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It was whilst trying to pass a seemingly endless autumnal evening that I began to absent-mindedly browse through a series of sepia and black and white pictures on a website. Suddenly I came across an image that immediately piqued my interest: it was both enigmatic, poetic, and unutterably sad. After taking in its stark beauty for fully two minutes, I had the realisation it was unlocking a cache of my own childhood memories, and the decades began to fall away. I could not set it down, nor could I avert my gaze.
The picture was of a roughly hewn and inexpensive headstone, one which bore a blunt and sanguine inscription, its jarring, uppercase typeface giving it the look and import of a lurid newspaper headline:
"DECEMBER 24th 1933: 'GIRL IN BLUE: KILLED BY TRAIN'"
Because the "girl in blue’s" name and the tally of the years that she had accrued were not known, the circumstances that had led to her expiration were now given a greater significance and an urgency; and they duly took centre stage.
Upon re-reading that brutal triumvirate of words: "KILLED BY TRAIN," the words now seemed to defy the dimensions and limitations that apply to photographs, they began to increase in prominence and they seemed to rise above the very photograph itself in a kind of macabre bas-relief. I knew from this point on that that whenever heard the normally benign word train, its blunt cadence would forever carry with it a terrible gravitas. Even the poor syntax seemed appropriate, suggesting a life filled with confusion.
It seemed unlikely to the point of impossibility that as the "girl in blue" stood on that anonymous, cold, windswept platform on that Christmas Eve, that she would somehow accidentally fall onto the tracks at the exact moment that an anonymous train came thundering into the station en route to some unimportant destination.
There could be no other conclusion: suicide. This is a word that can draw a definitive line under some people’s sad tale, but because we know next to nothing about the "girl in blue," rather than this word ending her story conclusively, it solved precisely nothing and in fact had opened up new tributaries of confusion and dark pools of possibilities.
Had she undergone one too many invasive treatments that supposedly learned doctors had assured her would give her more time and some respite, but which had delivered precisely nothing and left her frail body broken and in agony? Perhaps ending her life was the only "cure" now, it would at least allow her some dignity and spare her few visitors the trauma of having to witness the cruel theatre of her drawn-out, deathbed demise. Perhaps she had a Damascene moment that come to call on her like sonorous 4 AM thunder: forget what the writers and the poets say, forget the clichés and the miracles: people like her don’t have perfect endings.
I wondered almost aloud if she had suffered the agony of losing a child, which is a fathomless agony for a man to imagine, or perhaps her once tremulous heart had been broken by a disinterested and unworthy lover. Maybe life for the "girl in blue" had become more akin to mere existence: dark days and mean-spirited months populated by nothing more than a seemingly unending spiral of empty episodes.
In her final days did the "girl in blue" try to find a sliver of hope by walking the plaintive streets of her childhood, but upon doing so was devastated when she realised that the few happy pastoral vignettes that she thought she had recalled, were merely hopes and dreams that she had only imagined and had not actually happened?
As she approached the deserted and unwelcoming train station, she began to feel more empowered than she had in years and she knew why; she was finally going home and she punctuated this thought with a dry, hacking cough; although in truth it was more of a submissive death rattle. Then she remembered something, and said it out loud, her breath spiralling in curlicues of condensation as it hit the cold night air:
“You left the gas burner on… silly mare!”
She was surprised that her words sounded so strong and certain, she had felt neither of those for a long time. Her confidence was once one of the qualities that she had been most proud of. She knew now for certain that she had enough courage now to do what must be done. There was no other way now — no going back.
She thought of the house that she had left — it was a place that she had haunted rather than lived in, and knowing absolutely that these would be her final words to both herself or anyone else, she enunciated them with a clarity she didn’t think she had:
“That place wasn’t ever a home…now you’re going home, love…at last”
The train approached. She took two purposeful steps forward to the platform’s worn, black edge, its faded yellow "warning" stripe for some reason reminding her of a wasp. She looked up and focussed on the "Closed Until Boxing Day" sign on the ticket booth on the other side of the platform; and as the oncoming train shrieked a shrill warning and applied its emergency brakes, she took one final step forward — into the void...GONE.
Death makes fools of us all. It waits just out of sight in the ante-chamber of our lives, and once time has finally grown tired of our nonsense, Death gathers us up into its cold maw and transports our remains to the Other Place.
If we are fortunate, unlike the "girl in blue," we will be mourned and eulogised in an unfamiliar place, and then we are interred or incinerated. Then, after a few years, we may occasionally be warmly recalled or even traduced, either way we are destined to become mere bit part players in half-forgotten anecdotes…gone.