Overheard on a Train

An excerpt from A PRIMROSE IN NOVEMBER

The couple managed to squeeze into a small seat on the train just inside the door beneath the fire extinguisher. Across from them sat older three ladies, returning home from a day’s shopping in Portsmouth. Their numerous, multicolored bags crowded the overhead rack. They contained the day’s bounty and proclaimed the various merchants patronized.

Crowded train from Portsmouth to London

David and Lyn sat with their backs to the wall nearest the coupling, unable to stuff their suitcases beneath the seat. Lack of space forced them to ride with their legs twisted on top of their luggage. The three ladies facing them droned on in high-pitched tones about their dreadful shopping excursion. Each complained more dramatically than the next.

“Everything is so pricey.”
“Too dear for most people, don’t you think?”
“And the crowds. Every queue is a mile long.”
“It was never that way when my Albert was alive. It was all so much more peaceful then,” said the lady in the middle. Her gray curls looked frazzled. She wore clear rubber rain boots secured with a strap over one button, protecting her thick black pumps from dampness. “Back then, it was like a holiday for us, you know. Now, it’s all so harried; not at all what it once was.”
“I remember coming down as a young girl,” sang the pudgy, white-haired dear on the right. Her tweed coat was beaded with raindrops while her ankles swelled above her laced, navy blue shoes. “The town was virtually desolate then, apart from sailors of course. But then one expects a port town to be cluttered with young men in uniforms. We rather fancied them, all clean and well-dressed, tipping their hats and holding the door for a lady. Now, it’s all chocked full of out-of-towners, isn’t it?” she asked in a condescending tone. Her friends assured her she was correct, never thinking of themselves as the offenders as they rode home on the train.

Older laides on a train

“Once the ferry docks, one never knows what arrives from across the channel, does one?” chimed the third and youngest. David and Lyn exchanged guilty looks. The speaker’s hair dyed honey blonde was ill suited to her years. Her soft white skin flushed red in blotches from the close quarters. Operatically, she continued. “Dear me, I’ve lived here all my life and now I feel as if I am being driven off. It is all rather frightening. It was never like this before the war. Oh, no . . . Back then, people were more content with a simple life. Bangers and mash for dinner; maybe gooseberry pie and cream for those special days. Not today though. Oh, no . . . People are eating food they can scarcely pronounce.”
“Or spell,” said the lady with the swollen ankles.
“And they way they dress. It’s as if the whole country has run amuck.”
“Oh, yes . . .” added the other two in harmony. They all agreed the strange eating habits of an oddly dressed few always preceded social collapse.

David and Lyn sat quietly for most of the ride, their legs cramped as they listened by default. They both smirked as the ladies lamented their sing-song woes. Complete with luggage and straight off the ferry, they were no doubt among the very people who frightened the sweet old dears.
Bright stations flashed past in the early November darkness. In the overcast evening, the landscape faded to twinkling lights on either side of them. Overhead, the moon raced them to Crosham, shining through a fuzzy web of angel hair clouds.