Overhead the sky was winter blue and the air was crisp as I picked up my bag and stepped up onto and into the carriage and made my way to a free seat. At that time of the evening there were few people travelling so there was only a smattering of fellow travellers dotted here and there in my carriage making the journey a pleasant and quiet one as I opened my pack and took out a book to read to while away the miles.
Just as the train was due to leave there was flurry of activity as a young man and woman ran past my window and got on board with moments to spare as the guardsman blew his whistle allowing the train to depart on schedule.
As the locomotive cranked into gear, I glanced up and smiled as they stumbled awkwardly towards the double-facing seat behind me. "That was close." I said with a smile to the man who was trying to shove his luggage into the overhead rack. He was tall, dark, suntanned and looked about 20 - a regular jock.
He gave me a brief nod and blew out his cheeks. "Yeah. Real rush." he replied as he slid into his seat as his companion stared at him with a frown on her pretty face. And she was pretty. A shapely lass who looked about a year younger than him with a shock of auburn curly hair that framed her expressive features and which turned to a deep blood red as the shafts of the late evening sun fell across it. She was wearing a denim shirt under a black jacket and a full length crumpled flower-power pleated skirt from where a pair of well worn sneakers peaked. Aye, definitely pretty in my book. She was still trying to shove her pack into the rack above her head with a strength born of frustration and anger. Her boyfriend - or whatever - was sat chin in hand staring out of the window ignoring her.
Ever the gentleman - even at 38 and with two failed marriages behind me - I got to my feet and went to stand next to her. Her fragrance wafted around me like a warm sea breeze as I said to her "Here, let me give you a hand with that."
She gave me a grateful smile. "Thank you. It's nice to see someone willing to help." she said, a shadow crossing over her face as she glanced at the man who gave a snort of disdain and continued to stare out of the window as the panorama of concrete slowly gave way to a sea of green fields swaying hypnotically in the breeze. Her eyes were electro glide blue and she had a faint spray of freckles that crossed the bridge of her nose I noticed as she let me take her bag.
"Not at all. My pleasure." I said as I managed to ease her pack into the small space. "I don't think these things were designed for backpackers." Once it was secure I retook my seat and picked up my book. The girl was still fussing around and bent slightly forward adjusting the flow of her full skirt thus revealing a very shapely backside that looked fuller than I would have imagined. Not that having a full feminine backside was a cross to bear of course. Far from it. The cross to bear was my own for the delights and mysteries of the female rear had always blessed - or cursed me for as long since I could remember. Two failed marriages could attest to that I thought ruefully.
She finally took her seat opposite her boyfriend and I settled back and let the rhythmic clickety clack of the railroad track wash away my cares as the train headed west into a deep red sunset.
"Spanking." said a voice somewhere deep inside my sub-conscious as I drifted and floated upon the vast sea of my memories. "Is that all you think about? You're obsessed by it."
Somewhere in the dark something flickered.
"I am not." said a voice in a harsh whisper. "You just don't understand."
From my idle nodding daydream I slowly opened my eyes and listened.
"Understand?" responded another sharper whisper. "Understand that you always want to be spanked?" it said exasperated. "Of course I don't bloody understand Cindy. How am I supposed to understand that my girlfriend has an obsession for getting a spanking?"
So much for my awakening presumption for my mind was alert now from its slumber. I detected a faint bewilderment in his manner as he said that to her even though I couldn't see them both due to the high back seats. I sensed a tinge of disgust too. How very sad. I continued to listen for they were discussing something close to my heart. Something which I had an interest in even though the consequences of revealing myself to those closest had yielded nothing but trouble and heartache - that something was spanking and in all its various shades therein.
Spanking was something that held me in it's thrall for as long as I could remember and something which was always there in the background of my everyday life. Not a something one could mention in idle conversation for sure. Whenever I heard the word in "real life" I would instantly feel its warmth, secrecy and allure.
And here it had been spoken - whispered - on a train ride to somewhere. I continued to listen.
The girl was speaking again. "It's not an obsession and it's not something you need to understand or for me to explain John. In fact, I don't even think it's something I could ever explain and hope for you to understand. It's here - in me - in my heart and that's all that matters. You don't have to understand John but I need you to be there for me when I need it."
I could feel my heart thumping as I listened to her words. Those exact same words I'd said to the two women in my life. Those exact same words that were thrown back in my face with a measure of disgust and departure. I could feel her frustration. The sense of revelation and fear of ridicule.
There was a pause.
"Is it the sex?"
"Is sex not enough for you?" he asked.
I winced silently. No you fool. It's about more than just sex.
"What sort of question is that?" she replied with a gasp. "Do you think I'm that shallow?"
"No, of course not. It's just that I thought that..."
"Then you thought wrong John." she interrupted. "Christ, why did you have to bring this up now?"
"Me?" he snapped. "This is your problem not mine Cindy. I love you but I don't know you sometimes. Why can't you just be happy with what we have - the way we are?"
Familiar. Be happy with your lot in life. Be untrue to thy true self. Live a lie. Live a life of denial.
"Why is it so........so, such a bad thing for you to do to me John?" she asked.
"Because I don't like the idea of inflicting pain on you - or any woman come to that. It's just - not - right." There was another pause. "Why couldn't you just have been normal huh? Just like the usual stuff. At least with my last girlfriend I knew where I stood."
