pages on an opened book

A First Class Memory

Year 2002

Dorothy leans back into the recliner chair and carefully closes her book. She has another look at the picture of two officers on the front cover, dressed splendidly in pristine army uniforms. Their smiling faces show no signs of the atrocities they will surely encounter. Stories about the war always seem to include episodes that are painful to read. Yet, judging this book by its cover, all won’t turn out too bad for these young men. They are the lucky ones. So, after her little snooze, Dorothy will read some more.

Laughter from a group of children, making their way past her house, wakes Dorothy up with quite a start. The walking route, which runs in front of her property, has become more and more popular in recent years. Her sister Rachel had even suggested that she should “open up a little café and make a killing.”

There was no way Dorothy was ever going to do that, “…especially not at my age! I bought this place to live in. To capture my memories. Not to make hot tea and money,” she’d responded.

Dorothy didn’t need to expand on which memories she was capturing, as Rachel already knew.

Dorothy looks up at the old clock, ticking away above the fireplace. The numbers have faded long ago, yet the black hands still keep perfect time. When Dorothy had bought the house, the clock was still hanging outside, but had stopped working. A jeweller in Blackburn had managed to get it up and running again. It was an expensive repair.

“Time isn’t cheap,” he had joked.

For Dorothy, the value of the clock wasn’t something that could be stored in a purse: It was priceless, just like the house.

She makes her way out of the small library, down the corridor, past the two bedrooms, through the living room and into the extensive kitchen. The walk seems to become longer each day. She definitely needs that cup of tea when she gets there.

With the mug in her hand, Dorothy steps outside. There’s no garden at the front, just a long stretch of cracked concrete, perforated with very determined weeds. She sits on the rusty, ornate bench and looks down at the walking path. It won’t be long before someone will pass by. And sure enough, as soon as she has her first sip of tea, a young man comes into view. As he gets closer, Dorothy notices that he is carrying an extremely large backpack. It looks so heavy. He gives Dorothy a smile, one that reminds her of the book cover. He stops but keeps the bag on his back.

“Morning,” he says.

“Good Morning. It looks like you’re carrying the kitchen sink.”

“Ha. Wish I was. It would be much lighter.”

They exchange a few more words, before he adds: “You’ve been a lovely excuse for a rest. Now back to my training.”

He straightens up and is swiftly on his way.

Then, after a few steps, he turns, raises his cap and waves it above his head, drawing a heart shape in the air.

He shouts: “Ta-ra my love. See you again soon.”

Dorothy is stunned. It is the very same action, with the very same words as sixty years ago.

She leaves her mug on the bench and heads back to the comfort of her library room.

Slightly out of breath, Dorothy lowers herself into the chair.

It is no coincidence that coloured light is casting a cheerful pattern over the seat. Dorothy had strategically placed her chair directly under the stained glass window. She looks up at her own piece of glass art; a gold star features in the centre, surrounded by a multitude of blue, green and yellow squares. At the very top three capital letters: S. Y. R. South Yorkshire Railway.

Or, in Dorothy’s case, Stephen Young-Robertson.

She closes her eyes and, as she dozes off, her lips start to dance to the memories triggered by the walker.

The railway, originally built to support the coal industry, extended its services to include the transport of light goods and passengers. A network of new stations and platforms was erected to meet the requirements of the latest enterprise. For many years train services throughout the North of England flourished. The closure of coal pits and the increase in road traffic brought a swift end to many of these lines. When the S. Y. R. railway closed in the late 1980’s, the company gave up the rights to some of the land and sold many of the surplus buildings. One such building was the station near Woodburn Junction. A local historian bought the property and, over a period of several years, converted the station into a luxurious house. He preserved many of the original features and lived there for over five years. He supported the local ramblers, who were campaigning for the old railway track to become an official walking route.

In 1991, when the iconic railway station came up for sale again, Dorothy was one of the first to register her interest with the estate agents in Attercliffe. After working as a successful solicitor for many years, Dorothy was more than ready for retirement.

Owning the old S. Y. R. station would be a dream come true.

Year 1991.

“Careful of the step,” warns Jayne, the estate agent, opening the door for Dorothy.

“As you can see, the kitchen area is very modern with great views down the track, towards the hills. Doing the washing-up will be a real pleasure.”

They both laugh.

“It used to be the booking office. The hatch there has been incorporated into the wall as a feature. This way. Follow me.”

“Beautiful. I love the light and the tall windows. Whoever did all this, has done a great job,” says Dorothy, as she walks out of the kitchen into the corridor.

There are two bedrooms to the left. They are both of similar size, but Dorothy immidiately makes her mind up as to which one will be hers, and which one will be for her sister, when she stays over.

After a quick tour of the bathroom, Jayne says, “Okay, are you prepared for this?”

She flings open a wooden door.

“Le pièce de résistance. The library.”

