Pauline’s husband died on the eve of their 50th wedding anniversary. A heart attack. It was no surprise as he had been one of a dying breed. A smoker who over the years had to trade the convenience of smoking anywhere he chose for surreptitious drags in the shadows wedged between the looming office tower where he worked and the adjacent apartment block where he kept four walls for late nights at the office, doubling as a faux bachelor pad for the high class hookers he was dependent on. He’d work late into the night, billing clients for time that would never be his again. Pauline had been busy with arrangements for their anniversary party that coming weekend. It was just another of a long list of projects that kept her occupied through the course of their marriage. Their secret for longevity, they’d only half joke to anyone who cared to ask, was that they were both too busy to have any marital discord. This was of course not entirely true. There was discord, but it was spoken of in the hushed tones of their body language, separate beds, and dreams on divergent paths. From the first time they clapped eyes on one another, Frank a fresh graduate, and Pauline one of many typists in the room servicing the bellowing orders and egos of the men at the Firm, alarm bells rang. He’d criticised Pauline’s spelling mistakes, the smudge of ribbon ink that smeared his dictated words, and the thick, un-shapely legs beneath her desk. He was just getting accustomed to the status quo, clocking the hours to be the man the world accepted and expected of him. Their courtship, which really was just a regretable late-night tryst in the office, led to pregnancy and a shot gun wedding, Frank ejaculating quicker than Pauline could vow that it would be a first and a last. The pregnancy and her changing shape, moods and connection with the growing being inside her that he had no control over (yet) drove him into violent rages. And so it began, or rather, continued – she could do nothing right and had the bruises to confirm this. She was lazy, a shitty cook, and of course those legs only became more engorged with the fluid retention of pregnancy. Before number one was born, Pauline already thought she’d leave Frank once her bump was of school age. That way she could get full time work and everything would be okay. Time flies she’d think, at every milestone that reminded her of her failed plans. Now that bump and the two that followed in quick succession are adults who occasionally face-time, and Frank is dead. After answering the phone call pronouncing Frank’s demise, she didn’t skip a beat and carried on with the list of final touches required for the party the following evening.
The train wove slowly through the changing landscape, darkness descending as tired commuters yawned, faces illuminated by dimmed fluorescent tubes overhead and blue screens projecting mood lighting upwards from clasped hands and warm laps. Veronica fought her will to scroll, placing her phone in her bag and focusing instead on the outline of blurred trees and dark sky, switching her gaze occasionally to the reflection in the window beside her of the couple who sat across the aisle, oblivious to being studied while buried in their laptops, the quiet carriage a convenient excuse for their absence of words. Proposals needed writing and job applicants needed screening, get it out of the way, they had both agreed long ago when their commuting lives began, to free up the evening to feed their voracious appetite for whole seasons in one sitting. Of course, Veronica had no idea this was the case, but creating a story for the people she observed muted thoughts that reminded her of what was missing. Looking at her checkered canvas shoes, she recognised the pattern in the lives she imagined, bleak and loveless narratives that blurred and rendered each observed pair of strangers no different from the last, not even the lightness of a homeward, end of work week leg allowed her to see them any differently. She was single and had been for some time, with no frame of reference other than the failed relationships of her past, poor choices that littered her memories of her twenties and thirties. She returned to her phone for the colourful distraction of candy crush, not quiet the same without the dopamine firing sounds, but a temporary reprieve from the same tale she’d tell the next morning.
In the spirit of the holiday, I am resurrecting my blog. The ‘V/Line Vignette’ series will be a weekly post with what little or a lot I have written on my commute. These are from two separate weeks earlier this month. I return to work 29th April, so I will post the next V/Line Vignette sometime on the weekend of 4th May (may the force be with me to commit to that)- saying all this is about accountability. I admire people who commit to a long term creative project like a daily illustration, photographing each meal they eat for a year, a weekly vlog etc. Have you committed and followed through on a long term project? I‘d love to hear from you about how you stick to a concept.