Clocking in at the depot that penultimate morning in July 1968, Hen rubbed his thumb ruefully to ease the rheumatism, wondering why it always started in that same spot. He knew it would soon spread up his arm and grip his neck like the hangman’s noose. ‘Weather’s changing,’ he thought, ‘and I’m getting past it.’ If only he could take twenty years off his creaking bones! For one thing, he’d stop them calling him Hen, and for another he’d give that bird Helen one.
Henry Brown was a quiet, unhandsome man who camouflaged small eyes and big ears as best he could beneath lank hair which, if it had not been for a bald spot spreading like a white scab in its midst, might have been that of a much younger man. Hen invariably had one hand in a trouser pocket when he was in the presence of a woman, and one eye on her cleavage.
A workmate had once caught Hen ogling his wife and had so frightened him in front of her that he was unable to speak. It was not the physical violence that hurt him most.
‘Chicken!’ the male had taunted him, releasing Henry from his grip and pushing him away contemptuously. ‘No wonder they call you Hen!’ the woman had jeered. Humiliated, Hen kept his hands away from his pockets henceforth for many months.
Hen saw Helen most mornings as he eased his 8-car all-stopper into Chadwell Heath station. That day, as usual, she stood short-skirted and pert at the head of the platform, ready to be first off again when the train pulled heavily into Liverpool St. twenty minutes later.
He got a good look at her as her thighs chafed thickly through his imagination and then up the short step into the first compartment, with its long facing rows of daily newspapers and nodding heads. He saw her again when she alighted and, to his delight, stooped low to straighten her shoe, thus revealing a momentarily darker flash of brown shimmer. ‘Mmm,’ he murmured approvingly through moistened lips, ‘stockings, not tights’; and fiddled with his fly.
He knew her name was Helen because he’d worked a shift with a much younger colleague, called Sid, who claimed he’d ‘done her’. Judging from the lurid details he had given it was true, too.
This news had been troubling him ever since. ‘I’m not old,’ Hen told himself, ‘so the Missus can’t be either.’ But his wife didn’t want to know any more, just pushed him off and told him that a man of fifty-five should be ashamed of himself. They’d never had much of a sex life anyway; she would just lie there bored until he’d finished and then harangue Hen for being too weedy to confront the neighbour who had been rude to her. Had Hen had any guts, she said, he would have walloped the bloke and asked questions after. It’s the women that make men into males.
So for weeks Hen had lusted after Helen, relieving himself occasionally into Armitage porcelain pans, watched by reproachful green and beige British Rail walls. One day a burly black porter grinned at him over the top of the cubicle wall and Hen ran headlong like a chicken, frantically racing the nightmare that was chasing through his brain.
Then there was the time he had slid open his cab window and Helen had smiled fleetingly as one leg slid lusciously past the other, so Hen himself had added a smile to his leer, but her eyes had hardened when they focussed on him until he knew the smile was not intended for him.
Later that same day he ran over a stray dog and was icily glad the rulebook said you were not supposed to brake for that. He looked back briefly and saw the animal had been sliced in two, but only the front part had been thrown clear in agony and was still screaming. ‘Dead dog’ he wrote in the log.
In the canteen back in the depot he saw Sid, who sidled up to him and said ‘Do us a favour will you mate?’
‘What’s that then?’ replied Hen, pecking defensively at a sausage with his fork.
‘Well, you’re on evening shift tomorrow, aintchya?’
‘So what if I am?’ parried Hen, disliking Sid more with every mouthful.
Sid explained that he was taking Helen to Southend the next day, and would be getting the last train back. He knew Hen would be driving.
‘Take your T and lock the front compartment before you get in your cab.’
‘What for?’ enquired Hen, although he already knew the answer.
The dawn of the last day disturbed what had been a distressing dream for Hen. Lurid thoughts pursued each other through his sleep and stayed with him when he awoke. What was going to happen tonight behind his back? There would be nobody about that late at night, he’d take the heavy square-headed steel key as asked and turn the lock. Then Helen would be there with her lascivious legs and he would see her. How would she look when he turned the key again, this time to enclose them?
Walking the length of his first train of the day, Hen saw a forgotten walking stick on a seat. This sort of thing happened most days of the week, people left behind all manner of things: sticks, umbrellas, coats and spectacles, they’d forget their heads if they weren’t screwed on. He took it with him to his cab to hand in at the end of his shift. And then the hankering after Helen started afresh in his head.
The day passed in agonising slowness, but Hen’s agitation grew nevertheless. He almost overshot the platform at the Harold Wood halt as the smell of Helen haunted him. What were they going to do together? Whatever it was, why couldn’t Helen do it with him instead of Sid? It tormented him. He wanted to see. He couldn’t believe it, that sod Sid was kidding him. It tortured him until Hen made up his mind. He had to see. But how?
And so, as the time to the last train ticked by, Hen hatched a plan.
At first he thought she would not come; the rain and cold of which an Essex July is capable beggars belief. Platform Two at Southend Victoria terminus stood empty and windswept and so did Hen as he turned his T-key in the lock, in case they came. Four minutes to go. Then three and then just two. Crestfallen and haggard, Hen’s shoulders drooped; he would not see Helen today. But just then he caught sight of them running along the platform, hand in hand like children. ‘Some people’ he thought, ‘always leave it until the last minute; no wonder they’ve never got no time to live.’
