After much consideration, I’ve decided to start a short story exercise.
This “exercise” in creativity is to select a photo, a random photo from the internet, and use it to generate the inspiration.
I chose this:
OK…, here goes.
The Waiting Room
Taking his usual place on the rickety bench, in sight of the old clock, he lay the freshly picked flowers on the seat next to him.
“Always good to get here early,” he said, his hushed voice rising up into the soft arches of the sunlit room, mingling with the leaves of flaking paint and the winding tributaries of cracks in the plaster.
He looked at the clock.
It’d hung on the white-washed wall for as long as he could remember, marking time.
Probably outlive the lot of them, he chuckled to himself.
But it was pretty quiet today.
Nothing going on.
Just the smell of wood oil and stale cigarettes, and, outside, the sun and the Blue Jays playing.
Noticing creases had bunched up on his trousers, forming little waves, he smoothed them out.
He checked his tie was in place and adjusted his hat.
“Couldn’t be doing to look a mess, now, can we?” he mumbled to himself.
Glancing again at that faithful chronometer, he recalled old Hank, the old station master, standing there in freshly pressed shirt and black waistcoat, taking out his E. Howard, checking everything was running on time.
“Can’t beat this one,” he’d always croak, squinting at the silver hunter case decorated with railroad regalia. “Never loses a second. Best one you could find in this darned land, if yer want my opinion.”
Grasping it tightly in his wrinkled hand, feeling the weight, its importance for his job, and the synchronicity of its mechanical heart beating out the rhythm of his life, Hank would let melancholy sweep him away.
“Never, loses a second…”
Everyone who knew him would see these brief seconds as being dedicated to Lily, who’d passed on.
“Never loses a second.”
These moments would only be for the few, those not really waiting for a train
Those who’d come for the company, sitting together, shooting the breeze.
Those who’d also buried loved ones up there on the hill.
“She’ll have been lying up there for well on two years now…,” his voice would be quiet now, distant.
He’d look to the window, across the fields, out to where they’d met, the heads of that small clutch of souls following his gaze.
They’d mumble their agreements, their sorrow.
“Fine woman you had there, Hank. Fine woman. She’s missed by us all.”
They’d give their half smiles, waiting, watching for him to look back.
Finally, he’d study the watch, marking time, perfectly.
An unspoken silence would drift in, and heads would look down to the bare floorboards, hats taken in hands.
Memories would be played out.
Each of them would picture the place, when the sunset came around, the dancing fireflies that led the way to that silent resting place, that final station for everyone.
“This time of year, place’s mighty overgrown with Johnsongrass, higher than your head. I think maybe we better get up there, one day, cut us out a place? Clear away the headstones, like.”
No one would answer.
They’d be lost, enchanted by memories and fleeting moments.
“Never loses a second, never…”
But then, he’d hear the silence.
The steady hum of the water cooler.
“Better, see to the clock, eh?” he’d say, bringing them all back to the room, the trance broken.
He’d slip the watch back into his waistcoat pocket.
Pat it gently
Adjust the chain.
Never loses a second, he’d think, one final time.
“Can’t say the same for that one though,” he’d grumble, pointing at the old clock on the wall. “Just don’t make’m the way they used to.”
At that, he’d head outside, bringing back a small wooden stepladder.
Propping it against the wall, he’d climb up to the clock, open the glass front and put the old winding key into the little slot.
This had been his routine.
It’d mark their return.
And they’d all sit up.
Hank’s routine bringing them back to reality.
A breeze wafted into the room.
“Hank?” he said, looking to the door.
“Hank, are you there?”
No one answered.
He peered out through the window, searching for the familiar hat and waistcoat, the rattle of the watch and chain, the soft blue cloud of smoke.
But all he saw was a crow perched on the rusting signals.
“Getting late, old friend. Could have a natter before she comes?”
But only the crow answered.
He sat waiting.
Memories flashing through his mind.
He stroked the flowers, caressing their soft petals.
The memories took him up to that hill again, watching Blue Jays pirouetting above the trees, spooked by a slow shunting train that had whistled its presence from far away.
Another sound broke the silence.
“Mighty early, today, Hank. What’s the Union thinking about? Can’t they stick to the goddamn timetable?
The door to the waiting room was pushed open.
A woman, dressed in jeans and white t-shirt, out of breath, and hair out of place came in.
A smile of recognition and then relief spreading across her face.
“Here you are. I thought we’d lost you!”
She sat down next to him.
“Dad, you can’t just wander off. We’ve been looking everywhere….”
“I was waiting for Hank. He’s gonna come. We always wait for Hank.”
“C’mon dad, let’s get you back.”
She put her arms around his shoulder.
But he just stared at the wall.
Stared at the clock.
But all he saw now was a place that was cracked and blistered, a multi-coloured mess of spray paint and abuse, a world that had been forgotten, left to rot.
“I guess Hank ain’t coming today.”
Sighing, he picked up the flowers.
“I wanna go to the hill.”