Alex was with her man when she saw the news. She like to think if him as hers as though the words she said could make it so, even though she knew that he was anything but.
They were sat together careful not to let each other cross an invisible boundaries Alex knew had already been transgressed repeatedly. The television news brought pictures from a horrific train crash near Stoke-on-Trent. Alex leant towards him seeking comfort from the tragedy that was unfolding before her eyes.
He held his arm around her, any semblance of detachment now obliterated. He held he close to him as they saw the torn wreckage which had crumpled under the impact, and the charred carriages that lay across the rails. The presenters said that between 50 and a hundred people were likely to have lost their lives, the worst train crash in modern times.
It was as the camera panned to the embankment which had become a very temporary refugee for survivors that she saw Sam crouched low with a foil blanket wrapped around his body. And the realisation that he had been on that train, that it was Sam’s train to Liverpool which had never made it. It was that realisation that brought the truth home with a force she could not have expected. She burst into tears.
He turned down the music, fading Paul Simon’s Still crazy after all these years to a dim hum as the television took precedence and they scoured the pictures for any more signs of Sam. At least he had the compassion to realise that I would be distracted having seen him, thought Alex, it was some comfort to her that he had seen him as well. But there was no more information, she tried the information line that ran along the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen but the rush of panic blacked out the service as she got engage tone after engaged tone as hundreds of families and loved ones realised they knew someone on the train. And Alex reflected, they likely did not have the comfort of having sighted them alive but looking so very small and shaken on the edge of the disaster zone.
He suggested they turned the television off. He knew that was the right thing do, but Alex did not accept it. She insisted they stayed rooted to the spot in case any more news came through, Alex did not want to miss out on the smallest piece of information that could secure her knowledge that Sam was safe.
In the end Alex got up and left. It was not the place she needed to be at the moment. She needed to be able to concentrate on her concern for Sam and not find her self distracted by the man she was infatuated with and who allowed her to succumb so easily to temptation. He was a menace she decided in a rage of anger at having to leave him to be able to worry in solace about Sam. On the street she thought of turning back around. She thought of retracing her steps and walking back towards his house, Alex knew that he would let her in. He had let her into his house and taken her into his heart.
Alex was furious for letting herself get so wrapped up with him. Each time they met she made a fresh commitment that this would be the last time, that there would not be another occasion when she answer the call and wandered to his house knowing exactly what to expect. There would be discussion between them of how wrong their actions were, they would suggest to one another that they would just eat and talk. But then it had become inevitable that his arm would cross her shoulders or his hand come to rest on her leg. She knew that her commitments to chastity on each successive occasion were becoming more and more meaningless. Alex also knew that the words he spoke could not be trusted. He was not a man of his words, he was someone who wanted her and was prepared to lie and connive and convince her that what they were doing was right.
Her phone couldn’t get through to Sam. That was what she had wanted to do every moment since seeing the news, she was desperate to hear his voice and check that he was okay. But no matter how many times Alex hit redial it remained fruitless. He was lost and stranded, how was he going to get home, Alex was surprised by the maternal instincts that took over at this point of crisis. She was worried for him, but in the little ways, concerned that he was warm enough, of getting home, of the wasted trip, of the likelihood that he would have lost his luggage. The seemingly petty intertwined with the critical, his survival as taken for granted but the wave of worry transferred to his welfare and possessions.
Alex knew that she did not like Sam in the way she liked Adam. He was intoxicating, but Sam was still Sam and she was concerned about him. She wondered of the day that she would have to tell Sam, somehow she knew that it was inevitable, that their romance, their improper but never quiet adulterous relationship would have to come to an end. That was how Alex had excused it, she told herself that he was not having an affair with her because they weren’t sleeping together. That while it might seem a bit strange they were just close friends. But Alex knew that the hands and the touches and the kisses told the lie to that charade. He was being unfaithful to his wife, and he was pursuing her instead Alex reminded herself. She stiffened her resolve that this was not going to happen again. Alex wanted to tell Sam, if she had managed to call him that evening she is sure she would have spilled everything out. But she did not, so she got home and thought again. Alex remained certain that it had to come to an end with Adam but knew she would not be able to bring herself to admit it to Sam.