The 8:03

This is one of the tales in my short story collection, ‘A Cold Dish and Other Tales‘. I hope you enjoy it.

THE 8:03

George Taylor was an invisible man. Not in the, ‘Oh my god, he’s like glass!’ science fiction sense, but rather in the, ‘Are you sure George was at the party?’ sense. Women had sat beside George at a dinner party and a week later, they had forgotten that they had ever met him.

But, no-one forgot George’s wife – Elena.

In fact, to go back to George for a moment. If George was remembered at all, it was in a conversation along the lines of, ‘How did a chubby, balding, boring, forty-something loser, end up with an absolutely gorgeous, 25-year-old wife like Elena?’

There’s no other way to put this, Elena was hot, really hot, scorchingly hot. Elena radiated sex appeal like kittens radiate cuteness. Every man who came within six feet of her was instantly attracted. Long, wavy, blonde hair; the bluest of blue eyes; legs that went on forever and … well, you can imagine the rest. Well, if your imagination had been exposed to Playboy – then you could imagine the rest of Elena.

The solution to the riddle of their relationship was that Elena was a mail order bride. George’s sainted mother had died three years ago, and he was an only child. He had inherited a surprisingly large amount of money, thanks to the incredible increase in the value of his parent’s large detached house in Highgate – a particularly trendy neighbourhood in London. This windfall meant that George could skip the cheap-but-hopeful, and go for a top-of-the-range fantasy girl, available only for a price, and on the very best websites. Elena from Belarus was the result, and George was delighted with his purchase.

Elena cooked for him, washed and ironed for him, prepared his packed lunches for him, took off her clothes very slowly for him. And, once a month, when he could wait no longer, Elena would lie back and allow George his three minutes of heaven.

But even more than the sex and the cooking and the household duties, what George loved most of all, was that Elena understood that he craved stability, certainty, routine. George wanted every day to be just like every other day. George really loved routine.

And George truly loved Elena. He idolised Elena. He thought that Elena was as close to perfection as humankind could aspire. From George’s perspective, their marriage had been a blissful success, apart from the little problem with Peter, and that had ended with the unfortunate early morning car crash.

And now, this other thing.

Today, George was struggling with the simplest of tasks – like putting on his socks and shoes. Fixing his tie on straight had been a major production.

Today, George was utterly fixated on getting to the station in time for the 8:03.

He had set his both of his bedside alarms (‘You can never be too sure,’ his dear mother had said a million times) for 6 a.m. By 6:30 he was showered, dressed and ready to leave. He demonstrated almost superhuman restraint, forcing himself to sit at the kitchen table with a second cup of tea until 6:45, at which point he gave up the struggle. He knew that leaving so early would mean nearly forty minutes to kill at the station, but he didn’t mind that in the least. Better safe than sorry, as his mother had always said.

George opened to the fridge to find his sandwiches, lovingly prepared last night by his wonderful wife. He carefully put them into his father’s leather briefcase, alongside his book. Just as he did every day at this precise point, he stroked the supple leather and thought fondly of his adored father, sadly dead for many years now. He put on his gabardine coat and picked up his father’s old-fashioned umbrella. Ever so quietly, so as not to disturb his beautiful wife, George stepped out of the front door, onto the driveway and into his Ford Fiesta. It was going to be OK.

And indeed, everything was going swimmingly until Castle Lane. Until Castle Lane, the events of the day were proceeding exactly according to plan. Well, a little earlier than the plan, but no matter. Castle Lane however, rapidly turned everything into a complete and utter disaster. It seemed that every imbecile between Watford and Barnet had descended on Castle Lane.

Where there were new roadworks.

On a Monday, for Christ’s sake. A Monday! They hadn’t been there on Friday, and certainly not last Monday, when George had carefully timed the route – a route he had driven 19,000 times. George reasoned that he had to check the timings on the same day of the week, when traffic conditions would be as close as possible to today’s. There were no roadworks then.

But worst of all, was the total and complete dickhead driving a BMW, who ignored the lights, the warning triangles and the poxy plastic cones. Who tried to pass the line of blocked cars, and who ended up in the fucking ditch! Thus blocking one entire side of the road.

When, in the distance, George saw the BMW, half in and half out of the ditch, he lost it completely. For at least two solid minutes he pounded the steering wheel of his Ford Fiesta and sustained an unbroken stream of profanity that would have shocked a sailor. Passersby could hear muffled sounds from the Fiesta. A few were reminded of the sounds heard in the dentist’s waiting room on a day when he had run out of Novocain. They couldn’t make out the words, but they knew that the person responsible was having a seriously bad day.

You’ll have guessed by now, that George was, what is commonly referred to as, ‘tightly wrapped’. For 29 days in every month, he was placid, calm, unflappable George. But every now and then, although never in front of Elena or his colleagues in the actuarial firm, George would blow. Blow big. Mount Etna big. Mount Saint Helens big. He wasn’t quite there yet today, but the warning gauges were all approaching their red lines.

By his own exacting standards, George was right to be stressed. Perhaps Einstein could have explained it, but within 30 seconds of the BMW débacle, it was clear that George was running at least 30 minutes late. Today, of all days. By the time the standby tow truck squeezed its way through and extracted the hapless 5 Series Beemer, George was seriously late.

