Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same
Train in the Distance, Paul Simon
I met a friend after work one evening this week, and got a late train home. I found myself waiting on the platform, for a little while, because there’s only one train an hour. I had long enough to wait that I was able to get a seat, and the evening was mild. I had my phone, so I had music and reading material. The Norwich train was sitting at the opposite platform and when it departed the cacophony in the relative quiet of the evening was intrusive, unbearable. The train screeched away, the noise fading, and I found myself thinking, probably with some irony,
“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.”
Like magic, I pulled the song down out of the cloud. I’ve not listened to it properly for years, it’s not on Graceland or the compilation we kept in the car. I’d forgotten the story of the lyrics, and I’d forgotten the bridge, which I’ve copied above.
I watched trains come in and out on the far platforms. The London train arrived, streams of people flowing out. I saw someone I used to work with but didn’t know very well, from afar, and I wondered how he is, whether his new job makes him happy. I considered the people with the shopping bags, the parents and older children together, the commuters, the people in groups, the ones alone. As I grew tired of people watching, my attention was caught by the moon, glowing behind a misty veil. Hanging low, pregnantly round, fat and yellow against the industrial silhouettes cast by the train station furniture and the blocks of flats and houses. She was beautiful and mysterious, holding on to her secrets, casting rings of light around her in the damp air.
The song played and finished. I listened to some more Paul Simon. He is my favourite songwriter, ever, it feels like his songs are ‘woven indelibly into my heart and my brain’, to quote the end of the song. I boarded my train, the artificial light within the carriage hard on my eyes. The guard smiled at me when he checked my ticket, because I was looking especially pretty that evening, with red nails and my bright blue coat. I read a book on my phone but it was no sufficient distraction.
The lines kept on going round in my head, like tickertape on a loop. Walking home, I glanced up again, the moon was half hidden behind clouds, but my heart was full and glowing with my own secrets and mysteries. Thinking about my failed negotiations, the love songs I’ll never sing. And thinking most of all about my own disappointed believer, the game we played, and the sadness that it had no winners but at least two losers.