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She didn’t like the way he was staring: that bald, red-nosed old ‘gentleman’ in the tweed waistcoat. Respectable as you like, but for the hawkish look on his face. It went right through her. She turned her back on him and took a seat near three stony-faced young men wedged together in a row. They were older than her, with Brylcreemed hair and well-tailored suits.
Office boys, she thought, on their way home from a night on the town. The middle one was drunk and sleeping it off, propped up on either side by his friends, lulled by the motion of the train. They took no notice of her and in the sparsely populated carriage she was grateful for their presence. She felt the gentleman’s stare on her neck.
They were just past Bow when she heard him get to his feet and pad down the aisle towards her. She put her prim face on and stared straight ahead past the drunk, whose head had lolled onto his chest, the oily locks hanging over his eyes. As the gentleman sat down beside her she caught a whiff of brandy and stale cigars and braced herself for tired old lines. The cheek of him, in front of three young lads.
“I suggest you get off at the next stop, Miss,” said the gentleman, in a bedside murmur. “I am a doctor, and the man in front of you is dead.”
Her heels felt like stilts as she tottered down the platform, shivering, her breath swirling in the amber light. The platform was deserted and the station master’s office was closed. She found a telephone, pulled her gloves off and lifted the receiver with a trembling hand. As she waited for the operator’s voice, she tightened the belt of her coat and watched the train – with the dead man and the gentleman inside – rolling on towards the Essex Marshes.
Alistair Daniel’s short stories have appeared in publications such as Narrative, Stand, Willesden Herald’s New Short Stories 7, SNReview, The Stinging Fly, Untitled Books and The Irish Times. He was shortlisted for Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize in 2013 and he has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Fish International Short Story Prize. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths and teaches creative writing for the Open University. He has just completed his first novel, supported by an Arts Council award and a fellowship from the University of East Anglia.