Please don’t leave

“Please don’t leave. Please don’t go.” Gemma stared straight ahead as Martin drove her to the station. “Please don’t go, please don’t leave”, he repeated, looking round at her pale profile, shadowed against the low winter sun. Beyond the hills the train that would take her away pulled out of a station.

Shoulders tensed, she turned and got out of the car. Her eyes were red but dry now. Martin’s words hit her like sharp stones. “Please don’t, please don’t leave me.” As they walked into the ticket office, she let him take her hand. A few miles north, her train sped through fields.

She waited next to the ticket machine as Martin put in the exact money. “I’ve got you a return. I know you say you’ve got to go but I’ve got you a return. Then you’ve got it.” She took the tickets from him and slipped them in her pocket. She picked up her suitcase and they walked out onto the platform. Martin took her hand again. The train was due in a minute exactly. They would see it soon.

Martin had stopped talking now. They stood at the platform edge in silence. They knew where the doors would open and then close. She put her suitcase down. The train came into sight around the bend, slowing, ready to take her away.

“Listen, please, Gemma”, he said. She turned her head and let go of his hand. “Goodbye Martin”, she said and stepped off the platform.

The map

Alexei spread out the map on the boxcar floor. It looked to be part black ink, part charcoal, with hatchings and smudgings and punctuated arrows. But in the centre, right in the centre of that tattered old parchment, was a blood red cross. He jammed his finger down on it. “This is where we’ll find it, right here!” His face twisted in surprised pain, and he fell back, eyes closed.

Sasha looked out at the mountains jagging snow upwards to the perfect sky, at the reflected clouds scudding across the crystal lake. Slowly, he screwed the parchment into a ball and threw it out of the door. It was gone.

That was the story my grandfather told me anyway, about his grandfather Sasha. And so here I am, spending my life on the Khabarovsk line, looking out over the taiga for that tattered piece of parchment that will change my life.