A little story from Night Crossing, the third in The Trilogy of Remembrance.
A Stranger on the Train
A very strange woman crept into my life and my very being when I met her on the train. In fact, for a brief but intense period, she completely dominated my life. Headed to Portsmouth to catch the ferry to Caen on the north shore of France, I was on a rather strange mission, myself.
The search was for a musician in Paris, who might connect me with a painter with whom I might have shared a vision. This elderly woman was rather unkempt and, at first, definitely annoying. But things are not always as they seem as you will see!
Of course, the railway car was much more modern than shown in the picture below. Was this part of my visionary experience?
From Chapter 11, NIGHT CROSSING
The train gave a jerk and began to creep from the platform out onto the tracks. Another jolt caused the old woman to topple directly onto the seat across from Alex. He hoped it was not her place, but the conductor came by and took both their tickets. Apparently, she was to be his companion for the trip.
His first impression was that she was ever so slightly unkempt. A hem hung down and a coat button was loose. Under her arm, she clutched a ragged, rolled up newspaper leading him to speculate that she was a reader of the more sensational tabloids. He opened his own newspaper and tried to concentrate.
Unsuccessfully, he pretended to be hard of hearing but she was not so easily ignored.
“D’you go to Portsmouth often?”
He lowered his paper slightly and shook his head.
“My sister used to live in Portsmouth that is until her and Ronnie—that’s her husband—died last year, both of the cancer. And so…” She gave him a quick glance. “They’re in a better place now, I’m sure.”
Alex nodded and made some sort of sympathetic noise.
“Cancer it was!”
“Hmmm…So you said.”
“But her kids—she’s got four of them—all live in London.”
Alex hoped he could just let the old woman rattle on and simply ignore her.
“Are you taking the ferry too?”
Alex, being a polite man, finds it difficult to ignore persistent people. To do so is rude in his books.
He sighed, “Yes, Madam,” he said as frostily as possible.
“Then to Paris?”
She beamed. “Oh yes! So am I. Nice to have a friendly companion along the way—don’t you think?” She broke off from talking just enough to open a bag of licorice Allsorts.
“Want some, Mister…?”
Although Alex still resented her intrusion, he was caught by the wistfulness in her tone about a love strong enough to span the decades even though they never saw each other. He was surprised to hear himself say, “So many choices in life. One can never be sure of their importance.”
She shot him a canny look. “When you get to my age, young man, sometimes you want to tie up the loose ends in your life. You wouldn’t likely know about that yet.” She sighed again and said. “I often wonder what our lives would have been like if we had. She sighed deeply. “He was the first and last person I ever loved.”
“I suppose not…” Alex muttered. He wondered about Daphne from whom he was apparently now parted.
“What’s your name, sir, if I may be so bold to ask?”
Hoping to retreat, he spoke stiffly, “Wainwright, Alexander Wainwright.”
Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wainwright. I’m Miss Maureen Trump.”
For several .moments, she set about rearranging the contents of her purse. “I do love Paris! When I was a young girl, I used to go there once a year to visit father. Father and mother lived separate and apart, you see. Quite something in those days! Father had a mistress in Paris and so, I only got to visit once a year when he’d safely packed her off to the country. The mistress, that is.”
Alex looked closely at her. “Your mother lived in London? When did your father leave?” He was surprised at his own questions.
“Oh, yes. Mother lived in the East End, I’m afraid. Not like Dad near the Arc de Triomphe. I was only five when he left.”
“Oh yes, he had a magnificent apartment. He was quite rich and famous you see. Much better off than poor mother.” She smiled in recollection. “It overlooked a promenade of very expensive shops. I used to watch all the shoppers—very smart they were—walking by. I’d dream of buying fabulous clothes one day.”
Alex put down his paper and looked more closely at the old woman. She scarcely impressed him as a person who had lived in the finest arrondisement of Paris.
Wistfully she said, “I always hoped father would take me shopping for clothes, but I think he thought me much too plain to bother about.” Then she smiled and popped a licorice in her mouth. “A few people thought him cruel, but I think he…”
She unrolled her newspaper. To Alex’s surprise, it seemed to be about astronomy or maybe astrology.
“Where do you stay in the city, if I may ask, Mr. Wainwright?”
Alex was unaware he had been eyeing the bag of licorice Allsorts. She handed it to him and he took one.
“Usually on the Left Bank.”
“Oh yes! Where all the artists live. Are you an artist, Mr. Wainwright?”
“I’m a painter.” He took another candy—this one bright yellow and black. She set the bag on the seat beside him.
Sighing, she looked heavenward. “I just love art!”
Alex steeled himself against uninformed people whose remarks betrayed their ignorance of art.
“Do you ever wonder, Mr. Wainwright, what’s in those empty spaces?”
Alex was taken aback by her description of his subject matter. “What else could there be?” he asked.
The woman shrugged. “There must be something but can’t say what or why.” She paused and then continued thoughtfully, “Maybe that’s where all the stuff of creation can be found. You know where artists find their inspiration and their materials.” Suddenly she blushed. “I confess that I have this passion for licorice.”
He smiled slightly. “Surely an innocent pleasure…” Then he frowned as he puzzled over her question of empty spaces in painting which struck him as extremely intelligent.
“Oh yes…some would say, sir.” She popped a pink and black Allsorts candy into her mouth and smiled sweetly at him.
