CI by chocolatelurver@ TDA
The track winds out in front of you, obscured mostly by your own lack of sight and no desire to read what the future is telling you, but sometimes you are too young and naive to suppose where you will end up: the train line folds itself in knots as you move forwards – always forwards – and the train glides across the rails without braking. It never slows, never stops, instead time creeps progressively forwards until you’re at your destination before you realised where you were going.
This disillusionment was not supposed to happen. You never knew you’d make it this far.
Sometimes you push your own train round the track with one fat finger and a plan for the future. Mostly, you were just playing silly games. You were just a kid.
Years later, you look back, and you realise the consequences of your actions.
Toby had an entire hour of mathematics last but finally school ended and Toby picked up his school bag and trudged to the front of the classroom. It had taken him a few minutes to put his pencils back in his pencil case which meant that Toby was, as usual, the last one in the classroom. This dawdling was more of his own design than anything else: Toby found that being last saved him a great deal of unnecessary trouble.
“Toby,” Mrs Hunt began, Toby looked up and regarded his teacher with a steady unwavering gaze, “Toby, how’s your dad doing?” Toby knew that there were many things that he wasn’t allowed to say about his dad: he was not allowed, for example, to say that his Dad was a wizard; his mother had more or less instructed him not to mention anything about the child abuse law suit to avoid unfounded judgements and unnecessary sympathy (especially as his Dad had been found completely not guilty and the whole accusation had been based on a mistake – and anyway, Toby knew that it was all rubbish and lies); Toby was supposed to say, when asked, that his dad had been in prison for ‘GBH’ or ‘hurting someone’ and he was not supposed to say why.
He knew that but he wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to say or not say. He had once mentioned that his dad had been having therapy, and that was fine, but when he told Laura that his dad was taking lots of pills and medicines his mum had snapped at him and told him not to tell other people their business. He was
allowed to say that his dad wasn’t working anymore but he wasn't allowed to say that he was uncapable.
He didn’t think he was allowed to say that his dad was crazy.
“Okay,” Toby answered, “he brought me a new toy from town yesterday,”
“And your mum?”
“She’s working lots,” Toby said and the expression on Mrs Hunt’s face made Toby think that was one of the things he shouldn’t have said. He screwed up his face slightly but stopped when Mrs Hunt’s expression intensified.
“Where is it that she works again?” Mrs Hunt asked again. Toby shifted his bag on his shoulder and hoped that his mum wouldn’t be cross at him for being this late.
“She’s a barlady at a pub,” Toby said, glancing to the window to pick out the figure of his mum, her shoulders hunched slightly as she glanced at her watch.
“So she leaves you alone a lot in the evening?” Mrs Hunt asked, her eyes wide and serious behind her glasses.
“No, I’m with dad and grandpa and Natasha,”
“Okay Toby,” Mrs Hunt said seriously, resting a hand on his shoulder for a second, “but if you’re worried about anything that happens at home, you just come talk to me – okay?”
Toby half wanted to say ‘I’m not allowed to talk to you’ but somehow he thought that would be on the list of things he shouldn’t say to Mrs Hunt too. He nodded solemnly and exited the classroom, pulling his book bag up his shoulder once more. No one was waiting for him outside the classroom today, something which Toby credited to himself for being slow enough for everyone to get bored. He felt Mrs Hunt watching him as he walked across the playground towards his mother.
He could see from here that his mother looked cross and tired. She was checking her watch and holding her coat around her very tightly. Toby slowed down to a dawdle. He was in no rush to get home if his mother was not in a very good mood.
Normally, when his mum was angry it meant that his dad was having one of those missing days. Those days when Toby’s dads brain was so missing that he didn’t recognise Toby and would sometimes stay in bed crying very loudly, or days when he muttered to himself about things that weren’t there. Toby didn’t like missing days very much at all.
Toby eventually reached his mother. His mother used to let him play with the kid’s afterschool while she chattered with other mums about washing up, Cheryl’s mum’s divorce and how useless men were. Now she was either so eager to leave that she grabbed Toby’s hand and half dragged him to the school gates as she pretended to listen to Toby explaining why he didn’t like maths, or she would hang around far away from all the other mums and dads but seem to be waiting for some queue or other before they were allowed to leave.
