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Moving On - Train Station Clock

Moving On

  12+  Eighteen-year-old Hugo glanced up at the train station clock. It seemed time had stood still, with the minute hand barely moved since he'd last checked. He confirmed the time on his watch and then looked at the departure board, breathing a sigh of relief. His train was running on schedule.

Scenes from Hugo's weekend coming-of-age birthday party flashed through his mind. "For he's a jolly good fellow," family and friends had sung. But Hugo had shrunk from his mother and aunts' cloying embraces and the bone-crushing handshakes of his father and other male relatives. They violated his personal space in ways only his best friends understood.

"Speech, speech, speech!" the gathering had egged him on after his father had said how proud he was of his son, and his mother had descended into embarrassing tears. 

"Ah, thank you all for coming," Hugo had managed, adding, "and, um, thanks Mum and Dad for everything."

Everything? Define "everything"! Hugo had hoped to address the elephant in the room with his parents before his birthday. But they only paid attention to what they wanted to hear and were deaf to other conversations.

A station announcement jerked Hugo back to the present. His train was delayed. Life was unfair!

"Life is what you make of it," his father had asserted during his speech, "and Hugo has made much of his young years … despite a few slip-ups." There was laughter, louder among his family than the friends who knew him better.

Slip-ups? What "slip-ups"!? Hugo was an only child and bore the weight of his parents' suffocating affection and expectations. How could he explain that he didn't share their view of "life" when they never listened to him? 

"Hugo is hoping to be a lawyer," his mother had boasted to her sisters (his aunts) at the party. "Only if he works harder and gets the right marks," qualified his father, as always.

But Hugo didn't want to be a lawyer. He wanted to paint landscapes and old buildings, like this train station he'd passed through daily during high school, admiring its architecture and departure board, listing far-flung destinations.

His friends planned overseas travel or cruise ship holidays when they finished high school. However, transiting through the train station inspired Hugo to desire an older-world form of travel, offering no less distant horizons and landscapes across the vast continent.  

Hugo had tried to explain this to his parents before his birthday, before the speeches, and their hollow statements about his achievements and pronouncements on his future. Instead, he'd made his staccato response, endured the hugs, kisses, and handshakes, and given friends thin smiles, masking the knowledge that his false facade was about to crumble.

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Another station announcement. Time had moved on, and Hugo's train was due shortly. 

What would "life make of itself" at the train's destination? he wondered. Would there be more slip-ups and delays? Would he move on again, like the hands of the station clock? 

The train arrived, and Hugo stepped aboard.

© 2024 Robert Fairhead 

Thanks to Ryan McGuire from Pixabay for sharing the image of the train station clock.

Moving On was my December 2023 Furious Fiction entry for the Australian Writers' Centre's monthly 500-word short story writing challenge. The story had to:

  • Take place at either an AIRPORT or TRAIN STATION
  • Feature an awkward hug 
  • Include the words EIGHTEEN, EGG and ELEPHANT — longer variations were permissible (did you spot them?).

The Furious Fiction challenge takes place on the first weekend of the month. The Writers' Centre emails the brief on Friday afternoon, and the deadline is midnight Sunday. That first weekend in December was a disaster for me.

On our Friday afternoon walk, my over-excited twelve-year-old black lab, Jet, jumped up for a treat, landed poorly, and ruptured his cruciate ligament — one week before I was due to head off a long-planned road trip with my son from Sydney to Perth to spend Xmas/New Year with our WA family.

I knew the farm stay I'd booked to mind Jet while I was away wouldn't take him with his cruciate injury. So I spent the weekend exploring short-notice alternatives, including abandoning the road trip with my son or taking Jet with us, neither of which was preferable (or sensible!). And my mind was overloaded with what-ifs, like, "Why didn't I stop Jet from jumping!?"

Consequently, I couldn't focus on the TV on Friday night, let alone the Furious Fiction brief. Or so I thought because to relieve the stress, I sat at my laptop with a glass (or two!) of wine and wrote Moving On in one sitting.  

Yes, there are a few edits, especially after much-appreciated suggestions by fellow Furious Fiction writers Richard Gibney and Gav Harris (Twitter/X links), with whom I shared my early drafts. But the story I wrote on that stress-filled Friday evening is essentially the one I submitted on Sunday.  

Perhaps, like my young protagonist, writing the story was like jumping on a train and leaving behind my woes!  

PS: I found a dog-loving family to look after Jet while I was away on the road trip with my son. We all had a good time in WA, which helped prepare for the operation and rehab to repair Jet's knee when I returned home in January. I also wrote a Tall And True blog post about our adventures crossing the continent, A Dad and Son Road Trip. 

N.B. Listen to Moving On on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast.

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Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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