11:15 Oxford Road
The cracklin speakers make it sound strangled, distent, but it’s still unmistakeably a recordin of a posh girl who pronounces everythin just so:
“The next train to arrive at platform 2 is the 11:15 service to Liverpool Lime Street, calling at:
Liverpool South Parkway
And Liverpool Lime Street”
Bet she’s a right filthy bitch that one.
I’m just glad it’s fucking coming though. Can feel the tiredness deep in me bones. Getting this job over and getting home is all I can think of. It’s been a right slog this one, and now this train.
After we did the switch, I legged it cross town to catch the ten o’clock from Piccadilly, only to watch it saunter away from the platform on me approach. Fuck. This meant another ride on the gauntlet: The Last Train From Manchester To Liverpool. Always from Oxford Road, always 11:15pm. It’s an experience whatever day of the week, but a Satde night was going to be hellish.
I wandered back across the city as it began to really light up for the weekend. The grand ald cotton buildings of Mancland, now neoned-up pleasure palaces, much like the old dock warehouses back in the ‘pool. We’ve got more in common than we’d sometimes like te think ye know.
Least Oxford Road had some decent pubs to kill the time in like. But it’s ard not to feel shifty carrying a large packet and drinking alone at this time a night. I ended up skulkin in the corner of The Salisbury with a Guinness, watchin the clock.
Havin no desire to miss the last train and have’t spend a cold night curled up in a photie booth till the next service at 5:50am, I left the warmth of the pub just before the train was due. Up the slope and onta the right-hand platform, as is custom, and I joined the ranks staring at the murky floor, clutchin bags, arms and each other. The bitter cold nips through us as it always does on this high, uncovered station, chillin even the brightest of travellers into a resigned look. Only a few late night revellers wearin thick beer jackets seem immune te the weather and fall over each other, singin and shoutin. The dull, yellow light of the waiting room is invitin and repulsive at the same time.
The train slowly pulls in, an, as one, we all shuffle quickly te the doors. The loud group at the end seem determined to make as much as a kerfuffle about getting on as is possible, red-faced and white shirted, they carry on singin as they barge on past tha few people tryna get off.
Meself, I’m more polite, but still determined. As soon as the last person is off I step on in one bound. I am going to get a fuckin seat. I push along and spot the nearest wiv a window seat still free. It’s still gonna be a while before we move off, always the shittest fucking set of carriages they can dig out too. I press me face against the cold glass, past the reflections from the carriage lights, and block out the banter and chatter and noise of the engine tickin over and imagine livin in one of the posh flats by the station. After a few more of these runs maybe eh. I look around at me fellow passengers, all headin back to Merseyside this late for their own reasons.
Lovers on their way back home alone as late as possible, commuters that ha’t stay behind in their miserable jobs, stag dos, hen dos, leaving dos and general nights out on the piss nearin their end.
I guess some of em might be coming for a night out in Liverpool, not many tho. It’s nerlee always the other way round. We would always need the Mancs more than they needed us. We’re like a retarded younger brother, an embarrassment they reluctantly associate with. Always laggin behind, needing help and a way inte the outside world.
One of the lary gang from before starts singing a Queen song. He’s a beady-eyed fucker with a cheap gold chain bulgin around his fat neck. Directly cross from me, and it seems oblivious to the fat bastard murdering the soft-rock ballad, two excited guys in their late-teens discuss the gig they’ve just seen at the Ritz.
Now, that’s summat I can relate too. I’ve been doing this run for years. First as a kid to see gigs, then in my own band playin em. Fame was slow to come though, so I started flyering for a club, then did a bit of bar work and eventually, I became a bar manager. As is custom in that trade, I passed the nights of mopping up the piss and chucking out the cunts with a large amount of cocaine. Now, that is a shitty drug. Started taking out the till to keep up with the bills, and, well, you should not fuck with the kind of people who own places like tha. If you play with fire, you get burned. Then buried. If yer lucky.
So, to pay off the debt, I do what they tell me. Whatever they tell me. Courier mostly, stuff like this, swapping packages with the Mancs. I didn’t need to be told what the alternative would be. I’ve done other things too, things I’m not proud of, but you do what you need to survive in this life. I like to tell myself it beats the 9-5, but fuck knows what it’s doing for me soul.
Life’s funny like tha, simple dreams can lead you down strange, dark avenues till you don’t know which way is up anymore. I did used to think a was a good person. But you can slip downwards, and ye don’t realize it till ye hit the bottom. But eh, morals mean nothing. And gangsters at least, always pay on time – which is more than I can say for some of the ‘legitimate’ businessmen I’ve worked for in tha past. I’m not really profiting off anya this anyway, me one-room flat and dodgy space heater attests to that. But still, I’d rather be back home there than amongst the detritus of Warrington’s latest shotgun weddin.
The train finally starts to drag its battered frame out of Manchester into the wilds of Northwest. Through forgotten towns once dominated by anonymous mills and factories, now dominated by even more anonymous retail parks, wide and dead in the night.