Today, Toby’s mum did not grab his hand and pull him away so Toby assumed that they would be standing around in the playground for at least fifteen minutes. Unfortunately this also meant that his dad would be very missing and might refuse to take his medicine, or get mad and smash things without meaning too. Toby sighed and looked around the playground miserably, searching for one of his friends that he could go and play with until his mum was done staring at the school pointlessly. Searching for one of his friends was not an easy task as it had once been.
“Oh god,” Toby’s mum said suddenly, “bullocks, bullocks,” she muttered staring at a spot to the left of the adventure playground. This was very strange behaviour and Toby was beginning to wonder whether his mum might be going crazy too (and then what would happen to him?) when he realised that the reason his mum was saying bad words was because she had spotted Laura’s dad on the other side of the playground.
Laura’s dad was one of those ‘useless bastards’ who’d left Laura’s mum and now only turned up once every few months and looked after Laura for a couple of days before vanishing again. Toby was still slightly confused why his mum was using bad words because he quite liked Laura’s dad – he was funny and always caused Toby ‘Toby my man!’ which Toby thought was excellent. The only downside that with Laura’s dad came Laura, who looked as if she was very much trying not to be dragged over to them by her dad.
“Of bugger, Toby – what am I going to do?” His mum hissed, “Why is he coming over here?” Toby had rather thought that she liked Laura’s dad too – she used to say that Laura’s Dad was their friend. Toby was supposed to call him ‘Henry’ and he came over a lot to stop his mum getting lonely whilst Toby’s dad was in prison. Sometimes Henry and Toby’s mum had sleepovers and then Henry would make pancakes for breakfast and take Toby and his mum to the beach.
Then suddenly he wasn’t allowed to call Laura’s dad Henry anymore and he didn’t come round very often. At first his mum had made him pancakes for breakfast every Sunday morning, but then she had given up and had told him not to be ungrateful when he rejected his toast and asked for pancakes. Toby didn’t know what was so unfair about it, but Toby’s mum was also often very stressed and Toby should be considerate about that before causing anymore difficulties for her.
“Toby my man!” Laura’s dad, Henry, said as he approached the scene with a smile. He ruffled up Toby’s hair and grinned down at him, “you took your time today! Thought you were going to stay at school for the night for a minute there,”
“Yes, Toby, why were you such a long time?” Toby’s mum said, only her voice sounded funny and high.
“Mrs Hunt was talking to me. She asked me if you were leaving me alone lots,”
Toby’s mum let out a breath of cross air and said “Bloody gossip!” which was another bad word that she wasn’t supposed to use in front of Toby, “why won’t everyone just leave us alone?” she asked angrily.
“I wanted to see you, Toby my man! How have you been?” Laura’s dad asked. Laura eyed him warily. She folded her hands over her chest and pouted to show that she didn’t want to be there.
“Okay, thank you,” Toby replied. Laura tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes at him. Toby looked away from Laura and turned back to Laura’s dad with a forced smile.
“Always so polite! And how’s your useless tosser of a dad?”
“That’s my husband that you’re talking about!” Toby’s mum said angrily, “and don’t use that sort of language in front of my son!”
“I know he’s your husband, Jessica
,” Laura’s father said.
“It’s not like you
can talk,” His mum hissed at him, “when was the last time you looked after Laura for a weekend?”
“Don’t bring my daughter into this; I was just politely
enquiring to Euan’s health?”
Laura herself was now scrunching up her face in disgust and occasionally mouthing quiet insults in Toby’s direction. Toby folded his arms and was half tempted to tug on his mum’s sleeve and point out the word ‘nutter’ which Laura was just beginning to form.
“Euan is fine,” his mum snapped.
“Last I heard they were thinking about putting him in a nuthouse for good, and a bloody good job too. Can’t you see how it’s affecting Toby?”
“Toby is fine!”