George wasn’t normally one for speeding, but then again, the situation wasn’t normal. Soon after he finally exited the roadworks, he was doing 37 miles an hour. That’s when he passed the parked police car. George was completely oblivious of the patrol car, but the two policemen inside were not oblivious of him and, unfortunately, he was driving through a 30 miles an hour area. The police were after him immediately, roof light spinning and headlamps pulsing.

When the young policeman, looking very smart in his new dark blue uniform, walked up to George’s car window, he was disconcerted to see that George was crying. Not softly weeping, but really, really crying. George was in a terrible state. The novice policeman, his name was Chris, couldn’t decide if George was losing more fluids through his eyes or his nose. In any case, George was a complete mess. As far as Officer Chris could establish through the heaving sobs, George’s marriage depended on him being there for the 8:03.

This seemed an unlikely scenario to the young officer. But it was his first month on the job, and he was still imbued with an idealistic drive to be of service to the community. And the guy had been only 7 mph over the limit.

“OK sir, take it easy. I’m going to let you off this time. And, just this once, we’re going to escort you to the station so you’ll get there for the 8:03. Follow me.”

Well, this was much more like it. This is what the police force is supposed to do, help people like George. He thanked Officer Chris profusely, wiped his face and focused on following the police car.

They zoomed through the remaining couple of miles. And then, another miracle: an empty parking space, barely twenty yards from the entrance to the station.

George remembered to wave a thank you to Officer Chris as he rumbled by the parked police car, clutching his briefcase to his chest, and his umbrella to his side. He arrived on the London-bound platform at 7:59 and looked about anxiously. He had made it. He was out-of-breath from the stairs, but he recovered quickly enough. His heart was pounding; that took a good while longer to return to normal. He made his careful way along the platform, heading north, in the direction from which the 8:03 would arrive. One by one, he scanned his fellow commuters as he passed along the platform.

Back in their patrol car, Officer Chris’s mentor just had to comment on recent events.

“I don’t know why the hell you bothered, Chris,” remarked Officer McDowd. “I know it’s your first month and all, but you need to learn that civilians are either a pain in the arse, or crooked, or all of the above, or worse. And anyway, our daughter, Samantha, commutes to London every day, and the train isn’t till 8:07. Your guy is a right plonker.”

At that very moment, Elena was just sitting up in bed. Elena always looked fabulous from the very get-go. As soon as she was awake, Elena looked like she had arrived at a photo shoot. She reached for her mobile phone and checked her messages. She smiled and stretched like a cat waking from a long nap in the sun. She plumped up her pillow and settled back to savour her early morning texts.

Meanwhile, George had seen what he was looking for. He carried on walking, carefully judging his pace. Then he saw the oncoming train in the far, far distance. He estimated the timing and slowed down just a little. For a split second he was distracted; a homeless man was relieving himself against the vending machine. ‘What the hell was the world coming to? Where were the police? Was he the only one who cared anymore?’

His thoughts were a jumble, but they snapped back into focus as, very slowly, he turned his left arm so that his father’s old-fashioned leather briefcase jutted out from his hip at a ninety-degree angle. It was pointing directly at the train tracks.

The handsome young man lived around the corner from George and Elena. At this moment he was intent on finishing another ardent text message to his lover.

Half a second before the non-stop express roared through the station at precisely 8:03, George made his move. Shielded by his father’s briefcase, he stabbed out with the old-fashioned steel and ebony umbrella, catching the young man squarely and painfully on the base of his spine. There was no time for a cry or a scream before the handsome young man toppled over the platform edge and was instantly obliterated by 200 tons of train travelling at 90 miles an hour.

The train driver didn’t see a thing. A startled pigeon had flapped up and narrowly avoided death, missing the train by no more than 2 inches – sadly unlike the energetic young man. The lucky bird had momentarily distracted the driver.

Not surprisingly, the police were on the scene very quickly. A woman on the platform opposite told Officer McDowd that she thought there was something odd about the way the young man fell. Or perhaps not; she couldn’t really be sure.

Officer Chris interviewed an older man who thought he remembered someone walking behind the fashionably dressed dead man, but couldn’t recall anything about him. He may have been tall, or of medium size; maybe a bit stout or even fat. He could be sure. And he wasn’t certain, but he thought that the man had grey, or perhaps white, hair. He didn’t think the man was black, but couldn’t be absolutely certain. Come to think of it, the man might have been bald.

In the meantime, with no urgency whatsoever, George folded his briefcase and umbrella back against his body and continued to move steadily on, further down the platform. He knew he was invisible, so there was no rush to distance himself from the incident. People were such idiots, it was painted right there, at least eighteen inches from the platform edge, the bright yellow sign behind which everyone was warned to stand. Of course, it was invariably ignored.

Officer Chris had, by this time, forgotten all about the emotional and harried Ford Fiesta driver.

Of course, the 8:07 commuter train to London was delayed by all the fuss and cleanup, but that was OK; George had brought his book to pass the time while the emergency crews did their distasteful work.

He genuinely hoped that Elena would get over this one quicker. In truth, he wasn’t that bothered about her having men friends, but their marriage contract expired in two years, and after that, she was free to leave.

George couldn’t afford for someone to become too attached to Elena – she might be taken away from him. And that could simply never be permitted to happen.

He idly wondered if the last text message had got through.

George already had a few ideas for the next situation. He hoped that next time he wouldn’t need help from the police.

Maybe another car problem?