A beautiful woman sat beside me on the train, although I didn’t realise it at first – her beauty.
Because she wasn’t young. Because the colour had slipped from her hair, and yet it was her hair that caught me, tugging at the edge of my vision so that, again and again, I found myself glancing up from my novel, my notebook. Shifting in my seat.
Hair that clouded past her pale, lined throat, misting where it touched her shoulders. And when she bowed, brushing her lapels, I saw how thick it lay against her crown.
I thought of down then, and purity.
Plump new pillows in a hushed hotel room. The untouchable place where a swan’s wings meet, tucked against its back.
No wonder I kept looking.
There was the smooth, lifted line of her jaw. Her elegant shoulders and long lean torso, acknowledged but discreet beneath her coat. She was all poise and posture and pleasing angles. I pictured her spine falling with the fluid certainty of a Jacob’s Ladder; she seemed so contained. Complete.
I slumped, a sack. My fingers fumbled with my fraying pages. My pen lid dropped anyway, skittering too loudly towards the aisle.
Her hands had come to a careful rest across her lap. Perhaps, after all, the most beautiful part of her. Those tapered fingers and pearly nails, a single ring. Skin so thin it made me wince. The veins beneath so delicate, frail threads winding towards neat knuckles, a spreading, silken blue …
It took me a moment to dare an “Excuse me”. To reach across.
She drew her knees high as I leant past. Her coat whispered. Sharp folds with something softer underneath, and a whiff of rose water, and talcum powder. The scent of baths from long ago.
But beneath her trailing hem, her feet –
Without shoes or stockings, without socks. They were small enough, streaked and smudged enough, to have belonged to a young girl. If it wasn’t for their pallor, and the tiny cuts.
Her stripped heels and toes remained almost as elegant as her finely strung hands. One ankle bound with a plastic tag.
And in the moment before I sat back up, abandoning my pen lid where it had dropped, I recalled the commotion back at the station.
The ambulance parked in the damp outside, doors wide. Police and rail staff converging on the platform, radios buzzing. Yellow jackets against the grey …
And when, drawing breath, I straightened, she was staring at me. Eyes lit with mischief. She raised one finger to her lovely mouth.
“Hush,” she said.
At least, I thought she said.
Before she looked beyond me to the window. To the black rain, black glass. Another carriage rumbling past.