Laura now turned away from Toby completely leaving Toby facing nothing but her mass of tangled blonde hair. Toby sighed and looked around for a friendly face for back up. Instead several more children glared at him. Toby hadn’t quite got used to the fact that, since the summer, nobody liked him anymore. It had happened really rather quickly and was mostly down to the time Toby fell asleep in one of his classes and got the whole class a detention for three minutes into break time. Also, because Toby was a nutter and nobody likes nutters. Especially not people like Laura.
“Laura said that he’s been lying to the other kids, that he’s bottom of all his classes, that he still has trouble with basic numbers. He can’t even subtract, for fuck's sake.”
“Toby’s welfare is none of your business,”
“I’ve become attached to the kid, is there anything wrong with that?”
“Why don’t you pay attention to your own kid first?”
fine,” Laura’s dad said pointedly. Laura stamped on Toby’s foot heavily and sneered at him. ‘Head case’ she mouthed. “But, Jess, have you seen Toby recently?”
“Yes,” she said icily.
“You’ve got to bloody do something! You can’t let his useless fuck of a father ruin his life!”
“Don’t use that language in front of my son! And do not insult my husband!”
“It’s funny,” Laura’s dad said, “you never put this much value on your marriage before,” Laura poked him and mouthed ‘your mum’s a cow’ followed shortly by ‘husband stealer’ which Toby knew to be completely inaccurate because firstly, his mum had never stolen anything and secondly because Laura’s dad had divorced Laura’s mum when she was still a baby. His mum always made that point very clear. Toby frowned at her and raised his eyebrows.
“...and yet you’d rather protect your marriage now than protect your son,”
“Fuck off,” Toby’s mum snapped, “and keep out of my bloody business!” then she snatched Toby’s hand and said, “come on Toby, we’re leaving,” which Toby was glad about because he was almost entirely sure that any second now Laura was going to call for back up and, although Laura wasn’t very intimidating – some of Laura’ friends were much bigger and stronger than Toby and it rather hurt when they stamped on his feet or punched him.
“That man!” Toby’s mum muttered irritably, “I bet Melinda had something to do with that, honestly – if you and Laura weren’t such good friends I swear to Merlin that I’d have a lot to say about Melinda,”
“Laura isn’t my friend anymore mum,” Toby said, “Laura’s mum told her she’s not allowed to talk to me anymore,”
do that,” Toby’s mum said distractedly, “she and Henry deserved each other!” She added savagely, “can you believe that man? Can you believe...? After all this time! As if we don’t have enough to deal with! Still, as you and Laura are such good friends I’ll say nothing more about it,”
“Mum, me and Laura aren’t good friends. Laura doesn’t like
me because I stole her dad and because my dad is a crazy nutcase and because crazy nutcaseness runs in families,” but Toby knew it was useless because Toby’s mother was still distractedly complaining about the audacity of Laura’s dad and Laura’s mum and Mrs Hunt and how they should all get the ruddy hell out of her business.
Toby considered all of this and decided that his dad was probably so missing today that he’d thrown himself under a train, otherwise his mum wouldn’t have yelled at Laura’s dad and wouldn’t be using so many bad words. Toby didn’t think he felt very sad about that. He thought that it his father was dead then no one would pick on him anymore, but then again Laura would probably find suicide very funny. Toby decided he didn’t like Laura very much.
Toby and his grandpa were playing scrabble to help Toby’s spelling. Toby wasn’t very good at scrabble but he was gradually improving. To help him Toby was allowed to look words up in a dictionary if he couldn’t spell them and he could ask for help from his grandpa if he was stuck. Toby was now counting up how many points he’d receive for ‘bigger’ aloud – quite slowly because Toby really wasn’t very good at maths – when Toby’s mum re-entered the room looking upset.
“It’s no good, Richard – I can’t work in this state I... I’ve flooed Hannah and she’s calling in someone else,”
Toby’s grandpa nodded and said “I’ll stay anyway, Toby and I need to finish this game of scrabble, don’t we Toby?” and then Toby’s mum lifted her hands to her face and started crying again. Toby didn’t look at his mum. He hated it when she was upset. Shortly after, Toby’s mum fled the room sobbing loudly and disappeared into the bathroom. The lock clicked shut.