She gave a gasp. "I am normal. It's just you - and your ex-girlfriend - who aren't to me."
There was a shuffling sound and I glanced up to see the girl get to her feet and grab her pack from the rack. Her face was a mixture of pain and anger as she turned and walked to the end of the carriage and pulled open the dividing door.
Her boyfriend called to her. "Look Cindy, I'm sorry...I didn't mean..."
She stopped and turned back. "You've said enough. I'm going to get something to eat."
As she said that her eyes met mine and held for a moment. Then she slung her pack on her shoulder and left the carriage.
A short while later..
The girl was sat by herself at the far side of the buffet car looking out of the window as she ate a sandwich and had a drink of coke. I approached the small food counter and smiled at the man in a white shirt with red bow tie who was serving the passengers. "Coffee thanks. Black, two sugars."
I sat on a steel fixed stool and watched as he poured and made small talk about the weather and journey. All the while I kept glancing at the girl who seemed oblivious to everyone around her. She looked so alone. The girl with a secret. A secret she wanted to share but which would lead only to heartache and embarrassment. I took a deep breath, picked up my cup and walked over to where she was sitting.
"Hi," I said with a smile. She jumped slightly and looked up at me with surprise. "Mind if I take a seat?"
Her gaze left mine and fell on the door separating her from her boyfriend as if she was looking for reassurance and safety. But knowing I'd helped her earlier seemed to allay her hesitation. "Sure. I guess it'll be nice to have a sensible conversation for once." She smiled at that - a wistful look on her face as I sat down and took a sip of coffee. Up close she really was pretty and had a natural charm as we made small talk about everything and anything under the sun. She and her boyfriend were on the last train to Clarksville where they were students on a local campus both studying at the same University. She was 19, an only child of happy parents and who wanted to work in Law. She laughed when I said I was a man of the world only that the world didn't know it yet and that at 38 I had learned enough from my mistakes to appreciate them more.
"You make yourself sound so ancient the way you say 38!" she grinned. "Mind you, I've always found older men fascinating. The boys my age have no appreciation for what a relationship is all about."
"There speaks the innocence of youth." I sighed. "Though you do have a point."
I saw the smile in her eyes.
"I do?" she said intrigued, resting her chin on her hand. "Maybe you should explain it to me so I learn from my mistake before I make it."
I laughed and picked up my cup. "Well, the most important thing in life is not to settle for second best." I said quietly. "It's taken me two failed marriages to realise that."
I could see she was mulling over what I'd said and was thinking deeply. "I'm sorry to hear that. Can I ask why they failed?"
I looked directly at her over the rim of my cup as the train rattled and shook over an intersection of track. "They didn't understand. They didn't understand who I really was and what I needed from them. In the end, when they found out what I needed they couldn't - or wouldn't accept it."
The freckles across her nose had disappeared under the glow of a blush. It was as if she was mentally ticking off a list of boxes in her mind by way of what she needed herself. I reckon I'd managed to tick off every one of them.
She took a drink of her coke and I could see she wanted to ask me the obvious question but was hesitating. Who was I? A complete stranger she'd met on the last train to Clarksville. She bit her lip and looked at me for a second before glancing out of the window as the evening slipped into twilight. She was still hesitating - no doubt thinking of the man in the other carriage.
But I could tell she wanted to ask me that question.
"Go on." I said suddenly. "Ask me."
She looked at me as her blush deepened. "Ask you what?"
"Ask me the one question you want to ask me the most right now - Cindy."
Her eyes went wide. "You overheard?"
I nodded. "Ask me the one question you want to know the answer about."
The carriage was empty by now and there was just the two of us sitting there.
Her lips parted but no sound came out. Then...
"S..spanking." she whispered. "Did they not understand about the spanking?"
The guardsman blew his whistle and with a groan of metal the Amtrak began to pull slowly out of the station. The second last station before Clarksville. In the illuminated darkness, I stood on the platform holding my luggage watching as the train make its way out into the night like a silver ghost. When it had disappeared I turned and made my way back home.
It was a week later and the snow was deep on the ground as I returned to the station waiting for the train to arrive. Swirling flurries of snowflakes drifted about me as the Amtrak appeared through the blizzard and slowly ground to a halt with a hiss of compacted steam. After a brief moment, passengers began to disembark and I looked on as each passed by me to whatever destination they were heading to. It was then I saw her and I smiled for from the farthest carriage a figure emerged and after a moments hesitation began to walk towards me. When she stood in front of me, wrapped up snugly against the cold, she flung back the hood of her coat and looked at me with a shy grin on her pretty face.
In her hand was the slip of paper I had given her a week ago.
"I'm glad you called." I said as I took her pack.
She didn't say anything but walked by my side through the snow as we made our way out of the station towards my car. "Why?" I asked as she slipped her hand into mine.
She glanced up at me and then out towards the white covered countryside. "Because you understand and besides, I couldn't resist."
We had reached my car and I stood looking at her over its snow covered roof. She was laughing knowingly and in her gaze was a hint of something wonderful. “Well, I know what you need just as much as you know what I need so I guess I just couldn’t resist a trip on the last train to Spanksville.”
In the distance that train began to pull out of the station.