General Fiction posted May 27, 2019

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
short story about a sad life

Margie Appleby Smith

by Huberta van Akkeren

your scenario is - A woman bumps into a man she doesn't know on the train on her way to work. Over the next few days, she sees him almost everywhere she goes.
She sees him everywhere and gives the impression he is stalking her but there is a logical explanation why he is everywhere and it has nothing to do with her, what is it?
Who is the man and why is he there? This should form the basis for your story. The genre is up to you.

You must include a battered suitcase bearing some initials, a sketchpad and a pair of scissors. Each item must be used in a meaningful way rather than just being mentioned.


Margie chose a seat near the exit and huddled into a corner. She had tucked the small battered suitcase between her legs and the wall of the train. She didn't want to lose that too; she had already lost so much. The rattling train raced through the misty early morning landscape on its way to the city. Already the carriage was filling, drowsy teenagers, heads nodding to the private sounds emanating from earphones sat morosely next to well-dressed businessmen avidly punching keys on laptops. Prim secretaries examined manicured hands or checked hair reflected in the windows. As was the unspoken etiquette on the early morning commuter train, no-one spoke. Each passenger fully absorbed in the coming day. Margie regarded them all in sullen silence.

Her own thoughts were not on coming events but locked into the past. The chance meeting with her old school-yard friend, Alex, yesterday had sparked a flood of memories. Margie had brazenly told Alex, or rather Alexander as he now preferred, that she wanted to remember every detail of her sordid past. The bold yellow coat and bright red earrings she wore bolstered her self-assurance and radiated an air of resilience. She had said to him that it was only through remembering the suffering and abuse they had suffered as children that they could help others. Alex had been her confidant, friend and fellow sufferer. The hard-won confident persona she knew she had presented to Alex, was far from the reality she felt today. She still had her ups and downs despite the self-assurance she radiated.

The train neared Central station where everybody would disembark, either to rush to their city jobs and schools or board other trains speeding them in all directions. The mad rush to disembark never ceased to amaze her. People stood struggling to maintain balance as the train lurched over the final track switches, gathering their belongings from the overhead racks and lining up before the train came to a standstill. Slowly she stood, contemplating the red scar on the back of her hand in vivid contrast to her white-knuckled hold on the shabby brown suitcase handle.

The handle clasps, like the suitcase, were old, vintage, they would call them now, and Margie was not sure they would hold. Concentrating on the piece of luggage in her hand, she did not see the man standing in front of her until she collided into him. Glancing up she saw his vivid blue eyes staring at her intently.

'Oh, excuse me,' she murmured as stepped out of the aisle to let him pass. He said nothing, striding past, with the arrogance of youth. She glanced back at him, sensing something almost familiar. His longish black hair hung over the collar of his tatty leather bomber jacket and his jeans looked well worn. But then, she could never tell these days whether the rips and tears were from long wear or fashion statement. He continued into the next carriage while she disembarked. She didn't give him another thought.
She opened the railway locker and placed the suitcase inside, relieved she didn't have to lug it to work. It was heavier than she liked but she was careful it did not exceed the twenty-three- kilo interstate baggage allowance that her flight would allow. Her suitcase would be secure here, she thought, but would she ever feel safe?

As she passed through the park adjacent to the station she was vaguely aware that someone was watching her, but could see no-one in the throng of faces that looked like they were watching her. A shiver passed through her as she entered the indistinctive door of her office. Again, that uncanny feeling of being watched. The sign above the single door, nestled unobtrusively between two large modern office buildings, read, 'Wee Care, Children's Advocacy Agency'. Turning she scanned the area but saw no-one paying particular attention. She was used to being watched, perhaps some child waited to see staff members before sharing their horrific story. Perhaps some disgruntled parent watched to see if their child dared to tell the dark family secret. Or perhaps she was just imagining it after years of working with parents and children in abusive environments.

She removed her bright yellow coat and hung it on the empty peg passing into the tiny kitchen. Hot coffee was always welcome, but especially good on such a bleak day. She turned her computer on. As always her first task was to read her emails. Hopefully, she scanned the list, looking for a response from the 'Find your Loved One' website. She had posted her enquiry three weeks ago and still had no response. Images of the tiny baby boy she had been forced to give up, twenty-two years ago haunted her every day. It was not until recently and all the publicity regarding children being forced into adoption that she has taken any action to try and locate him.

One of her current cases required her to attend family court this morning, to advocate on behalf of a girl whose mother was fighting to regain access to her. The mother had in the past badly neglected the girl and Mandy had thrived in the foster home and was very reluctant to return to her mothers care. The family court would decide her fate today.

As Margie walked the few hundred meters to the courthouse she noticed the man from the train sitting on a park bench, an open sketch pad on his knee. Strange she thought as she passed him, to notice the same person twice in one day. She did not believe in coincidence, but he did not look up, he seemed engrossed in his artwork. There were numerous people in the square absorbing the final days of warm sunshine, so she paid him no heed.

Later that afternoon, Margie spotted the young man standing outside her office window. He had removed his jacket, revealing a white t-shirt with a portrait silhouetted in black. He was lounging against the small park wall smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee. The distinguishing red lettering of 'Mark's Coffee Cart' showed through black charcoal fingerprints. The nearby coffee vendor had built a reputation as serving one of the best coffees in the area and was very popular and always busy. His paper cups were recyclable, and he offered a discount for those reusing their cups. This only added to his popularity.
The man did not seem to be paying particular attention to anyone and just seemed to be hanging out. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, older than her son would be, she mussed. Margie always gauged strangers in relation to her son. She had no idea what her son looked like and always wondered about young men she saw.