He quickly climbed down from the cab, unlocked the front compartment and got back in again. Helen looked fresh as she ran towards him, ‘ripe’ might have been a more apt description he thought. She took off and shook her raincoat but as she did something dropped from the pocket. And as she bent over to pick it up, she revealed a skirt so short that it took Hen’s breath away. He looked longingly at those little lines that underscored the fold of her buttocks, and for him time stood still.
Then she was gone inside the train. Close behind, Sid made a lewd gesture with his arm and winked in Hen’s direction as he too mounted the step. Hen dare not look as he fumbled and locked them in.
Back in the cab, Hen’s hand trembled as he pressed and turned the dead man’s handle and the train trundled on its way on time. The hum of the motors and the clickety-clack were such that he could hardly hear anything above them yet he felt sure he had heard a female groan. Even had he not, he would have imagined he had, such was the pounding in his head. The folds of Helen’s heavenly bottom were to haunt Hen for the rest of his life.
A red light hove into view, as he had planned. He drew the train to a halt with a metallic screech of brakes that grated like the dentist’s drill on an open nerve. All fell silent. It had stopped raining. Not a sound. An electric train at rest makes so little noise you can hear a pin drop. People cough as loud as heifers. How hard Hen listened as his pulse quickened! He knew this stop was going to last several minutes until the down train passed through the engineering works up the line.
As quietly as he could, Hen opened the cab door on the trackside side, took a firm grip on the door jamb with one hand, then slid a foot stealthily along the running board until he was able to grab the window frame of Helen’s compartment with his free hand. There he froze for a few guilty moments, arms stretched wide and legs akimbo as if crucified, before slowly inching his head along the side of the train until like a mantis he could peep through Helen’s window. What he saw there so blew his mind that he thought he might there and then lose his head. Never in his life had Hen seen such a sight! He would not have thought it possible had he not seen it with his own eyes. There once more beneath his gaze were those firm folds of flesh for which he craved – bare this time, and not alone. His Helen was on all fours with her back to him. Straddling Sid’s face.
Then Hen heard a horn rasp in the distance; although hungry to see more he had to go. He drew himself carefully back into his cab and sat trembling in his seat until the down train passed. ‘So Sid was not having me on’ he thought, as he pulled past the green light, ‘and that was a groan I heard.’ So now the sound of groaning and moaning filled his head, until he thought it would burst. With one hand on his deadman’s handle and the other on his penis, Hen was in heat as he remembered the other things Sid had said that Helen did. It was then that he caught sight of the stick and changed his plan.
Leaving Rochford, Hen perfected a new plan for the long stretch from Wickford to Shenfield – he was not stopping at stations in between tonight. It was raining again but Hen could not hold back now. He applied pressure to the deadman’s handle, eased it round until the throttle took them to a steady 40mph and then with his free hand hooked the crook of the stick around the knob of the handle. He swung the free end of the stick up to the windscreen and wedged its rubber ferrule under a metal member that was part of the window frame. He hovered his hand over it until satisfied it would hold and then he was free.
Hen’s heart raced as once more he inched open the cab door. He had to be careful it did not collide with the girders flashing by at regular intervals, steel gantries standing like heartless sentinels from which the electricity wires were suspended; the scene of sizzling blue flashes of electric arc that fizzed overhead as catenaries bounced across joins in the cables.
Rain razored into Hen’s face but he was too aroused to care. Here he was again, arms and legs splayed like a cross, gripping intimately the side body of a moving train. The wind tore at his hair and exposed his bald pate but such was his ardour that nothing, nothing, nothing could stop him now from witnessing Helen’s fate. He inched further along until finally, through rivulets of rain coursing horizontally across the pane, Hen saw Helen totally naked, with her arms raised above her head and thighs gripping Sid’s head.
Hen held his breath as spellbound he watched. Never before had he seen anything like this, ‘my life could end now’ he thought. For a moment he thought he would fall, but he held firm, clinging to the train and rubbing himself against its body panels. Helen too seemed excited; oblivious to Hen and the rain and his pain and the din of the wind. But then suddenly, taking him totally by surprise, Helen thrust her head up and back, her eyes rolled up into the top of her head. And then she saw him! Hen penetrated her fiercely with his hungry gaze; at last he had her.
As their eyes met, a scream of horror from Helen hit Hen in the head and, taken aback, he pulled it sharply back and then he…
Hen’s head was never found. The human skull explodes into pulp when it comes into contact with sturdy steel profile at that speed. A furious fraction of a second transformed Hen’s filthy mind into gelatinous spurts that shot in all directions and clung to the body members of the carriage. A few of his lewdest thoughts congealed into blobs and oozed their way down the unforgiving girder that had beheaded him. The train ran on for many miles before it was realised that something was wrong. Eventually, the current was cut and the train coasted calmly to a halt. Firemen freed a hysterical young woman from the first compartment along with a hollow-eyed youth who had a haunted look. It took several hours to locate headless Hen, and many more to piece together the story of what had actually happened that night. The local newspaper ran the story under the headline “Peeping Tom puts passengers’ lives in danger. Questions asked about safety procedures.“
Hen’s wife soon left the area. It was said she had cropped her hair short and moved into a flat with a younger woman who seemed to like her. Helen never fully recovered. When at last she was able to take the train again, she would cover her knees and stare straight ahead. Sid never drove a train again. He had tried but the uncontrolled shaking that raked his body from time to time was considered to be a hazard. They lived a quiet life after that, and although they found it difficult to enjoy making love because of the eyes, they often sat for long periods hugging each other.