Academic journal article TriQuarterly

A History of Boys

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

A History of Boys

Article excerpt

When Elspeth saw the dark windows of her father's house, she did not bother to knock at the door but retraced her steps down the short street of elderly people and made her way to Perth Station. In spite of the cold she knew she would find him with the other train-spotters, pursuing his mysterious hobby. Within a few minutes, she entered the Victorian gloom of the station. On the main platform a dozen travelers, men in anoraks, women with shopping bags, waited dispiritedly for the next train to Glasgow but Elspeth hurried by. For the spotters, departure and arrival, indeed the whole notion of travel, were irrelevant. Their territory was a concrete peninsula, stretching out amidst the converging rails to that neglected part of the station where, in summer, wild lupine sprang up between the sleepers. Elspeth passed the Gents, the parcel office, and there was her father a hundred feet ahead, studying his train-spotters' guide.

Even from a distance he was an odd, distinctive figure, somewhere between gentleman and tramp. He wore a good suit and a raincoat of immense shabbiness. His white hair, with no one to chivvy him into haircuts, straggled to his shoulders. Although he had grown up in Lancashire, his high coloring and bloodshot blue eyes often made people think he was Scottish.

While he read, the Gordon twins circled him, practicing something that involved staccato movements and high kicks; it could have been kung fu, it could have been dancing. The few other train-spotting boys Elspeth had met had been painfully earnest, with duffle coats and glasses, whereas the twins had leather jackets and tattoos. Raymond, the older by eight minutes, had a nose ring.

"Dad," she said. "Walter."

The twins gyrated away, leaving her father to greet her. "Elspeth, I'd forgotten you were coming. We're waiting for the Highland Chieftain. Raymond thinks it might be a Class 26 with a Sulzer engine. How are you?"

"Fine."

She sat down on the single bench provided by British Rail. After a moment her father joined her. "I'd offer you some tea," he said, "but I'm afraid I drank it all."

He shook his tartan thermos to prove his claim and stared off down the tracks. Elspeth knew he was not pleased to see her - the two of them were in the middle of a battle - and she, in turn, stared at the ground. A fleck of white landed on the toe of her worn black boot, then another. She began to count the snowflakes, tiny and evanescent. At fifty-three her father gave in. "Guess what Justin was telling me?" he said. "They're going to have a policeman on duty at the high school. It makes me glad my teaching days are done."

Justin was the younger of the Gordon twins, the one without a nose ring. Elspeth glanced over to where he and Raymond thrashed the air. If they were typical high-school pupils, she thought, police protection made perfect sense. Suddenly Raymond stopped waving his arms. "Here it comes," he cried.

She stayed on the bench while Walter joined the twins at the edge of the platform. The three of them gazed towards the apparently empty south. Just as she began to think Raymond had been mistaken, a low vibration rewarded their attention and grew rapidly in volume and complexity. Soon the air was filled with the baffling odor of electricity. The Highland Chieftain appeared in a blur of noise. Her father stood at attention. The Gordon twins waved and gave V-signs. Then each of them made an entry in his notebook. Why did the twins keep two notebooks, Elspeth wondered. Wouldn't all their entries be the same?

Her father picked up his knapsack. "You're not staying for the four-eleven?" asked Raymond.

"I can't." He nodded at Elspeth. "Goodbye, you two."

"Goodbye, Walter," they echoed.

The train had cheered him up and as he led the way down the platform, past the still waiting travelers, he flung remarks over his shoulder. His favorite guard was doing a course in Inverness. …

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