John Summers

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Dylan

An extract from Chapter 1

In Swansea High Street station in the clangour of porters’ trucks and the hiss of steam from the trains Shani was waiting to see him off.

In the cafeteria, full of passengers sitting to their railway cups of tea, his luggage was under the seat as he lit two cigarettes in his mouth and handed one to her; it was a habit they had cultivated, he realised that she never enjoyed a cigarette but it seemed to make it all the more intimate to see her smoke the one that he lit for her.

She took the cigarette newly lit out from between her lips closing up one eye from the smoke.

‘Smile like that again for me,’ he said. ‘Your left nostril twitches just a tiny bit when you do –’

‘Like this?’

‘Mm-mmm. You know I’ll be lucky to have you,’ he said.

‘I’ll be lucky to have you too.’ Her sunburned arm beside him on the table, her wrist just touched his as she tapped at the ash on her cigarette inexpertly. ‘And I’m going to miss you so much… Come back home to me soon.’

The train-smells of wet cokes and sulphur in Swansea High Street station, the yellow gold-braid of the station-master’s cap and the brass of the door-handles of the Swansea to Paddington express-train were gleaming with the thin warm Welsh rain that was setting in on the end of another Swansea summer day.

Shani took his hand through the train window after he’d thrown his luggage up on the rack. ‘Take a little bit of me with you. And come back to me soon.... Soon!’

They held hands out of the train-window.

Preeeeep! The guard’s whistle as he raised the green flag.

And then their hands parted because the express was moving.

She raised her hand to him seeing him go. Seeing him waving back to her leaning out of the window of the train, waving till the long express had tracked out from Swansea station and the curve in the railway track took him out of sight....

In the corridor of the train he stood up against the movement of the train and felt excitement. To Canada! And his adventure was really beginning. And to hold on to his courage he went to order a Guinness in the refreshment-car and drank it, standing up in the bar that was loud with Cardiff-voiced businessmen downing their Double Diamonds as they swopped stories with heavier tweed-bellied businessmen and double-breasted managing directors, waistcoated and gripping hold-tight to their gin-and-tonics.

Dylan’s fingers holding to the edge of the bar to keep balance against the scud and roll of the train, looking at the train’s heavy hairy reddish upholstery and the old G.W.R. railway maps framed above the seats showing where the Great Western Railway had spanned out in its great lunges of red lines out from the outer limits of aboriginal South Wales and up through Snow Hill to the north and wide to London and all the world.

In the solidly rocking train the refreshment-car’s white-tunicked attendants handled their trays piled with scraps of thin-sliced railway brown-bread and tiny plastic pots of raspberry jam. ‘Cucumber sandwich for you sir ?’ The brown-and-cream tunicked refreshment-car attendant leaned deferentially over him. ‘No, thanks,’ Dylan remembering he only had a few pounds in his pocket that had to last him till God knew when.

The refreshment-car tables jerking and squeaking with the movement of the train, out of the train-windows the flat sandfields of Jersey Marine went flying past. On the sand-dunes the straw-stiff marram grass waved in the strong breeze. And over Swansea Bay the sky with hot wet sounds of thunder coming in from the west. The sea was being nippled by bright showers, specks of cooler rain hitting the sunburn on his face as he stood looking out of the open train window.

With the rain blowing through the train-windows cutting his face, he looked into the future and neither he nor it were afraid of each other. From now on it was going to be all like this – all sea and salt wind and freedom.

The smell of Swansea, the cockle-and-sand smell, was something he mourned for already. But the new excitement was here. He was travelling. To see the world. The world that killed its best writers because it was afraid of them.

Like Jason, journeying out to find his own Golden Fleece. Out into the wide world to bring back with him a whole book, golden and real...

The ringing, chinging noise of steam pistoning out past the express-train’s front bogies, that special sound of steam engines, and the double-thumps as the express crossed the points outside Swansea. And still I live in hopes to see – the words in his memory’s ear – dear Swansea town once more, me boys. Dear Swansea town once more.

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