The afternoon sun glinted of Mac’s head as he carried the enormous suitcase, as though it was nothing heavier than the morning paper, from the car. Behind him, Mrs Standfield fussed over her daughter.
‘Are you sure you have everything you need? Your luggage seems far too small for a whole week. Have you packed enough underwear?’
Emma sighed. ‘Will you stop worrying, mum. I’ll be fine.’
‘But what if you’ve forgotten-’
‘The girl’s going to the city, Julia,’ interrupted Mac. ‘I’m sure they have everything there she could possibly need. She’s not being sent out into the wilderness.’
Emma picked up her tickets from the station house and followed the other two onto the platform, where the train was already standing, its doors open. Mac stepped inside and slipped the suitcase into a rack.
‘Right,’ said Emma, turning to her mother. ‘I’d better get going.’
Mrs Standfield, dispensing with her usual formality, wrapped her arms around her daughter and hugged her. ‘Please be careful,’ she said, her voice creaking with emotion. ‘I worry about you.’
Unseen in the embrace, Emma rolled her eyes. ‘For goodness’ sake, mum, I’ll be fine. One week from now, I’ll be right back here, on this very platform.’ She broke away and gestured through the train to the other side of the tracks. ‘Or over there, I’m not sure. Either way, I’ll see you then, so stop worrying!’
Mac, stepping back off the train, bent down to kiss Emma on the cheek. ‘Don’t worry,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll keep her occupied.’
‘Thanks,’ said Emma, turning to board the train. Along the platform, the guard blew on his whistle, and another signalled its response from further away. Door slammed and a few people started waving at the train windows.
Mrs Standfield pulled a tissue from her sleeve and used it to blew her nose in as genteel a fashion as she could manage, and from her ring finger there was the briefest glint of diamond. Mac put a comforting arm around her shoulder, while he too began waving at the train as it pulled away.
From inside, Emma waved to them both until the train turned south and the platform was cut from view, then she let out a long sigh and sagged back into her seat. She smiled for what felt like the first time that day, and felt a quiver of excitement mixed with a sense of unreality at the thought that she was, at last, escaping, if only for a week. The old lady in the seat opposite had pulled some unfinished knitting from her bag and set at it with a rhythmic ticking of the needles that Emma found strangely hypnotic.
She looked up, noticing Emma watching. ‘Going far, dear?’ she asked.
‘Er, yes,’ she said. ‘London.’
The lady gave her a half-toothed smile. ‘Very nice,’ she said, then turned her attention back to her work as Emma gazed of the window.
They were picking up speed now, the trees and the fields and the life she knew slipping into the distance, as the train carried her on and away towards the solid bulk of the city and something new.