Another task for the MA. This time I had to build a scene up by writing things separately, the dialogue, the setting and the actions. This is what I ended up with - hope you enjoy it!
Hannah was walking back into the station, idly running through the mental list of chores she had to do perform that day. The station was crowded, packed with tourists and other passengers coming and going through the tight, shop bound concourse. The morning rush hour had died to a trickle; the workers who straggled towards their workplaces now, looked out of place in their sober business attire against the more colourful, casual clothes the other people sported. More than few of them checked their watches or phones and quickened their pace. She circumnavigated a group of foreign students who noisily consulted a map, when someone caught her eye.
All thoughts of laundry, menus, even of collecting Abi, her granddaughter, flew from her head as she saw the woman browsing the books in the station's branch of Smiths. She was leafing through a romance novel, a look of amused derision on her face. Hannah knew her, her heart skipped a beat as she realised who it was; her pace quickened. Ruth Cumberland, a woman she had not seen in over twenty five years.
She hurried across the concourse, eager to make contact. “Hello Ruth? I don’t know if you remember me, it’s been a long time.”
Ruth looked up and smiled. “Of course I remember, good to see you.” Her accent, once so strong in her voice, had softened to a slight burr that underpinned the way she spoke.
The two women hugged and Hannah stood back to look at Ruth, taking in what she saw. A good figure, hair that though clouded with grey, looked distinguished, rather than just old. It was longer than when she had known her before; back then Ruth had done a startlingly good impersonation of Annie Lennox, with short hair and tight suits. Whatever indignities time may have heaped on her, she could still see the Ruth she had known twenty years ago.
She felt suddenly conscious of her grey locks, of the body that had never quite recovered from childbirth. When she quarrelled with her husband, it was one of the things he raised, knowing it would wound.
“You’re looking really well; I can’t believe it’s been so long. Have you got time for a coffee?”
Ruth glanced up at the heavy Victorian clock that dangled from the ceiling. “I can take five, yeah. I do have a thing at twelve though so I can’t stop long.”
“Oh that’s alright; I have to pick my granddaughter up from nursery at lunchtime anyway. I just, well, I wanted to catch up. It’s been ever such a long time.” She indicated a small coffee place, part of a chain but still fairly decent. She stopped there most of the times she came to town, usually with friends or her daughters. “This is a good place, have you tried it?”
Ruth looked at it as if she had never noticed it before, laced with an air of incredulity. “Not really, I don’t come down this way very often.”
“The Cappuccino’s good.”
“I’ll try that then,”
They ordered and paid separately, barely saying a word as the barista prepared their drinks. Twin cups of frothy coffee were deposited on the tray, dusted with chocolate. Ruth picked it up and led the way to a small table on the edge of the roped off enclosure. She set the tray down and pulled out a chair for Hannah before sitting herself, making sure she could see the clock.
Down on one of the platforms a little group of steam enthusiasts had gathered about an old, lovingly restored, locomotive. Cameras clicked, capturing the moment. A few of them were climbing into the antique carriages that sat behind the engine, ready for a special trip.
“How are you keeping?” Ruth asked
Hannah blushed as she set the cups out on the table and deposited the tray to one side, wondering why these places never incorporated a sling or something for trays on the table so that they could be stored out of the way. A woman would have included one, she thought.
“Oh you know, fine. My life keeps me pretty busy really. How about you, are you still acting?” She did not really want to say. Her life seemed so humdrum these days, to consist of nothing but school runs and housework. She had jumped at the chance to escape the treadmill of nine to five drudgery; days trapped in an office pushing paper. But her life must be so dull compared to Ruth's.
She lifted her cup, took a sip, letting the warm liquid fill her mouth. She wondered if it was too late to get a cake, but stopped herself. Ruth was not having one, so she would not either. Her stomach growled a little in protest.
Ruth paused in the process of lifting the cup to her mouth, glanced sidelong before taking a sip. “Yes, thank goodness. I got some good roles, enough to keep me going anyway. That’s what my appointment is; a TV audition.” She closed her eyes as she drank, nodded as she set the cup down.
Hannah smiled, she remembered that silent sign of approval from when they dated; it was good to see that some things never changed. “That’s good. You always put so much effort in and your first roles were really good. I liked you in The Hours.”
