Sitting on the faded fabric of the seat, feeling the familiar rumble of the car rattling over the tracks rising up from beneath him, Richard finally let himself relax. The effort came slowly, and he had to force himself to take the first few shaking, unsteady breaths, but he felt his muscles slowly begin to unwind.
This was all he needed, he told himself. A few minutes to relax. He needed to stop thinking about it all, how it was all falling apart.
Trying to silence his thoughts, he turned his attention to the window. He hadn’t taken the Night Express in… had it really been years? It felt like just the other day.
Time flew by, he considered. In London, everything seemed to run faster. Constant deadlines, phone ringing with emergencies at all hours of the night, always on call. He’d told himself that he was handling it, that the stress wasn’t getting to him, that he stayed on top of the job.
His life, however, seemed to argue differently, Richard thought sourly to himself.
Even now, as he bounced slightly in his seat from the train’s progress, a part of him seethed, bubbled and boiled over with rage. She’d dared to serve him with divorce papers? The bitch, he ought to teach her some fucking respect, get her to understand just how much he slaved and sacrificed so her ass could get to enjoy-
No. He took another deep breath, forced the hands knotted into fists at his sides to relax. He wasn’t going to let this get to him. He’d decided to take this trip, to get away from it all, so that he wouldn’t have to keep on beating himself up inside his head any longer.
Richard glanced up at the voice. The ticket collector stood at the door to his compartment, waiting expectantly. He fumbled in the pocket of his suit.
“Right, sorry. I’ve, uh, got it right here.” Seeing the ticket collector stirred up a wave of recollection inside Richard’s head, almost bowling him over with its sudden intensity. He remembered suddenly how, years ago, he’d sat in these same seats, his feet kicking back and forth where they didn’t reach the floor of the compartment. The ticket collector always looked so esteemed and dignified in his dark navy suit, with the shined brass buttons.
The man looked older, now, Richard considered as he found the ticket stub and handed it over. The mustache beneath that eagle’s beak of a nose was mostly gray, these days, and the blue suit seemed to bulge a bit more at the waist. Still, those blue eyes, light blue, like chips of ice, seemed as sharp as ever.
The collector punched the ticket, but didn’t yet move on, frowning at Richard. “You look familiar, sir,” he commented. “Not a regular, ‘course, but you’ve been on here before, ain’t you?”
Richard started for a moment before replying. “Yes, I used to take the Night Express home,” he explained. “Father’s house is upstate, outside the city.”
“Headed back for a visit, then?”
Something about those eyes pierced him, like a butterfly caught beneath the sharp point of a pin. “Family troubles,” he admitted, speaking words he’d never say aloud to anyone. “Needed to… to get away from the city for a bit.”
The collector just nodded sagely. “Aye, happens to all of us.” He hesitated a moment longer, as if torn between offering advice and keeping silent. “Enjoy your ride on the Night Express, sir.”
“Thank you.” Richard settled back in his seat, turning his gaze back to the hues of the sunset as the train rattled away from the city. When he glanced back at the entrance to the compartment, the collector had vanished.
Gazing out, watching as buildings were replaced by trees and as the sinking sun lit up the sky in a menagerie of colors, Richard felt the last of his anger sink away. It wasn’t gone, not permanently, but he could push past it. Perhaps he had spent too many nights in the office, hadn’t appreciated all that she did while he was away. They had both grown cold, shut themselves away from each other.
Maybe he could invite her out here, he considered. Take her out to the country, try and recapture what they’d had once before. Just sit with her, watch the sun drop down to create its masterpiece, wrap his hands around her and sit in silence.
The rocking motion of the train lulled him off towards sleep, and his eyelids sagged. He knew that the conductor would blow the whistle at the last stop, that he’d find his way off.
The Night Express rumbled into the night as Richard drifted back into the dreams of his childhood.