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Home No More (Part 6) - final version

by Iain MacLeod 

Posted: 08 May 2006
Word Count: 3030
Summary: Well, it's finally complete and this is the revised, edited and streamlined(ish) version. I hope you all find something in there to like.
Related Works: Battle • Find Me • Highland • Home No More (Part 1) - final version • Home No More (part 2) - final version • Home No More (part 3) - final version • Home No More (part 4) - final version • Home No More (part 5) - final version • Lighthouse • No More Sad Refrains • Stillness Becomes Me • The Agoraphobe`s Fear of the Hallway • 

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Iain woke with a start, to the clanking of trolleys, the occasional slamming of doors and the low chatter of the station staff outside his window. The train was still and he had forgotten when he had finally dozed off. Recovering from the fog of sleep, he put his hand into his pocket and retrieved what he was looking for. Iain sighed, drawing the shape of that tiny heart with his fingers and entangling its chain around his hand. He sat up with his back to the thin wall of the cabin and pressed his hands to his face.

This is all I’m going to have to remember you by, Frida. This precious token of love.

Its presence was reassuring, even as the tears fell again. Despair’s thin fingers were at his throat again, and he recalled the moment he woke up beside her to deny it a victory over him.

* * * * * * * *

Iain had been stirred by the sunlight creeping around the curtains, and it took him a few moments to take in his surroundings. Frida was still sleeping gently and Iain could not take his eyes off her, and the slow, rhythmic rising and falling of her chest reminded him of the sea. He wanted to kiss her right then, touch her and pour out every last one of his feelings for her, though waking her would have broken the spell. The realisation dawned: I’m never going to find you next to me in the morning again. Something within him rose and only a hand over his mouth stifled the sob which threatened to escape. He clamped his eyes shut and swallowed hard. He lay down beside her once more, driving such thoughts from his mind, and slept for another couple of hours.

Breakfast was good, although they could do little more than grin at each other over the table. The morning whipped by and the warm dawn sunshine had transformed into a driving rain that pummelled the window. Iain held her quietly, until she unhooked the heart-shaped necklace from around her neck and pressed it into Iain’s palm. He could only dumbly shake his head until she closed his fingers around it. Lying on their hotel bed they spoke for hours about anything and everything – the weather, their work, their families – Iain felt a brief sense of normality about everything until she turned her eyes on him. There was light there, peace and desire. He managed to hide his emotions, at least at first – whenever his eyes stung or the thought of never seeing her again threatened to overwhelm him, he pulled her close so she couldn’t see.

“What’s this?” Frida asked with a slight wail, as a tear fell down his cheek.

There was no point in hiding it now, no way to hide it, and he smiled back even as the tears continued to fall. He tried to ignore the clock on the table, reminding him that as time marched forward, this was it. They talked about their futures, and how they would cope by reducing the number of emails and phone calls. They had both expected themselves to be strong, having lived out their fantasy before returning to mundanity. Whether they remained friends or drifted apart, they would still have these two days as a distant, cherished memory. Iain pitied Frida, for if she was finding it even half as difficult as he was, he could never imagine her pain. Her voice cracked when she spoke and he gathered her in, trying to forget everything.

Frida asked him to tell her the poem they had shared, wondering if Iain knew it by heart. He smiled wanly and told it to her from memory in an increasingly shaky voice:

Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter rain, over hill and heather
Fate drives the rain, and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree,
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door.
Dear days of old with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.

Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moorfowl,
Spring shall bring the sun and rain, bring the bees
and flowers;
Red shall the heather bloom, over hill and valley,
Soft flow the stream, through the even-flowing hours.
Fair the day shine as it shone upon my childhood –
Fair shine the day on the house with open door.
Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney –
But I go forever and come again no more.

Iain was surprised he made it that far without falling apart. It was as if that long-dead Scottish poet could see into his heart, and their embrace was tighter than ever. I go forever, and come again no more.

Iain was the first to shower, and the warmth of the water offered no comfort. Now it comes, he thought, gathering his things and retrieving their coats from the cupboard. He dressed and sat by the desk, shutting out the idea of leaving Frida behind. It’s for the best, he told himself repeatedly, you know it is.

Time moved fast now. Too fast. They walked to the Tube station, and Iain couldn’t think of what to say or do, other than grip Frida’s hand.

They were on the Tube. Frida leaned her head on his shoulder as the journey back began, and watched him with tired, warm eyes.

They were at Waterloo. Only one more train was scheduled to go to Euston for Iain to catch the sleeper. There was no time to think, no time for long goodbyes. The lingering farewell wasn’t an option. Iain’s heart sank as the train pulled in, and he turned to look at Frida shaking slightly before him.

They kissed for the last time. Iain couldn’t care less about what the other passengers thought, or whether they even noticed. He forced himself to let go and watched her make for the stairs. She turned once, half-way up, and smiled. He tried to call after her but his voice caught in the back of his throat, but her glance told him that she knew his thoughts.

And Frida was gone. Iain stared dumbly up at the empty stairs for a few moments, until the shrill voice of the station manager in his ear dragged him back to his senses. He fumbled for a seat through a haze of tears as the journey got underway, stumbling into a corner seat where he could quietly fall apart. A few minutes later the train stopped and Iain stepped out into the throng at Euston. Everything became a blur. He thought about calling Frida one last time, but he didn’t. Memories crashed past – watching the numbers blink on the departure board, handing over his ticket to the guard and slumping slowly in his cabin.

* * * * * * * *

The door shook with the pounding. It clicked open and the conductor handed Iain a paper bag.

“Morning sir. We’ll be in Aberdeen in about 30 minutes.”

Iain thanked him and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, resting the bag on the floor. He breathed deeply, realising just where he was and how far away he was from where he wanted to be. The blind opened easily and morning poured in. He ate the muffin from the bag and half-heartedly sipped at the scalding tea. Frida’s heat was still in his hand, and he doubled the chain over so it fitted snugly around his wrist, and spent the rest of the journey gazing out of the open window, watching the sea lap against the granite coastline. The train passed through Stonehaven.

Not long now.

The sun rose over the sea, bathing the lighthouse on the outskirts of Aberdeen in an orange half-light, and felt a pang as the train passed it by and drew into the station. He left the train still in a daze, his bag slung over his shoulder. It was a beautiful morning, and he had no doubt that it would be a beautiful day. Even the weather seemed to mock him. He took a deep lungful, smelling the sharpness of the sea for the first time in days, such a difference from the sticky and stifling heat of London. Aberdeen was cold and fresh.

Iain trudged his way through the airy station, past the dead-eyed businessmen heading for the next train for London, past the gaggle of pigeons feasting on a bread roll. He climbed the stairs towards Union Street, stopping only as a foghorn signalled the ferry’s arrival into the harbour. He met a couple of his co-workers while waiting for the bus, and pretended to be his usual cheerful self when chatting to them. The bus arrived quickly, but the stinging of the tears wouldn’t leave him be for a moment. He took a short cut home past the old school and the statue of Saint Peter, beyond the council building and found himself stood on his street once more.

Iain looked up to the window of his flat and hesitated on the opposite side of the road, filling up with a distinct sense of loathing. That white door seemed to be the entrance to a past life, his solitary life of the past five years. He had tasted something very different with Frida and he didn’t want to go back. The past life beckoned him, welcoming him in like an old, almost-forgotten friend. He slowly crossed the road.

Iain entered quietly. Nothing waited for him in the post so he hauled himself upstairs, opened the door and dropped his bag on the floor beside his desk to take out the things Frida had given him. He leafed through the book and noticed for the first time her message for him. He laid it on the desk gently and leaned back in his chair.

Home, eh?

Everything seemed alien and empty in the place where he had spent the last four and-a-half years. The sofa where he often curled up with a book, the tiny kitchen where he prepared his food, the pile of notes on his desk, the books behind him, even the view of Aberdeen from his window. It seemed like he had never seen any of this before, and couldn’t have cared less if he never saw them again. He wanted nothing from here any longer and could have turned his back on it in an instant.

Iain unhooked Frida’s necklace from around his wrist and held it up in front of him, watching the sunlight reflect off it as it turned. He never took his eyes from it, and hung it from the frame on his desk. That was all he had of her now, her heart, glistening and shining for him. He rested his head in his hands, recalling his indecision when they had discussed meeting, and feeling adamantly hopeless. He covered his face with his hands and concentrated hard on nothing at all for what seemed like an age, until a jumble of words and thoughts began to fill his mind. He fixed upon one in particular, a realisation that perhaps the only thing that could come near to equalling this feeling of loss, would have been to let himself down again and be left wondering.

Iain held his hands up in front of him, flexed the fingers and for a moment, he smiled.


The familiar outskirts of Southampton flitted past the window as Frida pulled her coat tightly around herself. The train slowed as it ground its way through the quiet neighbourhoods of the city. It was dark and miserable outside with only half a dozen cars working their way through the main artery of a city that appeared otherwise deserted. Frida looked up and Becky smiled back.

“Your stop?”

“Yes, this is the end of the line for me.”

“And now, what are you going to do?”

Frida found herself unable to look at Becky in the eye. She had been avoiding that matter ever since she boarded the train, frightened of how she would answer her own plaintive question.

“I will get on with my life.”

Becky levelled her gaze and for the first time spoke sharply. “So you mean you will just forget Iain, and all you’ve shared, after meeting him?”

“I have to. What else am I supposed to do?” There was a note of desperation in her voice, almost a wail which Becky had picked up on. She tried to calm herself, by reciting out loud an argument she thought made sense. “We decided before we met yesterday that we wouldn’t be in contact anymore, or at least not in the way we have been until now. We agreed not to express our real feelings for each other, and reduce the number of emails and phone calls to those of friends. Personally, I think we should just stop communicating altogether and go on with our lives, but I worry about Iain.”

“That seems like the right thing to do,” replied Becky, still in that cold and inquisitorial tone.

Frida didn’t say anything else and waited patiently for some more words from Becky. Words that would surely reassure her that she was doing the right thing, but there was only silence. Not a word, not a noise, nothing. Becky retrieved her hands from the little table and folded her arms in a strangely calculated manner. She appeared to Frida as unfamiliar as when she first sat on that train in front of her over an hour ago.

“This is how I see it.” Frida had decided to gear herself for her closing argument, one final attempt to win Becky over. “I was given this chance of living a wonderful affair with a gorgeous man, mainly a sexual affair, and a fantasy of mine which suddenly came true. For that I am grateful and I don’t regret it for a moment, but that is all I want to take out of it, and this is all I want of it. It has to end now. I know how hard it will be to say goodbye to Iain, but it has to end, here and now. In a few months when the pain is gone and despite the sorrow of letting him go, I’ll know it was the right thing to do, and memories of Iain will always be in my heart.” Frida paused for a moment to ensure she still had Becky’s full attention, and finished with a flourish, as if trying to convince herself more than her companion. “I can’t continue with this fantasy. I just can’t. Continuing is pointless, so I have to forget and move on.”

The ensuing silence was only broken when Becky spoke in a clipped, curt manner. “In some ways I admire you, Frida, if you can be that strong. But more than that, I pity you.”

“Then don’t. There’s no need, I’m absolutely fine.”

The train squealed slowly into the station and Frida searched around for her bag, found it and slung it over her shoulder.

“I wish you the best, Frida,” said Becky. She appeared to almost add something further, but held back.

“And thanks for listening, Becky. I needed to get this off my chest.”

Becky nodded and Frida turned to leave her seat, but was pulled back as Becky grabbed her hand.

“Listen to me, Frida,” she hissed, showing some passion for the first time while hauling Frida close. “I don’t for one moment believe a word of what you said about cutting off Iain, that’s why I pity you. You have to be happy, dear, you have to. One moment I left school and got a job, now I’m fifty-three and that frightens me. All the things I didn’t do in the past haunt me – why didn’t I take that job in Manchester? Why didn’t I speak to that gorgeous man who winked at me at the market when I was 20? I still wonder why.”

Frida stared back fearfully as Becky continued.

“I regret too many things, those I’ve done, those I wanted to do and those I should have done. Now my chance of making those decisions is gone, and I’m left muddling through life. Am I happy? Occasionally, but it’s rare and never as often as it should be. Don’t just exist, Frida, don’t just go with the flow and think that life will somehow sort everything out. Life is too short. I don’t have the chance to make choices any more, you do. You have to live.”

Becky’s eyes filled with tears. “Because I know what happens when you don’t.” She released her grip on Frida’s hand.

“I’ve kept you too long, darling. You have to go.” Frida wanted to say something, but Becky kissed her on the cheek and whispered “Go”.

Blinking, Frida walked down the aisle. Only a few passengers remained in the carriages, Becky among them. She sat quietly at the back, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Frida pulled on her coat and stumbled her way to the door, offering Becky a warm smile before she stepped out.

Frida welcomed the cool air on her face as she made her way to the exit. Her legs were heavy and her throat was unusually dry. The sombre loud echo of her heels on the metal footbridge seemed to ring right through her.

How easy it would be to turn back to Platform 4 and take the next train back.

She smiled at the thought, even as she left the station and entered the car park to search for a familiar car. A set of headlights blinked and he was there. Frida smiled half-heartedly in return while the chill breeze made her shudder. The train left the station with a hiss, and she craned her neck as the sound grew ever fainter. Only Becky’s parting words remained: “You have to live.”

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Comments by other Members

Corona at 07:29 on 12 May 2006  Report this post
Hi Ian,
Tormented souls; and you tell their story well! Best of luck with this piece if you choose to have it published!!!There are certainly many amongst the human population that will feel related to the mire of your Rufus and Frida...

GaiusCoffey at 14:58 on 12 May 2006  Report this post
Hi Iain,

Yes, definitely tormented souls as Corona says. (E?)

Your writing is, once again, very finished and I still believe that you have the basis for a complete piece of work that is as compelling as it is powerful. And that makes me want more... and less.

To explain, I felt a sense of dčja vu permeating the text of part 6; previous parts had already convinced me beyond question that the sex was great and that they were on a collision course with gut-wrenching despair.

It doesn't need to be repeated here.

What I wanted was the new meat, and there is plenty of it. I have a suspicion that when you put all the parts together, you can usefully start by viciously cutting quite large chunks from the later sections to leave you the space to expand on other strong elements.

Becky, for example, has suddenly leapt out of the shadows, screaming into focus as she expresses the pivotal dilemma of Frida's encounter. But, to me, the impact of this is diluted by Frida apparently thinking that way already and also the triviality of Becky's confession when it comes. Maybe because she's been a bit-part up till now, I don't know if she survives the scrutiny ... and yet she is essential as the catalyst to throw Frida into the fire.

And after writing all that, and especially the previous paragraph, I realise that I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had just realised at the start what it was that has been nagging me all along: they all seem too reasonable. It's like the memory of a beautiful event sanitised by time rather than the brutish and painful actuality of a beautiful event as it happened. Perhaps I'm a sadist, but I wanted to see catharsis and gnashing of teeth in that dreadful moment of realisation.

That said, of course, I liked it... :)


Iain MacLeod at 10:38 on 14 May 2006  Report this post
Hi Erik, Gaius,

Thanks for both commenting and taking the time to read. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Apologies for not being able to reply in detail just now, I'll address your points later on when I've got a few moments.

Thanks again!

all the best,


MF at 09:08 on 04 August 2006  Report this post

Right. I've not read in immense detail, so these comments are going to be rather impressionistic:

1. I like the way that you've divided up the story by stations - it's a great idea, and one that you've harnessed well.

2. Leading on from this - it's a VERY long "short" story, indeed! Given your sectional approach to it, have you not considered rendering the piece as a novel(la) instead?

Iain MacLeod at 20:57 on 09 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Trilby,

Thanks for going through it, I know it might have taken a wee bit of an effort. Someone else mentioned the idea of a novella/novular which is something to think about. In the meantime, I've been over the whole thing and revised it, so hopefully it's a lot leaner and meaner now.

I think the idea of sub-dividing it by stations was to emphasise how the distance between Iain and Frida was literally growing by the end of the story.

thanks again and all the best,


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