Previous parts of Tempting Fate can be found at Tempting Fate: Part One, Tempting Fate: Part Two, Tempting Fate: Part Three, Tempting Fate: Part Four, Tempting Fate: Part Five and Tempting Fate: Part Six. Due to the festive season parts Eight and Nine will be available on the first Saturday of 2017. As always thanks to drmegsorick.com for her unstinting support.
The train left at 4:13, which meant they had exactly 37 minutes to kill. Margot bought two packets of Silk Cut and handed one to Max.
‘Now you can at least smoke your own instead of taking all of mine,’ she said drily.
‘I thought sharing was caring.’
‘Yeah, but it’s meant to be a two way street, darling, not completely all one way traffic.’
They went over to the dirty, beige-coloured cafe and ordered two dirty, beige-coloured coffees. The place was full of tramps in the process of disintegrating before Max’s very eyes and sharp-faced young men, completely immobile and watching all the entrances and exits patiently. They were undoubtedly pimps just waiting to offer sinister charity to the inevitable waif having strayed too far from home.
‘Shall we head towards the platform now, Margot?’ Max asked her. ‘This place gives me the creeps.’
‘We still have…let’s see,’ Margot said as she checked her watch. ‘Another 23 minutes yet. Besides, you haven’t finished your coffee.’
‘Nah, it’s OK. I think it’s re-heated washing up water anyway. I need to get a coke on the way out to get rid of the taste.’
‘I suppose we can wait on the platform. I hope you will be able to sit still on the train. It’s over two hours, you know,’ she teased.
‘Of course. Sitting still is not really a problem for me. I can do anything if I put my mind to it.’
‘Really? Is that so?’ Margot seemed amused at Max’s boasting. ‘Maybe you should put your mind to it more often, then.’
‘Just because you’re my father’s guest doesn’t mean that you can be cheeky to his son. You’re not that much older than me you know. I mean, the way you go on, anyone would think you’re my big sister,’ Max grumbled.
‘Ahh poor baby, did I hurt your feelings? Come on,’ she said, standing. ‘Let’s get to platform 5, then.’
They left the dismal cafe and walked against the tide of disembarked passengers to platform 5. When they had found a place to wait, Margot opened her packet of cigarettes and offered one to Max. They smoked in silence until the train pulled up to the platform.
All the other passengers seemed to be Midlands businessmen ready to read every line of print in their rolled newspapers, either that or sleep. Even the ones traveling with friends or colleagues sat in stony-faced silence.
Max gauged that Margot wasn’t in the mood to talk either, so he contented himself with watching the scenery unroll outside the window as they passed through the North London suburbs. Of course, property close to train-lines always tends to be less than truly desirable, so for a good while all he saw were unkempt back gardens, strewn with broken prams, discarded children toys and rusted kitchen appliances.
As the train left the city behind and entered the countryside, it began to pick up speed. There was something about traveling that always made Max feel sleepy which in turn, made him very aroused. The desire for sleep had been somewhat counteracted by the drug —his blood cells jittered and raced through his ever expanding capillaries. However, the motion, the proximity of Margot (that scent -her scent), the living, shimmering fabric of her skin— all of it combined to make Max uncomfortably aware of his erection.
He didn’t suppose it would do any harm to close his eyes for just a few minutes and let delicious visions of unbridled bliss wash over his tired senses. It wouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, it would be a good thing, a very good thing indeed…
He could picture it all so clearly, the sun unmoving at its zenith above the tranquil, blue water reflecting the cloudless sky. The beach deserted as it would never be in this day and age, on such a perfect afternoon. He has it all to himself. Over to his right, where the cliffs meet the sand, a woman is swimming to shore. Once out of the water, she spots him and hesitates, but then waves at him rather hurriedly and shyly. Despite the tentative nature of the gesture, it seems like she is beckoning to him, the motion was meant to entice, is in fact, an invitation. But before he can get up and follow her, she has already disappeared into one of the many high-rise apartment blocks that nestle in the hills overlooking the sea.
The train came to an abrupt halt, jolting Max back to consciousness.
‘Ahhh, I see you have decided to re-join the land of the living. About time too, we are almost there now, Max. I would say about another fifteen to twenty minutes. That is, if the train ever leaves this benighted shit-hole,’ Margot remarked with a gesture towards the bleak landscape on display.
Max peered through the dirt-smeared windows. She hadn’t exaggerated. Massive chimneys belched out bilious smoke that only partially obscured the derelict Victorian factories and abandoned rusting warehouses. Heavy industry had long since poisoned the earth so that now only the rankest of weeds were surviving and thriving in the brown fields. All manner of refuse had been thrown from the banks of the disused canals into the silted beds below. A few occasional figures, undoubtedly drunks or junkies, all dressed in drab, earth tones or dingy, rainy-day hues, stumbled forlornly across this hopeless environment.
‘Do you know where we are now?’ Max asked.
‘Darling, what gives you the notion that I would have the faintest idea what that place is called? Does anyone know? And even if anyone did, would they care to remember? It just one of those places that the trains always stop at for some bizarre reason, even though there is no station.’
Just then, the train lurched into motion. ‘Finally,’ sighed Margot.
As the train approached Birmingham, slowly, with frequent stops —presumably because of interchanges and increased commuter and freight traffic— it became apparent that it was a city of competing brutalities. A place designed for man’s absence; all distressed concrete and smashed glass. Some joker had thought that Birmingham should emulate L.A’s autopia (under these northern skies!), while another genius had tried to recreate Le Corbusier’s Radiant City on the cheap.
Well, guess what, Max thought, that shit hadn’t worked. It had failed miserably, actually producing the opposite of what was intended, a place that neither shone nor sparkled, in fact cast no light at all. Birmingham The Unradiant City.
‘We are here,’ Margot said, standing up as the train came to a stop at New Street Station.