“But allsorts—they put me in a reminiscing mood. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Wainwright.”
Alex had set his newspaper aside and found himself listening intently to her. “Reminiscing about what?”
“I know you’ll find it hard to believe but once upon a time…” She looked about the car too embarrassed to meet his gaze. “I know, today, I don’t look like someone who’s had much of a life, but it did have its moments.”
“My dear lady! Forgive me but I thought no such thing!”
“Then would you like to hear my story? By the time I’m finished, we’ll be in Portsmouth.” She looked out the window for a moment. When she turned back to him, he was struck by the calm dignity in her gaze. “Things are not always as they appear on the surface—as I’m sure you, a painter, are aware.”
Alex drew closer and took another sweet. He spoke earnestly. “Please tell me, Miss Trump.”
She looked sharply at him. “Do you believe in dreams, sir?”
“Believe in? Well …of course…”
“Actually, I mean the importance—the significance of dreams.”
Alex had experienced many dreams which did seem exceedingly significant. He sat forward and said eagerly. “Yes, in fact I do! Why do you ask?”
“Because the story I’m about to tell you is a dream or a sort of vision of mine.”
To Alex, the woman’s statement was extraordinary. Just as he was on a journey in search of his cosmic egg envisioned by him, here sat a woman who claimed visionary experience! Life for him was often punctuated by, sometimes, lovely happenstance. But he knew all too well that such events could come as warnings. Hard to interpret meaning in most cases!
Maureen Trump held out the package of licorice. He took one and sat back.
“Please go on, Miss Trump.”
She smiled and began. “I can’t be sure if it was a dream or a vision.” She looked at him shrewdly. “Do you know what I mean?”
“Good. Let’s just say, I was in a state of altered consciousness.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. Before him a sat an elderly woman who some unkind souls might call frumpy. Apparently, by appearances, not terribly well educated nor, if one paid little heed, particularly worldly. But here she was speaking of altered states of consciousness and raising questions about empty spaces in art. She was right. Things were often not as they seemed.
She beamed at him. “You see, I was someone else in the dream. Definitely not the Maureen Trump of this world—not at least as I know her. I was someone else— a woman living in the seventeen eighties or nineties.” Her eyes glazed over and her voice softened. “I’m somewhere out in the English countryside in the north.” She folded her hands carefully in her lap and then closed her eyes.
“Someone has died. I think it’s a child…someone I’m related to. It might even be my own child. I am sitting in a darkened cave or no! I think it’s a barn because there is straw all around. A man—he’s a doctor—is speaking to me in a very kindly fashion. His voice is soft and low. I am swept with a sorrow I have not known in this life.”
Alex was mesmerized. He sat forward with his elbows resting on his knees.
Ghastly empty space gnawing at me. “The doctor has wrapped this little child in a blanket like a small bundle. The words swaddling clothes come into my mind as he is about to take it away. He is trying to keep hope alive in me—not that this child will miraculously revive—but that it will live on in another time and place.”
The woman was telling the story with such simplicity and directness that Alex was greatly moved. He held his breath waiting for her to continue.
“As the doctor is about to leave, he hands me something. It’s a sort of talisman—something with magical properties about the size of a hairbrush.” The woman broke off. “Do you know, Alex, children’s sweet called twizzlers?”
He shook his head.
“They’re made of long strands or strips of licorice all woven together. This object had a handle which was just like that! Strips of licorice woven together. But when I examined it carefully, I saw it was hard and rough and felt just like pumice stone—not at all like licorice. The doctor closes my hands around this strange object and tells me to keep it safe as it belongs to the child who has died.”
Alex’s eyes widened. “How very strange!”
“Then he took the child away, Mr. Wainwright.”
Maureen Trump closed her eyes and sat in silence for long moments. Alex did not wish to break in on her reflections and so he sat perfectly still.
Then the old woman’s eyes flew open. “Did you know that a plant gives us licorice? It’s a perennial which means, at the end of the growing season, it dies but then after a time begins life again—as I’m sure you know, sir.”
Surprised at the woman’s range of knowledge, Alex nodded and smiled. “And so,” Alex said quietly, “In this dream the licorice tells us that life continues after death. In fact it is a continuous process—perennial. I think our ideas of life after death come from our understanding, in ancient times, of agriculture.”
Maureen Trump’s eyes came alive with a twinkle. “Ah…Mr. Wainwright, I see that you are a skilled interpreter of dreams.”
“Oh, not really…”
“And the pumice?” she asked.
“Pumice is an extremely hard stone formed by hot lava. Stone is the state of perfection—as in the Philosopher’s Stone.”
“Again, sir, you are correct. You are wise in the ways…”
Alex shook his head. “No, I think not. But I do pay attention to such things.”
She smiled sadly at him. “And so, from that experience, I think life is one continuous, unending stream. Departure and return.” She looked out the window of the train and then said quietly, “You see, I was correct. My story is done and here’s Portsmouth.” The old woman began to collect her things.
Alexander rose and got his bag. “Thank you for telling me your dream. It’s given me much to contemplate. Perhaps I’ll see you on the ferry.”
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
Coming soon! This trilogy has a fourth novel The Wondrous Apothecary which will be published 2019. Find out more… http://maryemartintrilogies.com/the-wondrous-apothecary/