“How was school?” His grandpa asked as he added the word ‘bead’ to the board.
“Okay,” Toby answered glancing at his own letters and seeing nothing but squiggles because he was suddenly very worried about what his mum was doing in the bathroom – what if his mum was going crazy too? In the bathroom there were big scary things like razors and medicines and scissors. He blinked away a film of tears.
“Your mum said Mrs Hunt was asking you questions again,” His grandpa said.
“Well they weren’t difficult questions,” Toby said, “not like in maths,” Toby’s grandpa smiled and glanced over at Toby’s letters, “no... I think I can spell a word,” Toby said reaching for the dictionary and awkwardly thumbing his way through to the ‘D’ section. He could still hear his mum’s muffled sobs from the bathroom and was comforted by the fact that at least she was not silent.
It wasn’t spelt exactly how Toby thought it would be, but he still had the right letters.
Toby nodded resolutely and began spelling out his next word – D...
There was a sudden smash from the master bedroom and Toby winced horrible. His muscles tensed as he turned towards the door. His eyes automatically filled up with tears. He froze holding the letter ‘E’.
“I’ll go,” His grandpa said hurriedly, moving to his feet and crossing over to the master bedroom, “Euan?” He called softly, “Euan?”
Toby tried to block it out by carefully selecting the letter ‘A’ and placing it on the board.
“Jesus!” His grandpa muttered, “Jesus and Merlin,” There was a lump rising in Toby’s throat, “okay Euan, okay, let’s... let’s get cleaned up, lets...”
Toby sat stock still for a moment and listened very hard to his grandpa’s soothing mutters and his mothers hitched crying from the bathroom. The word was waiting for him, ominous and vivid on the board, the letter ‘T’ waiting to be dropped into place in the middle of the word – DEA H.
He wished he could spell all the words in the world so he wouldn’t have to spell out the magnitude of that big, scary, terrifying word. It glared at him. Stared at him straight in the face. Toby took back his thoughts about his dad jumping in front of a train. He didn’t want that at all.
Toby’s mum unlocked the door of the bathroom wiping her eyes with a square of toilet roll. She carried the rest of the roll out with her as she strode across to the master bedroom.
“I’m bringing him into the kitchen, Jess,” Toby’s grandpa said, half pulling and half dragging Toby’s shaking dad into the kitchen as Toby’s mother fussed around him wrapping up his arm in toilet roll to stem the flow of hot red blood. Toby blinked. Toby’s dad sat opposite him at the table, in his grandpa’s seat, facing the board of scrabble without seeing it.
“Don’t think he did it on purpose,” Toby’s grandpa muttered, “just exploded the bottle of potion, I think, just got angry... don’t think he meant to do it,”
Toby didn’t know why anyone would purposefully make themselves hurt and he swallowed back his shock as Toby’s mum summoned the bandages from under the sink and began using that instead of the bloody bits of toilet roll.
Toby picked up the letter ‘T’ and tentatively reached across the board – scared of making any sudden movements in case he scared his dad or his dad suddenly got mad and started yelling and breaking more things without meaning too. He didn’t want his dad to realise that he was here – that way he wouldn’t try to talk to him or look at him, or – worse – he wouldn’t try to smile at him.
His movement didn’t go unnoticed though, and the second he had finally spelt out ‘death’ Euan looked up. Toby started, sending the scrabble letters scattering across the table. Toby’s mum and grandpa collectedly winced and the whole scene was suspended for a moment: Toby with his hand outstretched, the letters scattered around him; Toby’s mum lightly touching her husband’s arm and staring at her son with the most intense expression Toby had ever encountered; Toby’s grandpa looking on, halfway through wrapping his son’s bandages, with a weighty sadness on his features... and Toby’s Dad looking demented as he looked out towards his son.
Toby blanched, took off from his seat and ran to his room. He slammed the door behind him and crawled into his bed. There was a pattern of train’s travelling around the edge of his pillow. He sat up in bed with his duvet over his head, blocking out the noise for the kitchen, and tracing the train’s journey around his pillow.
He soothed himself with his own lullaby of “Choo choo, chugachugachuga...”