As the train slips into its familiar rhythm, the weariest passengers stare straight ahead, eyes wide open, mind closed. The lucky few with MP3s close their eyes. A solitary, red-nosed drunk slumps forwards on his table, head in is hands like a condemned man. Some posh goth girls headin home having been to Manc to see their latest American idols chatter quietly and look a little nervous. The few pints I managed in between picking up tha package have only added to me headache and the pain starts to move into me eyes under the garish lights of the train.
“Caaame ern girls, letz sink a song.” Says the fat Queen singer from earlier to the goths. Timidly but friendly dey chat back, doing as little as possible to encourage im. I squeeze me eyes shut.
I dunno what’s in the packets I carry and I don’t care much. I tell me friends I’m carrying severed ears back to rival gangs to wind em up, but I reckon it’s just drugs. Maybe guns. That’d bother me a little. That’s a whole different ballgame tha. But no chance of being caught, who’s gonna fuckin check? No one gives a fuck about people on trains. Specially not a midnight inter-regional service through the North West of Fucking England.
I could be carryin a fuckin bomb and I wouldn’t know to be honest. If tha went off it would cause a bit of a ruckus, but not tha much, this isn’t the London Underground. It’s unlikely anywey, the terrorists just wouldn’t botha. They’re smart them guys in Al-Qaeda; they know were the power is, how to strike at the heart of a country, and it isn’t Newton-Le-Willows.
We’re into Merseyside now, nerlee home. It’s hard to tell tho, all dese little towns are almost indistinguishable in the dark, cept the stations now carry the yellow and grey M of Merseyside Transport Authority, rather than the red and grey M of Manchester Transport Authority. Vive la difference eh.
Me head’s tryna to do its own forced shutdown. I draw me collar up past me face as far as possible to try’n block out the world. What am I doing on this fucking train eh, where did it all go so wrong?
A sudden jolt and the sound of metal grindin violently on metal startles me awake, I go onto instinctive alert and glance round. The carriage is now empty apart from meself. Good. Then notice a thin stream of spital encrusted on me chin and I wipe it away with a tinge of embarrassment. I look out the window to see where we are, but apart from the darkness there’s only a constant line of orange-red lights that reveal little. Still, we must be near Edge Hill now. Almost home and no conductor, my decision not to purchase a ticket was clearlee a wise one.
I always get off at Edge Hill, which is local parlance by the way, for, Coitus Interuptus – last stop before the terminus see. No chance at all then of being stopped and asked what I’m carryin there. Now and then dey do have dogs at Lime Street.
The train shutters on quicklee. A little shock runs through me as the lights suddenly disappear outside, replaced by total blackness. Bollocks, we must have already passed Edge Hill and have gone into the deep, dank cuttin that takes us that last bit into the city proper. Ah well, should be fine. I close me eyes for this last bit and sigh in relief at the approaching end of me journey. I look again through the window at the sandstone walls of the cutting, scarred from the tools and explosives that hacked through it all those years ago. It looks different in the dark, craggier and redder.
“Shit.” I’m shaken from me weary musing and exclaim aloud wen the realisation dawns on me that me whole leg area is soakin. Ah, no surely I haven’t fuckin pissed meself?
I glance around, definitely no one in sight, thank fuck. The wetness is now going down into the seat and is starting to soak inte me arse.
Careflee, I lift up the box and look underneath. The bottom of it is wet through, brown at the edges and in the centre, deep, dark, red. Bood. Unmistakeably fucking blood. Lots of it. Seeping through the box and onto me legs.
I’m gripped bya terrible sickness, what am I supposed to do with this now? What the fuck have they got me carryin?
An idea flashes in me head to dive into the toilet. But there’s no toilet on this typea train. I swing around again at what sounds like someone approaching. It’s nothing tho. Fuck fuck fuck.
I gentlee place the box down on the opposite seat, sit right back down and stare at it, losing myself a little in the train’s constant, reassurin rhythm.
Should I try’n throw it out of the window? No I think it’s too late for that. We must be nearin home soon, not much chance to do anything really. The train rattles on, louder. Through the windows the panorama of dark rock continues te speed past.
I’ll have te see what’s inside. God help us, but I gotta know what I’m dealin wiv here. I get hold of the external wrapping of the parcel, plastic and bubble wrap soaked in blood an pull through the sodden material. It flakes apart in me hand, the blood smearing all over me fingers. There’s a brown box inside. I lift the top.
In it is a rectangle, frameless mirror, a ffuckin mirror. And no sign of the blood that coats thee outside.
What the fuck, whats this some sorta mind game, what are they playin, what the fuck is happening?
The train moves ever faster now, more erratic. The sides of the carriage shake under the speed.
I place the box back on the seat opposite and look at the red smeared all over me hands.
The rattlin of the train increases and the internal lights flicker, I stand up and ready meself to get off, clinging to the hand rail as the wheels screetch along beneath me. I look down the corridor of the train. All carriages are the same, all empty as far as the eye can see in both directions.
The juddering gets more violent, I grip the handrail harder till my palms start to sweat, then the train lurches to a fast grinding halt, swinging hard forwards then back again to stop. And then silence. Through the windows I can see nothing but darkness. The doors open, all of em, with a faint hiss. There’s a bad smell in the air.
It seems as if me long-awaited judgement is finally come.
This story appeared on the website Rainy City Stories.
By Kenn Taylor