Soldier On by Joy Myerscough
Edna is used to seeing the ghosts as she shuffles along the platform, wielding her broom. She pulls down her woollen cap. The railway museum’s housed in a sprawling shed, and it’s perishing cold. The stationmaster hurries toward her, frowning down at his fob watch. A man hands a hamper of racing pigeons over to a porter, and a woman sweeps by, carrying a hatbox. Soldier on.
The trains loom above Edna in the early light. She pauses below Queen Victoria’s carriage. No sign of H.R.H this morning; just as well—saves her from attempting a stiff curtsey. Visitors report that a man sometimes jumps into the path of an oncoming train, but today there’s just the smell of engine oil and a discarded newspaper. Soldier on.
She makes her way to platform three, pausing to scrape gum from the laminated map. When she turns she finds a man and a woman standing by the green steam train; she’s never seen them before. He wears a raincoat and trilby, two leather suitcases at his feet. She’s in a three-quarter-length coat in cherry red, with a pearl brooch at the neck. Edna sees that her shoulders are shaking. They stand together for a moment, her head on his lapel. A whistle sounds. The man picks up his bags and climbs onto the train.
“Goodbye, my darling,” Edna hears him say from the open window, as doors slam. “You’ll always be in my heart.” He holds out his hand and she reaches up to take it with her gloved one. Smoke envelopes the platform; the sound of a train gathering speed echoes around the building, fades. The air clears, the train sits yet beside the platform.
Edna approaches the carriage. Inside a mannequin—a man in a flat cap—bends to light his pipe. She picks up a Styrofoam cup left on a bench, thinks of Alf, heaving himself out of his easy chair round about now, braces drooping. He’ll make his way into the kitchen to shave in preparation for an hour or two in the Star and Anchor. Silver stubble in the sink when she gets home, along with a dirty saucepan and an opened tin of baked beans—and a betting form on the counter, under an empty bottle of Scotch, more likely than not.
She leans on her broom, remembers seeing him off from Pontefract station when his unit mobilized in ‘41. Smart grey uniform, short back and sides, a cheeky grin. Lifted her off her feet and swung her around. “Back in a jiffy, love,” he’d said. “I promise.” And so he was; invalided out, just three weeks later. And hasn’t worked a day since, if you didn’t count calculating the odds, that is.
She sighs. A quick fag and a cuppa, before she tackles the Ladies. Paul lives there, the ghost who likes to slam cubicle doors. Soldier on.