The train driver was called Euan and he was driving home, fast as you can please, to come home and give his son a hug.
Toby remembers it too, a lot actually. He remembers the rock pool and the playground and having to speak in court. Toby remembers the attack. Toby remembers Jessica telling Nana Natasha that one of the reasons Euan got such a long sentence was because Toby had been a witness to the attack. The Wizengamot (who ever they were – they sounded like a popy band) didn’t look upon violence in front of children very favourably. Toby supposed everything might be a bit better if he had just lied and told all the courtroom that he hadn’t seen anything at all, that none of this was his fault and maybe, even, that he never even existed.
Then none of this would have happened.
The Hogwarts express now speeds past Toby’s foot, spurred on by his slightly chubby hand, and swerves quite suddenly to avoid the end of the world (the barrier was marked by the end of his bed). On the next lap the Hogwarts express conquers the great mount ‘left foot’ and Toby awards the train twenty points for the magnificent manoeuvre and then he tries to spell ‘twenty’ allowed but it’s difficult so he spells ‘train’ instead because that word is easy and trains are his favourite.
Outside the Scottish countryside lies Toby’s bedroom and outside even further still Toby’s mother is getting angry and yelling down the phone.
“I don’t care if you were planning on getting married today!” Toby’s mother yelled, “I don’t care if it’s your birthday or your anniversary or anything bloody else – I care about my husband, Alfred Cattermole and if you can’t spare ten minutes of your time to talk about my husband then you’re FIRED,” There was a pause, “fine, turn your bath off, fine,”
The train went perilously close the edge and then tumbled right over. There was a clatter and part of the trains choo choo funnel snapped off. Toby snatched the train off the floor and hugged it to his chest. He didn’t want anything else to get brokened.
“Yes, we think we’re going to take him to St Mungo’s. There’s glass in it... we’re not sure... it might have been self inflicted, none of us were with him at the time... admitted? He can’t be admitted, no, he’s better off here... yes, I understand that Alfred but – hospital? I don’t know if I’m comfortable... I know... if you think it really is for the best... well, yes...”
So Toby’s dad had meant to hurt himself. Toby frowned and thought that he would never understand that, then again – Toby didn’t think he’d ever have to take lots of pills and potions and medicines that stopped him from forgetting where he was and who he was.
Toby stared at his train. He pushed his thumb against the sharp bit where the choo choo funnel used to go until it hurt a little bit. Toby frowned – why would anyone make themselves hurt? What was the point? But still, he pressed down on his thumb a little more with the desire of understanding it. He couldn’t.
He pulled his thumb away and inspected it. A little red groove had appeared in his smooth baby-like-skin. He put his fingernail in the little groove and thought about it for a long while. He laid back down and rested the train on his chest. “Choo choo,” Toby muttered feebly but without the choo choo funnel the train looked wrong... and it didn’t seem like the Hogwarts express come to pick him up and take him to this magical place of feasts and friends anymore. It just seemed like a stupid toy red train that his dad had brought for him when everything had been okay.
“Toby, sweetie,” Toby’s mum said, slipping into his room with a sad smile and teary eyes, “Daddy’s gone to hospital, and he’s going to stay there for a few days – okay Toby?”
“Good,” Toby said viciously, holding the two pieces of his train and holding them together so that the train didn’t looked brokened.
“Oh no, Tobes! What happened?” Toby’s mum asked.
“Dropped him off the bed,” Toby said and then, for the first time that day, the tears came. Toby didn’t want a stupid broken train. He wanted a real red shiny Hogwarts express. This, this stupid little thing, was enough to push him over the edge: as bad as Laura, maths, Laura’s dad, Toby’s own dad and the ruined game of scrabble was, his train falling apart was enough to make Toby want to burry himself in his bed and not immerge again for a very very long time.
“That’s okay, look,” Toby’s mum said, pulling her wand out of her pocket and then suddenly the train was fixed. Just like that. Simple. Toby’s mum pulled Toby onto her lap and stroked his hair. He cried loudly into her arms, quietly wailing even though he was six and therefore too old to cry like a five year old.
