The Gap

 

Darren liked to have breakfast at the same time every morning. It was important not to have the same thing to eat though. A variety of food types ensured that he had all the right nutrients. Uncomfortably thin already, he tried to avoid losing weight.

On the platform, he hunched like a heron, with the same scissoring gait. It was almost impossible to believe that someone who looked so ungainly could climb with such agility. At the weekends, he felt truly himself. Stretching from foothold to fingerhold, he could use his height for a purpose. Most of the time, it seemed to keep him apart from everyone.

He looked down as he waited. He always looked down. But his attention was held by the pattern painted on the platform beneath his feet. Sea green curlicues, edged in white like the sort of doilies not even grandmothers have any more. How had he not noticed them before? He had been coming to the station for five years. Every weekday, since he left school.

The train clattered into the station. He glimpsed himself, reflected in the window by the harsh, fluorescent light. Fine, black hair. Pale skin, with a bluish tint to it despite the hours he spent outside. The aquiline nose of a more attractive man perched awkwardly in the middle of his face. Embarrassment crumpled his stomach and he hurriedly climbed on.

He looked down as he waited. The unusual design he had noticed the previous day was covered in a fine patina of cracks. Perhaps it was only supposed to be temporary. Somehow, he couldn’t see how far along the platform it reached.

The train had arrived, again. Darren ticked off a mental checklist as he searched for a seat. He didn’t want to find he had forgotten something when he got to work. Shyness had smudged his teenage years into a blur of mortifications. But he had learnt that meticulous organisation made social interactions run more smoothly, and end more quickly.

He looked down as he waited. The cracks had grown. Deep lines gouged into the delicate tracery of the pattern. He followed the black scars with his eyes. It was soothing. He imagined not going to the office, just for the day. How it would feel to avoid another uncomfortable round of conversations.

The train rumbled in, and habit pushed him on board. The terraces gave way to bungalows; then drab farmland. Darren tapped at his mobile. He kept telling himself he would try online dating soon. He didn’t believe it.

He looked down as he waited. Then he looked up. A single, jagged crack cut more deeply than the others. It had expanded to more than the width of a shoe. Surely someone else must have noticed? But the crowds swelled past, as indifferent as the sea. He bent for a closer look, his head drawing close to the darkness. He felt warm air whispering through the velvety quiet below.

The train squealed in, giving him a stab of discomfort. He was buffeted through the doors by the press of other commuters. He gazed back with rising panic as another workday became inevitable, but he couldn’t make out the crack at all through the grubby carriage window.

He looked down as he stepped onto the platform. His stomach buzzed with anticipation. Darren had realised that no-one else had ever, would ever, see the crack. It was only for him. He swung his legs easily into the chasm. Confidently, his toe probed for the first foothold. He knew it would be there.

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