The Silver Whistle

Barry was in love with the platform attendant at his local train station.

He first noticed her one drizzling February day, standing no more than five foot tall in her railway company-issue Derry boots and fluorescent bib, hair bedraggled by the rain and button nose reddening in the cold of the morning. What really stood out for Barry was the expression on her face. Despite the freezing drizzle and the shoving, swarming crush of commuters all about her, she was an oasis of serenity, a half-smile playing upon her cherried lips as though to signal the trains from the station was positively the best thing she could do with her time.

Barry felt the same about his job. He was only a sorter at the town's central post office, but to him this was a vocation. He saw himself as a pivotal member of a network of dedicated professionals devoting their efforts to ensuring that the post reached its destination in good order and timely fashion. Love letters, postcards, circulars and final demands. Dear Johns, chain letters, bank statements and birthday cards. To Barry they were all the same. Someone had made the effort to send them and he would do his very best to expedite their delivery. It gave him a sense of worth and well-being, this business of making connections, of keeping people in touch with other people.

Barry just knew that she must feel the same. And he could understand why. Making sure the trains leave the station on time, keeping the network running smoothly so everyone gets to where they're going be it work, or home, the shops or a visit to friends and family. Ensuring passengers are safely aboard and the doors all shut before raising your little paddle and giving a blast on your whistle to signal to the driver that it's safe to proceed to the next station. Yes, Barry could understand how a job like that could satisfy a person's need for fulfillment from their working day.

Two loyal public servants with so much in common, he and the little platform attendant with the beatific smile were destined to be together, thought Barry.

He began spending extra time in the bathroom each morning, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, clipping his fingernails short and neat. He bought himself some new white shirts that he ironed as meticulously as he sorted his post. And he paid particular attention to his boots, spit polishing them to a crisp, high shine.

Every morning he would watch her, in rapt admiration, as she went about her duties with a calm authority. And whenever she raised her little white paddle in the air, putting the whistle to her lips to give it a short, sharp blast, Barry's heart fluttered about his ribcage as violently as the little pea inside the whistle's chamber.

Weeks passed and then weeks became months. Barry's love for the platform attendant was undimmed. But despite his best efforts she didn't seem to notice him, lost as he was amongst the crowds ebbing and flowing around her.

He began to experiment with different partings for his hair, applying pomades and lotions to hold the new styles. He bought a new pair of boots with steel toecaps and applied twice the amount of spit and elbow grease to the polishing of them. He grew a little moustache, which he stroked ostentatiously, hoping to attract the platform attendant's attention. All to no avail.

Then one day, strolling through town on his lunch hour he passed a street vendor selling whistles threaded on lanyards of different colours and materials. For a pound he bought a silver whistle hung on a beautiful red ribbon and determined to present it to the platform attendant, as a token of his love.

The next day, his sprucing and primping and polishing complete, he walked to the station with his heart in his mouth. He would give her the whistle, she would turn that pretty smile on him and thank him for the gift. From that point on they would become firm friends and then who knew what might follow?

When Barry climbed the stairs to the platform that morning, he didn't see his beloved platform attendant, but a bearded, brutish-looking individual who prowled the platform with unconcealed contempt for the throng of commuters bustling around him and bellowed a fearful cry of "All aboard!" before blasting an ear-splitting report on his whistle.

Barry told himself he mustn't worry and that most likely she had come down with a cold - standing around on draughty railway platforms all day, it was hardlya surprise. Tomorrow, he would see her and give her the silver whistle.

But the next day there was still no sign of her. Nor> the day after that. Friday came and went, and despite the heaving mass of people Barry felt the platform was as empty as a desert without his sweetly smiling platform attendant.

Days became weeks, weeks became months. Spring gave way to summer and summer to winter. Every day Barry carried around the silver whistle, in the hope that one day she'd be back, and he would present it to her and she would smile and thank him, and they would become firm friends and then who knew what might follow?

Barry carries it with him still, lying in the breast pocket of his jacket, its outline just visible, like a question mark hovering over his heart.

About the author:

Grant Perry was born in Glasgow, raised in Leeds and now lives in South London. He has stories published or accepted for publication in Eyeshot, Thunder Sandwich, Slate Magazine and Snow Monkey.