much truth in what you said; much there which ought to have set him back on his heels, but it didn't, because he seemed to have taken it upon himself to suggest names for any boys or girls that came your way in some far off future life together.

Laughter from the couple in the corner breaks into your thoughts. They are in good spirits; their love or lust for each other is easily to be guessed at even if it were not seen so clearly. You turn to look at them and see his hand is on her thigh and moving its way upwards and she is in a fit of giggles and oblivious to any audience that may be attending them and their deeds.

"So you do not consider that we as your parents might have wanted grandchildren?" your father had said, his eyes stern as his eyes.

"Are there not enough children in the world without me adding to their number?" you had replied, wanting to say more, but refusing to say another word on the subject in case you said to much.

"And we'll not see you," you mother had said. "You'll be dead to us."

I wonder what Jude would have made of that kind of death? you wonder, gazing at the young man's hand, as it travels up the young girl's thigh beneath her skirt now, moving like a mole silently and out of sight.
And it is a kind of death. A death to all that is and was. A death to be embraced; held near like a lover. Jude would not have understood such a death. Your parents had seen the truth of it, but for different reasons. They had seen the death as something lost; something they could not grasp in their hands and hold like a grandchild. Whereas you see it as something to hold close and be glad of like a gift or precious gem not to be offered again.

The door of the carriage opens and a man enters and sits opposite you. He looks at you and offers you a smile that you return, as if it was a gift that is unwanted but taken in good spirit out of good manners. You turn away and watch the fields return. Jude is getting further and further away. His hands and his lips are but memories now; memories that you want to hide away if not cast out of the train window and lose in some passing fields.

I ought to have told him, you murmur inwardly, touching your thighs gently as if to pretend they are Jude's hands, as if it was the day before on the cliff over looking the sea and you had the chance again to turn and say, "This is not what I want at all. This is not it at all."

"I beg your pardon?" the man opposite says.

You turn and he and the couple in the corner are staring at you. You feel like one who has been undone and all is revealed in one mighty cut of the knife. "I am going to my death," you mutter. "This is my journey to my death."

And you sense that Jude has reached his parent's house and has gone to his room and is staring out at the sea, and thinking of you, the children you may bear, and the names falling from his lips like so many promises out there on the horizon between the sea and sky, and you here now, travelling to that death in that foreign house, far from Jude and his children and hopes and a different kind of death from yours, one without the blessing and sacrifice; without the Calvary and empty tomb.

                                  The End.
Terry Collett

blackmail press special feature: short story