Wednesday, 24 November 2004

The Two Unrelated Deaths of Rachel Dean


She read the notice. Please do not lean out of the window or open the door when the train is moving. She thought about it. Considered the yellow triangular warning symbol beside it with an exclamation mark.

Through the window, slightly misty with condensation, the street lights, car head & brake lights, traffic lights, blurred, all colours and twinkly against the pane, smudging across the droplets, blending together like coloured spots on a movie camera lens.

Inside the carriage the commuters slept. Two colleagues discussed issues about The Company. And a couple of teenage lovers play faught over phones and hats. The girl playing up in front of a couple of curb-chain wearing hardnut boys, one of whom eyed her knowingly from the corner of his eye, a feint smile spreading occassionally across his face.

The train passed over a street, then the sidings became brush and bare trees. With sudden movement she opened the door and before anyone could grab her flung herself from the train. A flurry of coat tails whisked past the train.

Necks whiplashed twisting to see what had happened. The door slammed shut as the brakes screamed on. The wind and commotion died down in an instant, as if nothing had happened and she had never been there at all. A split second, collectively dreamt by a dozy carriage. No one had seen her before the incident and all anybody recalled was a flap of cloth, which could have been anything, a plastic bag or old newspaper thrown up by the speed of the train. No one could be sure that it wasn't just a faulty catch on the door.


In the shadow of St Pauls on Ludgate Hill is a serenading balcony over a scallop-shell doorway where Rachel liked to crouch and watch the world go by along the muddy road to and from the worship and the bridge. Her mother used to scold her lest anyone would see, afraid of what she would look like to passers by. The fishmongers and the butcher's wives and that girl that sold string. But Rachel was curious and wore it like those with itchy feet, nose pressed up against the glass, desperate for a world beyond.

One particular cold day she had slipped away from her reading and stood on the balcony with the breeze in her hair. Her mother, upon noticing her missing from her chair, shrieked her name in such a way that on hearing it Rachel started so vigorously she caught the railing edge and fell head first over it onto the ground below. Her fallen body startled a horse and it reared up and trampled her, fear in its eyes.

Doctors were called but there was little they could do. For a few hours her mother cradled her crumpled body in her arms, but she was dead already.

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