Holy rays of the peak afternoon sun blinded me as I left the final step of the train platform. It had been an abominable trip where my private box was shared with another woman who had little respect for the beauty of silence and contemplation and instead preferred to lambaste me with her familial history and why on earth she had ever decided to take the rail to the very same city I was destined. This would not do.
Rather than swing arm in arm with the chipper train sprite I held on one stop longer and enjoyed those forty minutes of crushing silence as if I were a fish who had reclaimed her watery home after seconds too long without it. The stop belonged to a hamlet and the hamlet an outcropping of a nearby village each connected to the other, and only the other, by the church standing in the middle.
The spire cast a shadow toward me, pointing out my falsehood. The wooden planks of this stop and station house saw only the footsteps of deep rooted family and long past soldiers. Not a person among the three other passengers knew my face as likewise their embrace ready sister or mother or wife eyed me carefully unable to place me, but duly concerned to try.
“Are you lost, dear?” An elderly woman in a satin mauve blouse and brown wool pinafore pressed her hand around my elbow leading me toward the ticket booth.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry. I already have a pass.” I leaned backward to halt our forward motion. She stared at me, searching my face for any hint of the family I belonged to. She would find no resemblance to any she knew. “I just needed a little escape is all. I’ll wait here for the next train up the line.”
“You’ll be waiting until morning on that bench there if you wish. Might be fine in the summer heat, but the morning dew will chill yoo. Better come with me.” Her hand moved from my elbow to my back and without force she guided me down a lane walled in by overgrown English gardens and broken stones.
Though I hesitated in the beginning, I gave up my reins which held on to the burdens of time, places to be, the people to see to the little old woman who led me. “I’ll find a hotel for the night.”
“You’ll get the pub.”
“Right. The pub then.”
“It’s full to the rafters below, but we’ll find you some place for the night upstairs. George is in. You’ll like him. Snores a bit and takes up most the bed, but he’s good company.”
“Is he at least handsome?” The lane of budding posies and bells gave way to a paved roundabout which opened to the heart of the hamlet where the public house stood centered between a floral and stationary shop. Gardens surrounded the court with whitewashed, stone faced cottages sandwiched between hollyhocks and evergreen shrubs. The church spire stretched upward. Like the needle of a compass, it dragged villagers from their cubbyhole homes into the grass filled square and on north.
“Goodness, me! No. The cheek. George ‘s the landlord’s shepherd. He’ll warm your feet at night if you want him.” She laughed wholly at what must have been the thought of a shepherd dog in man’s clothing and then moved forward to cross the courtyard.
The black worm trailed wood of the pub door held back roars of male voices, the chirps of women calling. The stoic little hamlet’s populous confined within living to the beat of music and drums of beer.
These are the last moments that linger in my mind before everything fades away into a mist over the tepid sea of my memory. I remember her face, the wrinkles and soft rouge. Her laugh comes back like the crystal clear thundering of the church bells above me. But how I came to be in this room with ankles cuffed to the iron bed rail there is nothing. Not even a hint to my purpose. Only sermon below me and bells above. And to the sounds of a whimpering dog who wants in through the door, but cannot reach the latch, I wait.