Thursday, 11 February 2016

Gone Midnight

Cyndi had lost both her shoes and stolen a bicycle which she was pedalling with bare feet. Cold, frozen feet that kept slipping. The bicycle was the old-fashioned kind, the type you imagine on a country lane with a wicker basket fixed to its handlebars and a rusty bell that gave a hoarse tinny chime like a person deliberately clearing their throat before they spoke in public. It was certainly not the most ideal or the safest transport home after the clock had struck the last stroke of midnight, but she'd missed the first strike and the further ten that followed. The din – the shouted chatter and the live band – in the club had drowned them out until the band had finished a number and then it was like a plug had been pulled. People realised how loud their voices were as other outside noises began to filter through, and that was when she'd heard what was for her the first stroke and had asked a bartender the time. It's just gone midnight, he'd said, and as this truth dawned out she had fled and vanished into the night, or at least that's how the other party attendees later described her sudden flight.
She couldn't believe she was going to miss the last train when she'd so carefully planned her homeward journey: made sure of its departure time from Waterloo Station two weeks before the event, and then re-checked in case of engineering works or unforeseen delays caused by leaves or black ice on the line. It was such a spoiler to the evening, but she only had herself to blame. She should have accepted the invite to sleep over at a girlfriend's and then she would have had none of this bother, but instead she'd promised her employer she would be back to take care of the children: two boys aged five and seven, in spite of it being her weekend off. It wasn't so much of an offer, but more of an expectation since Cyndi lived in, and her employer, ironically a human rights lawyer, always got what she wanted, particularly from au pairs like Cyndi, the naturally good. Her methods were underhanded, and even though Cyndi saw through her tricks it was easier all round if she just agreed and if her employer believed she was manipulable.
So on this very night, when the clock had gone midnight Cyndi's actions were not that of the rational, but that of a girl who is always anxious to please and scared of accusations that she's let others down or done wrong. She is not a role model for the modern or the downtrodden because she turns everything into a duty and doesn't dare speak up for herself, which, of course, sometimes leads to poor decisions. And this was one such occasion.
In her haste to get to Waterloo Station, she kicked off her impulsively-bought, crippling shoes and ran, hoping she might be able to flag a passing black cab if one chanced by. But the wet London streets seemed to be noticeably empty and so when she came to an art installation of bicycles through the ages, she grabbed the least cumbersome, triggering the built-in alarm, yet still jumped on and rode, her red hair flying behind her. She bumped over manhole covers and tried to avoid the gutters and puddles, and made a vain attempt to prevent her grey silk dress becoming caught in the rotation of the pedals.
During those moments of frenzied activity, her brain pondered what she would do when she got to Waterloo for her train was sure to have departed already. Perhaps she would be able to catch a train part of the way...and then what? Walk, find a night bus or taxi? Her brain constantly jabbering dutydutyduty on a continuous loop.
As the station neared in sight, she thrust the bicycle into the hands of a man in a sort of tweed uniform, “Right you are Miss.” He said, touching his flat cap, “I'll take care of it straight away,” wheeling the bicycle off as if he were returning a prized horse to its stables. How odd, she thought, but nevertheless made her way into the concourse to find herself amongst a throng of people – ladies with bustles and gentlemen in top hats with porters attending to their needs. She approached what appeared to be an authority figure, who having glanced at her Travelcard instructed her to “Follow me. Quickly please, Miss. The Gone Midnight Express is about to leave.” The whistle blew as he hurried her to the disused Eurostar platform.

Picture Credit: Cinderella, Edmund Dulac