This story is by Caroline Craven and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kate scans the departures board with a growing sense of panic. She can’t see her train listed anywhere.
She’d been certain she needed to change at Ely station but now she’s standing on the rapidly emptying platform she’s not so sure. She feels quite sick.
“Excuse me,” she asks a passing guard, who’s cramming his nametag and whistle into his jacket pocket. “When’s the next train to Ipswich please?”
Barely pausing, the man calls over his shoulder: “You’ve just missed it. Next one’s not until six fifteen tomorrow morning.”
Kate stares at his retreating back until he becomes lost in the crowd of people waiting to pass through the exit turnstile. As their voices fade into the darkness, she glances round and realizes she’s quite alone.
She feels a dull ache in her chest as she realizes that being alone is something that she’ll have to get used to. A future without Marcus in it. She still can’t believe he let her walk away.
Swiping away tears with her coat sleeve, she drops her bag to the ground and takes her phone out of her pocket. She types a message to her friend Sarah. The reply comes back almost immediately: “He did what?! I’ll come and pick you up as soon as my shift ends at midnight. It’ll take me a couple of hours to get to Ely. I’ll text you when I’m there.”
Kate looks at her watch. It’s not even eleven o’clock yet. She’s got hours to wait. She paces up and down trying to keep warm. The clattering sound of her heels on the concrete echoes around the station.
She knows it’s time to find somewhere warmer as she’s not dressed for a chilly Autumn evening. Just as she reaches the main lobby, she notices a door with chipped paintwork and a frosted glass panel – underneath there’s a faded plaque with the words ‘Waiting Room’ in ornate lettering.
Gingerly Kate pushes open the door and peers into the room. It’s empty. She sits down on the bench and presses herself up against the lukewarm radiator. It’s not great she thinks, but it’s better than being outside.
She looks round the room which is grubby and tired looking; people have carved their names and short vulgar messages into the wooden bench, and someone has even stubbed out their cigarette on the no smoking sign.
Closing her eyes, she wishes she was at home. It’s going to be a long night.
As much as she tries to sleep, she can’t get the day’s events out of her head. They keep replaying over and over in her mind. Why had Marcus let her travel all the way to Birmingham only to break the news that he wasn’t ready to get married?
He hadn’t even bothered to switch off the television. He’d just remained slumped in the armchair holding a coffee cup and said they should put the wedding off. Perhaps indefinitely. He could have been talking about the weather.
When she’d tried to argue that it was just cold feet and everyone felt like this, he’d put his hand up and told her that he wasn’t in the mood for discussing it further.
He hadn’t even tried to stop her when she grabbed her bag and slammed out of the house. She was surprised at how fast she could run in such unsuitable footwear. She’d arrived at the station with tears streaming down her face and jumped on the first train out of Birmingham. She’ll never go back there again.
Kate feels more tears running down her cheeks and she rummages in her bag trying to find a tissue. She takes her glasses off and dabs at her eyes which feel gritty and swollen from crying.
Suddenly she becomes aware of slow, deliberate footsteps outside the door. Holding her breath, she clutches her bag tightly in front of her.
A shadowy figure appears in the frosted glass panel and then the door creaks open.
The woman who steps inside is well-dressed in a dark winter coat and jeans tucked into a pair of polished boots. She tucks her long blonde hair behind her ear as she looks around the room and visibly jumps when she sees Kate jammed up against the radiator.
“Oh, you scared me! I thought I had the station to myself,” the woman said. Kate can’t quite place her accent. Irish maybe?
“It’s five years since I was last here. I thought they might have got round to giving this place a lick of paint!”
Kate giggles and said: “Yeah, I can’t believe how lucky I am to spend so many hours in such lovely surroundings! Did you miss your connection too?”
The woman shakes her head. “I’m on my way back from seeing the Deaf Spiders play at the O2 arena….”
Kate interrupts her: “Are they still going? I thought they’d broken up years ago?”
The woman laughs and sits down next to Kate on the bench.
“I’m Jen by the way,” she said smiling, as she holds out her hand. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you look pretty upset. Is everything ok?”
Kate looks down at her scuffed shoes and notices that she’s snagged a hole in the back of her tights. She must look a complete state. Running her hand through her short dark hair, she takes a deep breath and tells Jen about her fiancé calling off the wedding.
“And the worst bit is… he hasn’t even bothered to check that I’m okay,” finishes Kate.
Jen shakes her head: “I remember breaking up with my last boyfriend. It was awful and I didn’t take it well at all. My friends and family said that I would get over him, but I couldn’t accept that at the time. I wish I could go back and change it….”
“Why? What would you do now?” asks Kate, as a message alert pings loudly on her phone. “Oh, my friend’s here! I’ll only be a second and then I’ll come right back.”
She rushes out and hugs her friend Sarah through the car window. “Hey there’s another lady that needs a ride too, is that okay?”
As she runs back towards the building a van pulls up alongside her; the driver jumps out of the cab and shouts a cheery hello before throwing three bundles of tomorrow’s first edition newspapers into the lobby.
Kate passes through the empty ticket hall and the pushes open the waiting room door. “Hey, my friend says she can give you a lift home too if you’d like….” Her voice trails off as she realizes that the room is empty.
She backs out of the room and checks the restrooms further along the platform. Nothing. She hurries over the footbridge to the other side of the station, but it’s completely deserted. There isn’t a soul around except her.
Kate takes one last look in the waiting room and then heads out to the car, grabbing a newspaper from the top of the pile in the lobby.
“Did you see anyone come out of the station?” she asks her friend who shakes her head and shifts the car into reverse. “It’s weird. It’s like she’s vanished into thin air.”
It’s just before dawn as Sarah drops her home. It’s good to be back in her own place. Kate yawns and stretches her arms over her head. It’s probably too late to go to bed now she thinks, maybe she’ll grab an early breakfast instead.
Whilst she’s waiting for the kettle to boil, she can’t get the woman at Ely station out of her head. It’s so strange the way she just disappeared without saying a word. In some ways, she wants to thank Jen for all the good advice she shared. Her breakup with Marcus doesn’t seem nearly so bad today. In fact, she’s ignored two of his pleading messages already this morning.
As she settles down at her kitchen table with her coffee and toast, she unfolds the newspaper she grabbed from the station last night. As she turns the page, her eyes are drawn to a photograph of an attractive smiling woman. She sets her coffee cup down sharply. It’s her! It’s Jen!
Pulling the paper closer, she reads the text underneath the picture…
… The family of Jenna Daniels are marking the fifth anniversary of her death with a candlelit vigil at Ely Station this evening. The 27-year-old stepped in front of a train following a painful relationship breakup. Her family want to raise awareness about suicide and the importance of asking for help in the darkest of times. Her brother Adam, 29, said: “Jen was one of the kindest people around. She couldn’t rest if she thought someone needed help. I hope she’s found peace.”