Dorothy opens her mouth, as if trying to swallow the absolute beauty of the room. She only manages to say: “This is simply stunning.”

The room has two large windows. One of them is a magnificently restored stained glass panel. An open fire place, made of hefty grey stones, dominates the end wall and shelving runs down the whole of the right-hand side. Underfoot is an intricate parquet floor, enhanced by the sun rays, bursting through the window.

“This room is the sole reason I want to buy the property,” Dorothy informs Jayne. “It’s very special to me. Very special indeed.”

Jayne looks puzzled as she checks her notes. “Apparently, this room used to be the First Class Waiting Room. Can you believe it?”

Dorothy can believe it. In fact, she knows for sure that it was the First Class Waiting Room. She has been in here once before.

The two ladies walk outside and sit on one of the station’s benches.

“I’ll definitely put an offer in,” says Dorothy.

“That’s great news. It is such a lovely place. I’m sure you’ll be very happy here. Just a quick word of warning though, I am showing a couple around tomorrow.”

Jayne smiles at Dorothy, looks up at the clock hanging above the doorway, and says; “Goodness, I hope that clock is wrong.”

Again they both laugh. Of course it is wrong, it hasn’t been working for years.

Year 1942.

Stephen holds young Dorothy’s hand so tightly that it hurts. But she doesn’t mind. She doesn’t want him to let go. They are tucked close to the wall near the booking office, trying to stay out of the cold easterly wind. The sun is trying to break through, but it gives no warmth. The platform is deserted, apart from another soldier, identically dressed as Stephen. He’s sitting on a bench under a clock. For a second, Dorothy feels sorry for the young man who is probably returning to the frontline, with no one to wave him off. She is here for Stephen: He is a friend from school who, just before the war broke out, became her fiancée. Yet, since their engagement it has been a terribly difficult time. First Stephen had to attend a training camp near Alanbrooke. They didn’t see each other for weeks. Then it got worse; Stephen was posted abroad.

This weekend is the first time she has seen him in ten months. Stephen had been granted a few days leave as his father is critically ill.

They huddle closer.

“I’ll still write to you every week,” Dorothy tells him.

“Let’s hope the post gets through. I don’t want anyone else reading your letters,” he replies.

“I don’t care if they do. They will only learn how much I love you and how much I’m missing you,” Dorothy says.

“Don’t forget to put loads of kisses at the bottom. I’ll count every single one of them,” Stephen says.

They both laugh.

“In fact,” continues Stephen, “I would like to count one of those kisses right now.”

Dorothy is slightly shocked by Stephen’s boldness and, even if there is a war on, she would not be seen kissing him in public. She nods her head towards the soldier on the bench, hoping that Stephen will understand why she won’t kiss him here.

Stephen does understand.

Without any warning Stephen starts to walk down the platform, tugging Dorothy with him. When he reaches the green wooden door, he quickly pushes it open and glances inside. A coal fire is burning at the far end of the room, but for the rest it is empty. As if rehearsed, he pulls Dorothy inside and kicks the door closed. In one, swift movement their arms lock around each other, their eyes close and their lips start to dance together.

“Gosh Stephen, what came over you? That was…”

“Wonderful,” Stephen finishes her sentence.

Dorothy nods, because it was wonderful.

“Look,” says Stephen, “It was so fantastic, it has turned your face blue and green.”

Weak sunlight, pouring through a glorious stained glass window, covers Dorothy’s face.

“You look more beautiful than ever.”

Dorothy gives Stephen a gentle, friendly nudge.

“Look,” she says. “It is actually your window, S. Y. R. Stephen Young-Robertson.”

Stephen looks up and sees his initials, made out of stained glass, shining into the room.

“That is extraordinary; my own private waiting room.”

“Come on,” urges Dorothy. “We need to get out of here before anybody comes in. They’ll definitely know we shouldn’t be in the First Class Waiting Room.”

Back outside in the cold, Dorothy believes the kiss will last a lifetime and she looks forward to many more, after this dreadful war is over.

Stephen interrupts her thoughts. “It’s here,” he announces and Dorothy’s heart drops.

They both glance up at the station clock. The time has come.

Standing alone, Dorothy tries not to cry, as she watches Stephen push his way through the busy carriage. He’s smiling and talking to somebody already seated. With a struggle, he manages to get his head and one hand out of the open window. He waves his beret round and round, drawing a huge heart in the air.

“Ta-ra, my love. See you again soon.”

As the smell of the coal and the noise of the engine disappear, Dorothy walks down the platform towards the gate and wonders how long it will be before she sees him again. She gently places her fingers over her lips as if trying to prevent the memory of that First Class kiss from escaping; it will have to stay with her for a long time.

Sadly, Stephen and Dorothy never see each other again, yet she keeps the memory of that last kiss forever.

Published: People’s Friend