I found a fifty euro cent coin, slipped it into the slot and attempted to drag my suitcase through the turnstile after me. The bag stuck. I was through. I had it by the handle, but it remained outside, and I was inside. The kind man behind me, glancing away from the urine dripping out of my trouser leg and into my lime green socks, deposited his coin and squeezed himself in behind my bag as the turnstile rotated. At last my bag and I were both in the toilet.
I retreated into the cubicle, removed my shoes, my saturated socks, my trousers and my underpants, wrapped the wet stuff up into an Aldi bag and shoved it into a front compartment of my suitcase. I rummaged in my suitcase for clean clothes, hurriedly dressed, left the cubicle, renegotiated the turnstile and returned to the entry to the concourse between the platforms. The sign showed my connecting train leaving at 18:58, right then. I ran, pulling my bag behind me, reached the stairs at platform 11. When I was halfway up the stairs the sign indicating Heidelberg as the destination of the next departure switched off, leaving a blank screen. The platform was empty. I had missed my connection.
Then the encounter flooded my mind. On the first day of the conference, Karen McLeod asked me, ‘Do you see much of Julie Stinson these days?’
‘I haven’t spoken to her for about four years.’
Julie chose that moment to appear in my peripheral vision. I turned to her, stretched out my hand and said, ‘Hi Julie. It’s nice to see you again.’
She took it. Shook it politely, smiled. ‘It’s nice to see you, too, Ian. How are you these days?’
I smiled back, and shrugged my shoulders. ‘Well, I’m still alive, Julie.’
‘Yes, you are, Ian! I’m off to the ladies now, before the session starts. We must catch up later.’
Yes, we had to catch up. With the same degree of imperative I felt about catching Ebola. I’d as soon catch up with Julie Stinson as I would tango with a tarantula. The thought of it was enough to make me want to break out in buboes over my collar bones just so that I could ride the death cart as a means to a rapid exit. Just the thought of it was enough to make me puke and shit.
Fortunately a benign old French colleague came up to me then and after stammering out ‘Je ne parles pas Anglais,’told me kindly that my French wasn’t so bad but he found it difficult to follow my Australian accent when I was speaking in the groups.
To which I replied, ‘Je ne parles pas Francais. Un petit peu. Je n’existe pas. Je suis rien!’ I don’t speak French. A little bit. I don’t exist. I am nothing!
The old man was good natured enough to laugh at that, and overlook my provocation. But it was true enough. I’d sooner slip into a crack in a French culture in which I did not exist, rather than ‘catch up’ with Julie Stinson again. That snake!
Throughout the remainder of the conference I found myself ruminating on the betrayal, on the way in which I had been made to feel special – that somehow, although she said we were not going to have an affair, we should hang out together, run some groups together, have coffee every Friday and have a platonic ‘thing’. Julie Stinson told me she had a crush on me, which provoked me to have a crush on her, and to trust her implicitly, while she pumped me for information. She was feeding Baron von Munchausen’s version of my indiscretions into the gossip machine of our professional association, our personal circle and ultimately, the ear of my sulking wife. To Julie, I was as special as a hospital for the deranged or a school for the mentally retarded – Special Hospital, Special Education Unit. Special Agent Julie Stinson. I had become her special project, and she was on a special mission to ruin my life.
I avoided further contact with her. I hung out with the Germans and the French and avoided the Australian groups for all the social activities. So I managed to keep my guts inside my own abdomen and managed to have a good time by suppressing my conscious wish to disembowel Julie. But when they served up foie gras at the closing banquet, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining grinding up her sweetbreads with garlic and chives in a mortar with a pestle, enjoying them spread with a butterknife on mini crostini.
To the very end, I kept my resolve not to speak to her, and even though she was in my vicinity at the end of the closing ceremony, I turned my back on her, dragged my suitcase out the door and began to walk resolutely to the Metz Ville railway station. When I lost my way, and asked directions of a young Frenchman, he answered me in very fair English, offering to escort me to my destination. I had enjoyed my conference, had a nice lunch and was now directly experiencing the better side of human nature. I boarded my train after belting out the first few paragraphs of this short story.
We made good time to Strasbourg. I had no trouble making my connection to cross the German border and journey on to Karlruhe. Soon after the train pulled out of the station, I noted that we were running fifteen minutes late. I worried about missing my connection to Heidelberg. I was so weary after all the conference hype that in spite of my fears, I fell asleep. And dreamed.
I dreamed I was on a railway platform with Julie Stinson. She was wearing a prim black business suit, with the skirt reaching to just above the knee, pantyhose and black stilettoes. She ran towards me, as best she could in those heels, her arms outstretched towards me, her cherry red lips pouting, ready for the clinch. I took her in my arms and kissed her passionately, lifted her off the ground and swung her round through three hundred and sixty degrees.
I woke with a jolt as the train pulled into platform 10 of Kahlruhe Hauptbahnof. I noticed that I had a boner. Must’ve been the French girl sitting opposite me. She was wearing a red tartan skirt, torn black stockings and Doc Marten boots. Quite enough to send the blood of a healthy Australian male of Scottish heritage coursing. I scrabbled for my bags and stepped off the train onto the platform, then down the stairs to the concourse.
It was then the confusion hit me. First the confusion, and then the panic. Thoughts of Julie invaded my mind and, with them, the urge to piss myself. I think you know the rest.
Dejected, I dawdled down the stairs with my suitcase, travelled the concourse again, then rode the escalator up to the Deutsche Bahnhof office. I took my number and waited to be called. The clerk was sympathetic, and especially helpful, as I had bought a non-transferrable ticket. She gave me one for the next train, half an hour later, free of charge.
I made my way back to Platform 11, but it wasn’t until I was safely seated on the train to Heidelberg, indeed, until it was pulling out of the station, that I looked back at the rails below Platform 9 and saw the broken body of a slight redhead in a black business suit, lying prostrate, limbs akimbo. I had dreamed of killing her with kindness.
Andrew Leggett is a Brisbane writer of poetry, fiction and academic papers who works clinically in mental health. He is a medical graduate and holds a research master’s degree in creative writing from University of Queensland, is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists and a confirmed PhD candidate in creative writing at Griffith University. He is a former editor of the Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy.
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Vol 19 No 2 October 2015
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence