The couple who climbed into their seats on the Cambridge train were worn and heavy, like second hand sofas. She was blonde and her neatly made up mouth had a pretty, quick smile. He had a a rather rectangular face and protruding blue eyes. Her manner was watchful, determined to be happy. He radiated a generalised bewildered benevolence. They took their places on the other side of the table from me and as the train left the station both pulled out their phones. She turned away from him towards the window and dialled a call while he studied his slowly as it lay on the table.
I was reading a science fiction thriller on my phone but it was impossible not to hear the conversation and after a while I stopped trying not to. She started to tell a friend about their day – that they had dropped in on a funeral and people had kept buying them drinks. “I’m well away”, she said, “It’s not out fault at all!” She giggled.
Meanwhile, a look of vast, doggy melancholy grew on his face as he studied the phone in front of him on the table. At last he pulled out a pair of earbuds and started to plug them in. She turned from the window at once and hung up.
“Don’t!” she said sharply.
He recoiled a little, but went on fiddling: “I want to hear the message!”
“Don’t. You’re too drunk.”
“But it’s my father. It’s a message from my father.”
She turned away from him and choked a tiny sob. He put the phone down and started apologising for hurting her. He looked at her wounded and bewildered. “But it’s my father. It’s a message from my father”, he says apologetically.
“You don’t care about me” she says, looking straight ahead; and then “You mustn’t talk to him. You’re too drunk.”
Her voice was not angry. It was hurt and reproachful. How could he be such a crude, unfeeling brute?
“But he hasn’t been in contact with me for years. I want to hear from him.”
“You’re too drunk”.
She continued to look straight ahead of her. I don’t think either of them saw me by now.
His hands reached again for the phone. Her tone, whether cajoling or commanding, filled me with an obscure shame. I had known a woman who talked like that to me. I wanted to tell her to let him go. I wanted to tell him to speak to his goddamn father and not let anyone or anything get in the way of the relationship.
Instead, I looked more fiercely at my book. When I looked up again she had her arms around his neck, and seemed to be pulling him into an embrace, with her head submissively against his chest. She was smiling. He could not reach the phone. She smiled more broadly. The phone stayed on the table., He seemed happy to be hugged, still bewildered, still benevolent.
They started to wrangle again, in louder voices, but this time I pulled out my own headphones and tried to disappear.