They said the treasure would be discovered if one studied the very long list of clues, the first clue being the words ‘perforated edge’. My first thought: did one take the clues separately or together? I plumped for separation, because together was too obvious. The clue-givers were far too clever to be obvious, even given the obvious ability to double-bluff. It was, therefore, worth the risk of concentrating upon the first clue while the other treasure-seekers got bogged down in solving all the clues on the list as if each clue was a clue to one of the other clues and so on.
But that left me alone with the conundrum represented by ‘perforated edge’. I could think of a perforated line, i.e. a line of perforations, a line that eased the task of tearing along it. But once it was torn, although there would be two edges, neither of the edges would then be strictly perforated. The original perforations or holes would have been torn in two. Half-holes left along each edge of paper. Or as near to half as dammit.
Meanwhile, one of the other treasure-seekers, I was tipped-off, had reached halfway towards solving all the clues on the list and was upon the very edge of knowing exactly where the treasure could be found, because the remaining clues were becoming easier and easier to solve in the hindsight of the previous clues and they might all well be solved with one final instinctive twist of the brain.
In a temper tantrum, I stormed off tearing my list in half.
Spilling tiny round confetti in a trail behind me.
That the others soon belatedly followed.
When I entered the carriage, you know one thing, I was not intent on murder. I had tried obviously to find a carriage without other passengers in it, and indeed it was empty, the worst looking carriage of all the third class ones, and with a sign saying out of use & this seemed the best place for someone like me who is always on a short fuse if fellow travellers start chatting on about all sorts of Godawful private subjects concerning themselves and not caring to know anything about me other than my ability to listen to them and nod and look interested and say encouraging things that make them say even more things and so on until the interminable journey finally ends, often in a place you didn’t want to go to in the first place.
Getting into an empty carriage was one thing, so simple, so blissfully satisfactory, sinking back into the frayed and broken-sprung upholstery – a few bodily discomforts and unsavoury stains on the window and its leather-tongue unstitching were enough to be compensated for wonderful solitude, if you see what I mean, and looking back at what I’ve just said to you, doesn’t make much sense, bearing in mind that there were several halts at other stations between here and where I needed to be – and even pointing out the out of use sign did not prevent another traveller later getting on with a grunt and a sigh as he lifted his luggage into the rack above his corner seat, only for a corner of the luggage itself to poke through a tear in its net.
“A bit full further up,” he said.
I tried not to describe him to myself. A bad habit of mine filling in details about other people as if I’m writing about them in a letter or even a book of some kind. Real life or fiction, a bad habit indeed. So this new arrival in the worst third class carriage of all remains blurred – for reasons that may become obvious in a few minutes. Blurred as a physical object, and although his words are still etched on my mind. I’m hoping what I tell you – and how I tell you – will sort of blot out even those memories and push them back into the darkness where they belong. Remember that what I tell you I bank on you forgetting, too. Swallow it as if it’s a secret code in wartime.
He glanced up at his precarious luggage in the rack-net. He then took a look at my own luggage in the opposite rack.
“Going far?” Pause. “Staying there long?”
I shook my head, hoping he would interpret that gesture correctly.
“It looks as if that’s got a perforated edge,” he said, nodding towards the net above his head. “Which reminds me, I once went on a long train journey across Europe. I had an argument with my missus and she packed me off so that she could do I know not what in my absence. Have you got someone? No?”
I stared through the smeared window, just making out the tall chimneys of a city outskirt. It was pouring with rain, the hiss and splatter of which could even be heard above the juttering wheels of the train on the track. I hoped at least it wasn’t a third-class track.
“It was a day much like this,” he continued. “There was a beautiful young lady opposite me who was carefully tearing newspaper into strips. I seemed to remember someone doing that in a cinema film I once watched. The strips looked perfectly torn with the straightest edges. ‘Do newspapers have perforated edges these days?’ I asked her, laughing, because it is obvious that there are no such things as perforated edges at all, only perforations. I guess she couldn’t speak English as she didn’t laugh.”
He stopped – expecting me to react in some way. Or he stopped expecting me to react in some way.
Whatever he expected, I now turned reluctantly towards the speaker, still trying not to visualise the sort of person he really was. I attempted to scowl at him for having my peace and quiet interrupted by such apparent drivel about perforated edges. Attempting to make the frown across my brow to grow into a purple furrow of fury.
The problem in me attempting to visualise what he visualised as me had caused me to start, as it were, mentally preparing a text about it for a book while all the time I wanted everything to remain informal and more easily forgettable. Whatever the case, I had failed to stop him visualising me as I truly was, I guess.
In a panic, I readied myself to get out at the next stop pretending it was my intended stop and nip to another carriage, but the size of my luggage made that more difficult, as I eyed it above me in the swaying rack. The buttoned edge of my third-rate nightdress sticking out where I hadn’t packed it properly.
Above the static that the hiss of rain had become, could be heard his unstoppable muttering: tracks and racks, tracks and racks…