Her phone rang. 'Wee Care, Margie Appleby speaking.'
'Theresa here, hey Margie, are you all set?'
'As ready as I'll ever be.'
'Ok, see you at six.' Returning the phone to its cradle, Margie glanced at the office clock, that gave her two hours. When she looked out the window the young man was gone. Margie was glad that it was Friday afternoon, soon she would be free.
It had taken a lot of courage she admitted to herself for her to finally make the decision to leave her husband, John after fifteen years. It had not been easy to admit that she had repeated the same mistake so many women make, that she had married an incarnation of her father. It had all begun so innocently.

For so many years she believed it was all her fault. That she was damaged. However lately, the pressures of possibly being made redundant occupied every minute, and he had become increasingly abusive. When he stabbed her scissors through her hand in a fit of uncontrollable rage because she was cutting a pattern on the dining room table instead of in her workroom she knew it was time to go. Of course, John was instantly sorry apologising profusely when he saw the blood. It was the first time he had physically abused her, but the psychological abuse had been going on for years, she now realized. He knew her history and had played on her fears.

She made plans to leave but decided to wait until she could get away without being located. The opportunity presented itself when he informed her that he was going on a fishing trip with his mates, this weekend. He left last night and would be gone until next weekend. She was prepared and now finally ready to take the next step. She was afraid but knew it was the only decision she could make.

She had retrieved the old suitcase from the attic. She had kept it all these years but never thought she would need it again. The battered brown box had been her only comfort as she transitioned through countless foster homes. It was hers. One of the few processions she could truly call her own. It was given to her by very kind people during her first week 'in the system.'

'Look love', the elderly matron, Mrs Johnston had said, 'it even has your initials, 'M. S.', stamped on it. You can keep all your things together, wherever you go.' She had been kind, that lady, but she and her husband were only transitional foster carers and Margie had only been with them for one week. They had given her the suitcase filled with pretty clothes. Although mostly from the opp shop, the clothes fitted and were clean, so different from the grimy, often too small, clothes she had worn at home. They had given her a week of unconditional love.

Now the suitcase contained the few clothes and precious memories she dared to take from her husband's house and the remanent of the baby quilt. In less than two hours Margie would leave the world she had built around herself and venture to a different state and start again. She had told no-one except Theresa, who had proven to be more than just a supervisor she had organised for Margie to be transferred to a Queensland office and had promised to handle her current caseload. Her co-workers would be astonished at her sudden disappearance, but Theresa had assured her she would explain it on Monday. It was better this way; no-one could tell John where she was. No-one would have to lie for her. How many new starts would she have to make in her lifetime Margie wondered?

Tears blurred her vision as she locked the door to her office, she had many happy memories of this place that was so used to sadness. She wiped her eyes quickly before her resolve faded. She had to go. Retracing her morning steps, she walked straight to the railway station lockers and glanced around. To her surprise, she noticed the same young man standing on the platform. He seemed to be staring straight at her almost as if he knew. When he saw her looking at him he threw the newspaper he was holding into a nearby bin and stalked away. She retrieved her suitcase and headed in the opposite direction, admonishing herself for being paranoid. But still, he did seem to be everywhere.

At the airport, she dug into her bag to retrieve the white envelope with her flight tickets. It was not there. She felt every pocket of her bag even though she knew exactly which pocket the envelope was supposed to be in. She had seen it this morning on the train when she had pulled out her wallet to show the conductor her train pass. But now it was gone. She looked around frantically, she did not have the money to replace the ticket, surely she had not lost it.

A tap on her shoulder forced her to spin around. She looked straight into the sullen face of this morning's stranger. 'Is this what you are looking for?' he asked, holding the envelope just out of reach.
Frowning, Margie looked into the man's eyes, 'Yes it is' she whispered. 'How did you get it and why have you been following me all day?'
'I found it on the seat you vacated this morning, but wasn't sure who it belonged at a hunch I followed you to your office. I have been following you for several days, but you only seemed to notice me today. Today you had a suitcase with you and now it seems you are heading interstate.' He tapped the envelope in his hand, 'Sorry, I opened it'.

'My name is Joshua Travis. A name that means nothing to you. The name on this ticket is Margie Appleby. I have been looking for you since I saw your ad on the adoption website. I wanted to know more about you before I approached you, but now you are leaving, and time has run out.' He handed her the envelope with a weak smile. 'I believe you are looking for your son, I think I knew him. Can we talk?' He motioned to a small coffee bar.
Scanning the contents of the envelope, she was relieved to see her neatly folded ticket. She glanced at the wall clock. She had about an hour before she needed to check-in. She nodded and followed Joshua to a nearby table.

'As I said, I think I knew your son. My brother and I were both adopted at birth our adoptive parents told us when Mark turned sixteen. That was about eight years ago now. We both decided to help each other find our real parents and ask why they didn't want us'. He flipped open his sketchbook to reveal a poignant sketch of a young man. Margie looked at eyes that were startlingly similar to her own, now filling with tears. 'So, they named hin Mark', she whispered, reaching to gently caress the sketch.

Margie gasped 'I did want my baby, even though I conceived from a rape, but the nuns wouldn't let us keep the children. Saying they were the devil's spawn.' Tears welled from her eyes as she imagined her child thinking it wasn't wanted.

'Our adoptive parents helped us get our birth certificates. 'Mark and our parents died in a car accident two years ago,' Joshua continued, 'but I vowed to ask the question for us both. I have since learned that many young girls were forced to give up their children, in St. Mary's Home. I now see that the same applies to you. I am sorry to be the bearer of such sad news, but I think you deserve to know your child was loved.'

Margie stood and embraced the young man, 'Thank you with all my heart', she whispered, 'and what about you? Have you managed to find your birth mother?'
'Not yet,' he said, 'but I will keep on trying'.

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