The 14:08 from Liverpool Street
by Dylan Fox
It was the day my brother turned up on the doorstep, insisting it was 1991. The door frame was filled by a policeman on one side, and a policewoman on the other. She was blonde.
I was upstairs, heard the knock and came down when I heard my mum not saying anything. She stood there in the doorway, hands over her mouth.
“He was found trespassing on the train tracks,” Mr Plod said.
My mother didn’t move.
“Just after the fourteen-oh-eight from Liverpool Street came in,” he added.
“What’s going on here?” I asked, pushing past my speechless mother.
“Mister John Woodbridge,” Plod said, nodding at my brother. “Says he lives here. Is that right?”
I tried to look over his shoulder, but the blonde was in the way.
“And you’d be..?” he asked.
“Mister Adrian Woodbridge,” I told him. “Mister John Woodbridge’s brother. Yeah, he lives here.”
It was a stupid thing to say: he hadn’t lived here in over seventeen years.
“Well sir, Mister Woodbridge has been cautioned, but there’s not going to be any fine or charges. I’m releasing him into your care. Is that clear, Mister Woodbridge?”
I smiled at the blonde as she left.
My brother stared at me.
I stared at my brother.
“You’re not Addy...” he said slowly, his tongue a stranger in his mouth.
Our mother made some sort of squeak, and ran upstairs. It was a shame she didn’t slip.
“Who are you?” I asked him.
I could hear our mother crying.
“I... live here...”
“John Woodbridge stopped living here a while ago.”
About the same time people stopped calling me ‘Addy’.
He held out his hands to me, wanting me to take them. I looked at them. I saw the scars on his palm.
* * *
I called Dad at work, because I felt like I had to. I told him John was home and insisting it was still 1991. First he called me a liar, and then he told me he hadn’t seen John for seventeen years. He told me no one had. He said a lot of things I knew already.
I made John some squash and told him to sit on the sofa. He kept wiping tears away and pretending that they weren’t there.
Dad came in, shut the door behind him and took his shoes off. He came in looking as scared as John. They stared at each other.
There were footsteps on the stairs, and Mum came into the living room with us. Her eyes were red and her make-up streaked. She stared at John, too. John stared back at her. Then back at Dad.
“Where have you been?” Mum shouted, the emotion exploding from her like a volcano.
John’s lip quivered.
Dad’s face melted, and he rushed forwards to hold his son.
“Seventeen years!” Mum shouted.
I snatched up my jacket and mobile, and headed out the back door.
The alleyway behind our house smelt of the same damp it had for the past seventeen years and was knee-deep in litter. I loitered around Asda until the bus showed up, and rode it into town.
* * *
I met Kate in the café on the top floor of the Ramparts shopping centre. She was going to be my ex-girlfriend, just as soon as I got around to telling her.
She sipped her latte, pulled a face and looked at me.
“You said you didn’t have a brother,” she said like it was my fault.
“I didn’t,” I told her. “I did, then I didn’t, now I do again. It’s messed up.”
“What you talking about?”
“I had an older brother. He disappeared in nineteen-ninety-one, after a steaming row with my mum. No one saw him, until an hour or so ago.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
I sipped my milkshake.
“Oh, well,” she sighed, “thanks for excluding me from another part of your life.”
She glared at me. I shrugged.
She must have felt something though, because she picked up the tab and offered to wait at the bus stop with me.
Listening to her talk about herself and her inane little life for an hour did me a world of good. The constant flow of pointless details left me almost numb inside.
I saw her away and went into a pub to finish the job.
* * *
It’s easy to forget things when you’re drinking. Little things, like bus times. After fifteen minutes of standing in the freezing night, it occurred to me I’d missed the half-ten. The next one wasn’t until half-eleven. I found another pub to warm up in.
By the time I was riding home, I’d drunk a considerable amount. I couldn’t focus on the outside world, and was fairly sure I wasn’t part of it.
The bus was slow making its way through the estate, cruising along the curb as if the driver was looking for a good time. By the time Asda came into view, I’d forgotten where I was. The driver shouted at me and I stumbled out, not sure if it was 2008 or 1991. The landmarks refused to define themselves.
Our house was just another anonymous stack of bricks on the street. The living room light was on, but all the others were dead.
I held myself up on the wall around our front garden, turned onto the path and tried to focus on my keys. I had them somewhere.
Sting’s Fields of Gold died on my lips as I ran out of words. I stumbled slowly down the path.
My brother sat on the doorstep, his back against the door, blocking my way.
He was crying, I realised. I caught the light in his wet eyes as he looked up at me through his fingers.
“Addy..?” he said.
