The Manchester Review
Chris Smith
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There are ten electric boards displaying the departure times and destinations of trains from Liverpool Lime Street. You can travel in any direction apart from west, because the Irish Sea lies that way, and unlike the English Channel there is no Chunnel (or maybe Irunnel?) across to Ireland. I could go to New Brighton, Wigan North Western, Chester, Scarborough, West Kirby, Manchester Oxford Road, Preston, Ellesmere Port, Blackpool North, or London Euston. If I waited then there would be more options, if I made a change, or took a bus, I could get to anywhere in Great Britain. I could take a ferry across to Dublin or a plane to the Continent, the Americas, anywhere in the world. It’s those boards that make me think like this, all their destinations give the impression that I have a choice, I could walk to any platform, and board any train.
I can’t.
    In my hand is a ticket that I bought on the Internet and collected in the station from an automated machine. It only cost me £10.25 for a single to London because I bought it seven days in advance. Seven days ago she emailed me from America and gave me the date, today. She will be somewhere over the Atlantic, closer to England than America, and I wonder if she stood in Charlotte Douglas International Airport and thought about the places she could go, the options that she didn’t have.
    The boards annoy me because they miss the point. All those orange LED’s shrieking out their destinations; they don’t understand. Paris, New York, or New Brighton, it doesn’t matter. The only important thing is that I’m leaving. The LED’s say it’s 14:30, my train leaves in ten minutes from platform six. The guard on the gate doesn’t even look at my ticket, he doesn’t care that I’m leaving. Maybe if he asked me why, I could say it’s a long story, and he could say let’s have a coffee, and I would miss my train. My ticket is non-transferable because I bought it seven days in advance on the Internet for £10.25.

The train is a Virgin train, and from Liverpool Lime Street it only stops at two towns before London. It is one of the new fast ones, with no space for bicycle storage and lots of space for people who want to buy expensive tickets. I sit in my allocated seat; it is facing the back of the train even though I requested a forward-facing one. An announcement informs us all that we must have valid tickets for travel, snacks and drinks can be purchased in coach C, and that we are entitled to a first class upgrade for £50.
    The ticket inspector comes and I ask, “If I upgrade to a first class seat would I be able sit facing forward?”
   “Certainly Sir,” he says.
    He escorts me to Coach A and shows me to my seat, I pay with a credit card. The seats in Coach A are much bigger and more comfortable, but they are still a bright, hatred, red.
    “Do many people upgrade to first class?”
    “No, not many. Have a pleasant journey.”
    He doesn’t want to talk.
    I look out of the window and Liverpool is gone. I have left and it is a strange feeling, like fighting magnets. Half of me feels as though the whole mass of Liverpool is screaming out to pull me back, and the other half feels propelled, as if that force alone is powering this train.