We’re back. Forty-five years ago we sat here at this same table, same window, he and I, waiting for the 15.10 ferry. Always the same ferry. Two of them, running back and forth, back and forth. Connections, you know, making connections to the train. The train to visit family. The train to the airport. When did they build that bridge? Why did they build that bridge? I liked the ferry. Thirty minutes to cross. Enough time for a cup of coffee. And a hotdog. French mustard and mayo in a crispy roll. Mustard always squirted out the end. Dribbled down my front like baby sick.
Thank you, I say to the waitress. She sets a cup of coffee with a cellophane-wrapped biscotti wedged on the saucer, and walks away.
Fog. Fog. Rolling in and steaming up the view. Fog like that used to stop the ferries running. Stranding you for days. Or a caterwauling storm could do the same. The ferry tilting, a shudder and rock, cups and saucers making their escape. Woman shrieking. Men bracing themselves like blunt old trees against wind. Children laughing. Children laugh at the damnedest things. Adults are thinking capsize and drowning, and last will and testament. Children are thinking whoop-whoop hullabaloo.
And there was always diesel. Whenever I smell diesel or thick lub-oil, I think of those old ferries. Green below the waterline. Sparkling white above. Rust? Not on your nan’s life. And there were rail tracks on one deck just for train carriages. Ten minutes before landing, you’d hear: “Please make your way to the train carriages for onward journeys.”
The carriages – two seats facing each other covered in red velveteen. Wood panels. Sliding doors, quiet as a sleeping baby’s breath. No crash-bang doors on these trains. No class differences. No first. No standard. No off-peak. Same fares all day, every day. Nothing seemed too much or unfair or unnecessary. Life was what it was. Steady. Slow. Moderate.
There’s no clever twist and no plot to this story, but that’s the way life is, isn’t it.