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Saturday, 27 February 2016

Leap Year Travel

To think I wrote this four years ago ...
Douglas wrote a shorter version of this story for the Daily Telegraph ‘Just Back’ short story competition in 2013. He did not win. Another version of the story is included in Ywnwab! his first book by the Allrighters’ published in September 2013.

Leap Year Travel a fantasy journey by Henry

 I am just back from the airport, standing at my front door, shivering in my new, warm-weather holiday clothes. I walk in and hear the cacophony of the house alarm. I think for the code 8532 or 8253? I press 8235 and all goes deathly still and quiet; I am home again, alone. My wife reached eighteen birthdays last year — yesterday to the day.

We are heading south — a familiar route. Our jet aircraft banks west and I see lakes and woods. Then we bank east and lose height very quickly, dropping in steps, as though in turbulence, air-frame banging, wings flapping. Down we go… fear rises as I see the terminal building to one side and we are still not down; a runway overshoot looms, so I tuck my feet under the seat, brace myself and close my eyes...“Please, God, no.” My prayer is answered, as with a huge roar, full jet power comes on again. The pilot, in a monotone robotic voice, says.

 “For safety, we are going around. We could not take the early landing slot. You will have a good view of Mont Blanc.”

 My peers converse in the seat behind.

“Scary.” I hear in a broken trembling voice. 

 Her male colleague makes a terse, sober reply. “Most unprofessional, failed to take the slot, he should not have tried, not even an apology for making us late.”

 I wholeheartedly agree. I feel my wife’s long, sensuous fingers holding my hand tight and draw my breath thinking of more intimacy later. Her magic still not dimmed by age.

 I change my watch for the hour time difference and worry about our train leaving in sixty minutes. We complete a circle, Mont Blanc is on the wrong side for me to see, and land smoothly all right second time around. We sit out of breath on the train to Brig. A comfortable hotel and good food await us. Cuddles and more at night and dawn in a net-curtained room, her still-perfect ivory skin caught moving in beams of new day sun.

The Glacier Express for Chur is not anywhere to be found in the main station. Departure is due in five minutes … we should not have dallied in bed. I start to panic … then see the narrow gauge track in the town square outside. We board, putting our bags in a luggage-van at the rear. We are off and soon mountain and valley scenery is running by, all grand and magnificent. At halfway the eating car is swapped from the westbound train. Lunch is adequate … poor exchange rate cost to be forgotten else troubling. Our train dives into gorges with fast-flowing rivers and is split into two before we reach Chur. When we reach Chur we find our two bags of luggage have gone to St Moritz.

  “Do not worry, dear, we are travelling on Swiss Railways.”

Even with communication in Swiss English I am not completely sure what I hope I have agreed with the helpful staff in the Chur platform signal station.

 We buy a shared toothbrush, paste and T-shirts and go to our hotel, enjoy rosti and steak followed by brief satisfying T-shirted sleep and more. 

At 8.00am we leave Chur’s large rail station and it’s yellow buses. The flanges squeal and the rack engages as we wind our way up the valley. The brochure picture of a red train going over a high viaduct into a mountain face with dark spirals inside is now real. Wow! — the reality is better than expectation. At St Moritz a miracle — by our carriage as it halts at our door stand our two bags on a trolley. Anxiety over Swiss English and Railways are now relieved.

We travel onwards, in fantasy, on the winter running Bernina Express over a snow-ploughed route through a high pass; then falling into warmer Italy, the snow soon disappears. We spiral around on rails and arches in another brochure picture and rattle through main streets to reach Torino for an enjoyable slow lunch, amble and a night’s rest in full night attire. Then to Milan and a coast train to cold Pisa. Few look at the amazing leaning tower. We enjoy a belated winter birthday celebration in front of roaring fires at the retreat and lots of good views while on rambles, both well wrapped up against the biting cold.

Of course all these delights took place last year. I am now going away again to somewhere warmer; booked specifically I stated to travel on the last day of February, alone. No cuddles this year unless my widow temptation fantasy matures.

I sigh; the queues for booking in are much longer than last year. I only have a single bag now. I eventually shuffle forward and reach the counter and the young lady with a name badge smiles; I feel a glow inside, she has a face similar to my daughter’s. Tracy Evans inspects my flight details and looks at me with a sad expression as though I might be her demented father.

  “Do you know the date today, sir?”

 I smile, my stress from queuing relaxed by her melodic, gentle Welsh accent. “Yes, my wife’s birthday — 29 February.”

She replies slowly. “I am sorry this year is not a leap year; it is 1 March today, St David’s Day.”

 Douglas started this story with an idea about the awful prospect of turning up at an airport a day late, which is a recurrent nightmare he has about travel. He thought then about leap years, added details of an actual flight to Switzerland where they overshot the runway in Geneva, another train journey where luggage was lost and put an overlay of loss of a dear partner to support the arrival a day late.

Of all his creative writing Douglas likes putting together short stories the most. Indeed his longer books under the Allrighters’ name are made up of many short stories linked together.

Open and search on Ywnwab! to find Kindle and paperback versions for sale.

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