I tried to focus. I needed the loo.
“Addy... Ad... what happened? What happened to me?”
I stifled a belch because I felt my stomach heave.
“I was...” he choked back a sob. “It was raining. I was playing Castlevania, Mummy shouted at me... I ran. I ran and ran and ran... and — oh God, Addy, what happened to me?”
I looked down at him. He didn’t look like my brother. I don’t know if everyone does this, but I’d kept a track of what he’d looked like all these years. I’d pictured him growing up. I felt that I needed to know what he looked like, just in case I passed him on the street one day.
He coughed violently and retched. Liquid — in the street light, it could have been anything — dripped off his chin and he wiped it with his shirtsleeve.
“There, there was just lights...” he spluttered, “out by the rec. I went over... and it’s like waking up. God, like waking up twenty years too late. What’s happened to me?”
I felt my stomach lurch again and tried to cover my mouth before anything could escape.
I failed. Hurt and fear and rejection, built up over twenty years exploded through my fingers. It became a jet, then a torrent, a deluge, an apocalypse.
I could hear John howling under the sound of my voice. I lurched around, fighting to stay sane.
The front door opened. My mother came out and held John to her breast. Dad stared at me. I turned to them, tried to catch hold of them and stay afloat. I opened my mouth to ask for help, but my gut leapt up my throat and sprayed them with bile and part-digested lumps of memory.
Dad walked up to me, grabbed hold of my hair and drove his fist into my gut. His lungs filled with air and his voice obliterated mine like sandblasting a cheese cracker. My gut flailed in protest, and he planted his knuckles again.
Spent and wheezing, I staggered into the night. The neighbours watched me go from behind their curtains.
* * *
Steve — weekend drinking partner — lent me a space on his sofa. I stayed there for just over a week. Work was a pain and after a couple of days of trying, I excused myself. My supervisor just put ‘compassionate leave’ down on the form and said he’d see me in a week. Maybe two. I lay on Steve’s sofa, growing a beard.
Kate didn’t call.
Eventually, Mum did. She said that she thought it would be good for John if I came to see him. She told me to come around during the day, when Dad was at work.
I let myself in through the back door — the locks had been changed. Mum was loading the dishwasher, and smiled at me. I told her to sit down and let me finish that off. She did.
She didn’t want to talk to me, so when I was done I went upstairs to the toilet, locking the door behind me and kicking an empty bleach bottle out the way.
I stood over the bowl, and stopped. My urethra knotted. Slowly, I sank to my knees.
There was... it looked like a baby mouse, paddling around in the bowl. It scratched at the white sides, trying to find purchase. I watched it. Its skin was wrinkled, somewhere between pink and grey, and the eyes moved around in their sockets.
On the floor by my hands, I could see splatters of blood.
I took the mouse-thing in my hands, carried it over to the towels and dried it off. It hugged my thumb and gummed it. I found an old shoe box under my bed, threw some odd socks in there and put the mouse-thing — Frankie, I decided — in there with them. He seemed happy, curling up in a corner.
John was in the attic room. He was curled up on his bed, hugging his duvet. His skin looked pale and fragile, his lips chapped. He scratched at his belly like it was a cage he was trying to get out of.
I sat down on the chair and tried to smile at him. He looked up at me.
“What’s happening to me?” he asked. “I’m... I don’t know. I haven’t slept in a week. Every time I close my eyes...” he coughed, retched. “What’s happening to me Addy?”
“I don’t know,” I confessed.
“Don’t tell Mum and Dad, okay? They’ll just get mad.”
“Who am I ..?” he asked. “What’s happening to me..?”
* * *
I only had my brother back for a fortnight. Not really enough time to say a proper ‘hello’, let alone a ‘goodbye’. His funeral was quiet, like there was a secret we were sharing. We lowered a coffin into the hole, but only God and the government know what’s in it.
My parents sold our house and moved to Sudbourne the next month. They lent me the deposit for a room, but I’m not going to pay them back.
I was packing up, putting all my belongings in bin bags and I pulled Frankie’s box from under my bed. He’d gnawed a corner away. Two hours later, I found him half-way down the kitchen bin, happily eating his way through some mince that had gone bad.
The first furniture I bought was a hamster cage for him.
I feed him tripe and he waits until it’s disgusting before he eats it. He’s outgrown his cage, so I figure I’ll buy him a hutch and if he outgrows that, well.
I don’t sleep well these days. Sleep paralysis and strange dreams. And then I wake up, and catch the light in Frankie’s eyes.
I’m think I’m going to buy a padlock for his cage after work today.
Better safe than sorry, you know?
Copyright © 2008 by Dylan Fox