Once and Future
Early mornings, before the tourists show up, Gordon Barrow likes to lean against the hotel roof and watch the trains. There are two of them, each carriage as big as his size seven shoes, and they circle the village at a leisurely pace, with a gap of about nine or ten feet in between them. Today, nearing winter, steam wreathes the whole track, and the engines race onwards through each other’s ghost.
He takes out his hip-flask — with ‘Teesside’ engraved on it — and has a quick swig of the whisky it carries, telling himself it’s to keep out the chill.
He thinks of his father; looks at the church.
It’s one of many reminders of his childhood around here, in the stone of this village. Actual sandstone, dressed by actual masons, set down by school kids from his time and after. He’d personally laid many of the blocks in the hotel — formerly the manor house — which is why he often stands beside it. He feels sure that it will not collapse with his weight.
Some of the cars as well, they had been his. The older, tin-chassis ones. A Rolls Royce Silver Phantom that was the pride of his collection now rests by the door of the old village hall. A pair of Mini Coopers, one red and one blue, are parked half on the kerb a short way down the road. A rust-freckled E-type on a cul-de-sac driveway, with a figurine placed by the passenger door, to cover the void where it should have a wheel. An old cream and brown bus by the solitary stop; never driving its appointed route, but then never late either.
Timing is important.
Gordon keeps track of everything, due-dates for bills, for bank statements, electricity readings, in a series of pads on the desk by his bed.
Routine is important.