Weekly writing challenge: Cliffhanger!

“To be continued…”

The telephone alarm woke Julia as per usual at six am but the sun was not shining through the curtains as it had been for the past two months. Instead there was a steady beat of rain against the window pane. Julia reached out her arm to turn off the phone and thought “Five minutes, I’ll get up in five minutes”. When she opened her eyes again, the clock on the wall was showing five past seven. She groaned to herself, “Late again…” it almost seemed as it was laughing at her – the short hand on the seven and the long hand on the one like a gymnast who was taut, stretched, ready for action. The complete opposite of how she felt. She sat up and looked around her room. “What to do first?” she thought – pack her bag, make her sandwiches, eat breakfast, shower, clean her teeth, iron her shirt and trousers. Somehow she managed to complete all the morning manoeuvres by eight o’clock. Five past eight saw her leaving the flat with bag on shoulder and iPod headphones in her ears and her little black umbrella shielding of the worst of the rain.

When Julia arrived 15 minutes later at the station, the crowded platform, passengers sticking heads out of the carriage doors, alerted her that there was yet another delay on the Central line. She therefore took her time when buying her weekly travelcard (increasing every year, with not much to show for it) and walked slowly along the platform looking for the least crowded carriage. She eventually found came to the third carriage from the front and squeezed between a pregnant lady and a bearded man. The train driver announced that a “passenger has fallen ill at Stratford; the ambulance will be waiting at Mile End”. She looked around at the other passengers who were furiously texting work colleagues about the impending lateness, some looking annoyed and some looking resigned to the fact – ‘just another Monday morning’. She wondered what was wrong with the passenger – heart attack – was the first thing that popped into her mind. Looking around at all the middle-aged men in suits that surrounded her, they did fit the stereotypical candidates. But there were all range of people and illnesses possible. As more people pushed onto the carriage of the train that was not moving, she wondered idly about the pregnant woman. ‘How many weeks was she?’, ‘Is she comfortable standing up?’ ‘why won’t somebody give her a seat?’, ‘Why is she not wearing her “Baby on Board Badge”. At this last thought she almost burst out aloud – she smiled and wondered to herself – ‘Whose idea was that?’. Some sensible person from Transport for London no doubt.

As the minutes ticked away and thus her chances of arriving at work before 10, her thoughts dwelled on pregnant women in general. One the occasions that she obtained a seat on the Underground, she could never relax, always looking out for a pregnant woman standing in front of her that would need a seat. She sometimes found it difficult to tell who was in the early stages in pregnancy and who was just, well…’well covered’. It could sometimes be a close call – the thin line between offence and grace. Sometimes in these cases her inner voice chided her “Julia all those years of expensive training and you still do not know?”

Last week she had met up with an old friend, well more like acquaintance, who was seven months into her first pregnancy. Despite the swelling – her friend had somehow avoided the other tell-tale signs of extra fluid. Her ankles and wrists remained bony and sculptured and heart shaped face undistorted. In fact the only other indication that she was incubating a life within and not an enthusiasm for fast food were her breasts, which were popping out of the low top of the maxi dress she was wearing. She seemed healthy, happy and content. She has stopped working a few months previously and was in all respects a lady of leisure. While her husband worked, she would be arranging the baby clothes in colour and size order, setting up the nursery, meeting friends for lunch and who wondering she would employ as a nanny when the baby arrived. At the same time knowing that these were here last few months of freedom, once the little bundle of joy arrived – life as she knew it would end.

In contrast, Julia thought back to the hour long conversation she had had with another friend, 6 months post-delivery, struggling with a jealous two year old and a fractious husband. This other friend had worked until the 36th week, taking the 2 hour commute in her stride but arriving at work and home in a breathless heap. In addition to buying all the baby equipment herself, she had to rearrange the tiny box room currently occupied by the first child to make room for the new arrival. When the baby arrived, pulled out her belly with the help of the surgeons tools and much bigger than anybody had predicted, the paternity leave seemed to end all too soon and once again her friend was alone for large portions of the day.

Such different lives she thought – but at least they would have their babies – their prize and joy.

“STAND CLEAR! DOORS CLOSING” She was jolted out of her melancholy musings by the announcement by the train driver and the train lurching out of the station. She closed her eyes, held on tightly to the rail above her and tried to lose herself in her “cover up” playlist. Thirty minutes into the journey there was an exodus from her carriage and she had managed to sink into seat. Once in her seat, she picked up a copy of the Metro from the seat beside her. Never one to read papers, nevermind one such as the Metro, she idly flicked through the pages. Julia’s eye wandered to the horoscope “for entertainment purposes” she told herself as she scanned down to the entry for Taurus

You finally understand that friend or family member who has been acting so strangely of late. You may find that you’re better off keeping your knowledge hidden for now, so watch and wait.

“All very non-specific,” she thought, “Wishy-washy rubbish!”. Despite this she moved onto the next sentence

Endings are likely now, but they might not all be bad — after all, for something new to begin, something else must come to a close. Try to turn losses into gains with some creative thinking, instead of just denying them.

Julia looked out of the window as the passing trees and houses and thought to herself “somebody got paid to write this!”. As the carriage pulled into the last station of her journey, she glanced quickly at the last sentence while rummaging in her bag for her Oyster card. What she read made her gasp out aloud.

You are sitting in the third carriage, when you get to your final destination, do not, I repeat, do not get out.

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