Ruth looked embarrassed, covered her face with her hand. “You saw that? I didn’t know.”
“You were amazing,” Hannah leant forward, smiling.
“I wish you’d said something, I would have liked to have seen you.” Ruth peered across from under her hand, directly into Hannah’s eyes.
“I would have done but, well, I was with Thomas and I didn’t think he’d understand.” Hannah looked away, found herself twiddling nervously with the handle of her coffee cup. She forced herself to take another sip; wondering at the sudden turmoil that wound inside her. Her face grew hot, was she as red as Ruth?
The thought made her redden further. She took another, rapid, sip of coffee, to hide her face.
“You never told him about me.”
“No, he’s a bit straitlaced really; I thought he might leave me. I, well, I didn’t want to take the risk.”
“You could have told him the truth, surely?” Ruth grinned suddenly, wolfishly.
Hannah’s heart skipped a beat, seeing all the things that she had found so attractive about Ruth in the first place.
“That you seduced me over cocktails? That would have made it worse.” Of course that was only part of the story. Yes, she had been seduced at a friend’s birthday party. Yes, there had been alcohol involved. Truthfully though, even if they had both been sober as judges Hannah would have gone with Ruth; there had been something about her that had been just beautiful. Her mind slipped to the graceful lethargy of their bodies held close on hot summer mornings. Her mind slid on to other things. Gentle warmth rose up inside her.
“He sounds like a barrel of laughs. Do you get to have any fun?” Ruth asked, acerbically.
“Yes, of course I do!” She flushed again, not from warm feelings now, she felt as if she had been slapped.
“Well that’s alright then.”
“What makes you ask?”
Down on the platform the steam engine began to pull away, to the cheers of the enthusiasts who had stayed on the platform. Delighted passengers leaned out of the windows, waving.
“Oh, just the fact that the girls who run off to have babies and live the normal life never seem happy, that’s all.” Ruth put her hand over one of Hannah’s and looked her full in the face. “Are you happy?”
“Yes, I think so.” Hannah said. “I do miss you at times though. I wish we’d kept in touch, but you just disappeared. I tried calling you but I only got your answer machine.”
“I was busy, most of the time I was barely at home.”
“Did you miss me?” She felt timid asking. She swallowed audibly, did not move her hand. Ruth felt warm; sheltering. She did not want to pull away and at the same time felt terrible for that.
“Did you miss me?”
“Yes, after a while anyway. At first I was just angry with you for leaving.”
“Why did you leave? You seemed happy with what we had.”
“I don’t know, I suppose because I wanted children; a more stable way of life. When I met Thomas through work I knew he was the kind of man I wanted, older and more grownup. Not like the other men I knew.”
“Or like me.” Ruth looked away, withdrew her hand. Hannah felt a stab of regret, of a wish. She tucked her own hand in her lap to warm it.
The locomotive grew louder; its funnel spewing steam high into the air as it picked up speed and began to rattle away. The crowd hurried along the platform after it.
“Yes, but I never stopped…” Hannah began, desperate not to offend, not to part on bad terms.
There was silence. Hannah could not bring herself to say that fatal ‘L’ word, knowing it would ring hollow even if it was true.
“Look I think I’d better go.” Ruth rose, pulled her jacket back on, looked down. Her eyes were not unfriendly, but there was a certain distance in them.
The remaining steam buffs started to walk back to the concourse. One, a child, had to be carried by his mother. He shook with tears, one of his hands stretched out, over her shoulder in the direction of the departed train. Hannah thought she heard his mother say that at least he would have the memory and that he could draw a picture of the train when they got home.
“Oh, okay.” Hannah rummaged in her bag, found her phone, a pen and scrap of paper. She scribbled down her phone number and held it out. She felt as if her face betrayed how much she wanted Ruth. “Here, please call. I really do miss you.”
She held it up. Ruth took it and kissed the top of her head, before she turned away, stepping out past the cordon that separated the coffee place from the concourse. She nodded and gave a little smile, tucking the scrap of paper into her jacket pocket.
She watched Ruth walk gracefully away, become lost in the crowd of train spotters; and hoped she would call.