“Why can’t magic fix anything?” Toby asked, wiping his snotty nose and his salty tears on the back of his hand and hugging his train to his chest. Toby’s mum kissed his forehead.
“Hell if I know, now look – it’s just us two tonight. What do you want to do? We could watch TV? We could play scrabble? What do you want to eat? It’s all up to you now, Toby my man,”
So they watched 45 minutes of cartoons, they ordered a take away curry and they played monopoly even though Toby’s mum didn’t like monopoly because it was a very long game. They drank a whole carton of special strawberry milk together, completed a train jigsaw and Toby wasn’t told go to bed until half eight. Then Toby’s mum dressed him in his pyjaramas, just like she used too when he was very very little, and then she climbed into his bed too – even though it wasn’t a bed for two like Toby’s mum and dad’s bed – and they slept squashed up together.
And Toby thought all of this was excellent and the only thing Toby didn’t like very much was the way his mum cried into his hair whilst he was trying to sleep, but anything was better than having his Dad at home ruining everything.
Thursday’s were usually the best days of the week because Toby didn’t have maths at all and because it was nearly Friday which meant that he didn’t have to see silly Laura or her friends for another two days. But it was better
than Fridays, because on Friday Toby began to realise that he then had to spend a whole weekend with his dad instead, but on Thursdays he could try really hard not to remember that.
This Thursday was especially good because his Dad was still in hospital and because his mum had decided that she had no choice but to bring Toby to work with her.
Toby decided he quite like sitting on the edge of the bar, swinging his legs and watching the funny men and women buy lots and lots of drinks. He considered that they might have to pee quite a lot to keep up with that level of drinking.
“It’s been a blessing to have a few days off,” Toby’s mum said to Hannah, “it’s done all of us the world of good – Toby’s been a different kid altogether,”
Toby’s mum’s fingers brushed the top of his head as she said that and Toby smiled slightly – his mum had been much nicer since Tuesday and Toby was very very pleased. They’d had lots of take aways and they’d played lots of games together.
“It just makes me think of the other possibilities though,” Toby’s mum continued, “I mean Toby can’t stay at that bloody school much longer, he’s being,” Toby’s mum dropped her voice very low indeed, “bullied,” and then she continued talking as though nothing had happened at all, “and I’m not allowing my son to be made miserable by a bunch of spoilt brats,” she continued venomously, “but he can’t stay at home all day – not with Euan there,”
“I mean, who am I supposed to put first? My son, or my husband? Toby, aren’t you supposed to be writing that letter?” Toby’s mum said distractedly, walking towards him from the other side of the bar and regarding him sternly, “are you stuck on another word?”
“Yes,” Toby said simply, “potion,”
Toby’s mother spelt it out for him and he wrote it down carefully. He scrunched his face up at his parchment and read what he had managed to squeeze out of himself so far.
Dear Mr Benefactor,
My Dad is very very sick. Some days he is just very tried and other days he is ‘missing’ which means that all the bits of my dad that I like are lost and there is just a empty body left. Some days he is sad and he cries lots and lots. He has to take potions to stop him being a...
“Mum,” Toby said after a few more minutes of pondering, “How do you spell nutcase?”
He couldn’t tell you why that made his mum cry all over again.
The train pulls out, the last train, and you watch as that lone figure runs after you as you slip out of the station. There is always one person who doesn’t make it to safety. There is always one silhouette reaching out to the train with his arms wide, begging you, pleading with you, to stop. He wants you to wait. He wants you to fling yourself off the train after him. More than anything, he wants you.
But the train pushes onwards across those old predictable tracks. If you’d had the sight to look ahead, you might have foreseen this.
The train never stops. On, it rolls down those rusty roads of steel. And you’ve just got to trust that you won’t run out of track. And, one day, another train will come to pick up the stragglers.
Hope, if not trust.
A/N - I really really was not expecting to update so soon, or with this chapter (it was supposed to be Euan again) but Toby just needed this chapter. It broke my heart writing this, a little bit, so I really hope I didn't come out awful and rubbish. Thanks for all your lovely reviews onthe last chapter!