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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 31 page 15


Riviera travel poster

The Train to Santa Margherita

by Jane Callen

Merilee and Samuel, her bridegroom of twenty-four months, arrive by taxi at Piazza Principe, the central train station in Genoa. Samuel doles out the fare, tops up the euros and adds his grazie. Unlike Merilee, he didn’t bother with Italian lessons for travellers every Tuesday evening at the university. He’s certain that the locals will figure out his wishes. Besides, he has great faith in hand gestures.

Merging with their fellow travellers, they jostle past Doric columns, through the portico and into a massive antechamber. Merilee cranes her neck, sunlight filters past the rain-spattered panes of the vaulted ceiling. Piazza Principe hums with human traffic. Business travellers pressed into close-fitting suits move at double-time past uncertain tourists navigating their luggage-on-wheels. Day-trippers like Merilee and Samuel proceed with purpose, to board a regional train to one of the Riviera towns an hour away, their destinations well-researched on Google, already savoured before they arrive. Cliffside climbs through Mediterranean villages, mid-afternoon feasts of Ligurian shrimp known as gamberoni. Fresh caught, their pink flesh glistens from the sea, their flavour enhanced by grape varietals with appellations like Bosco or Vermentino.

Samuel identifies their train on the digital bulletin board overhead. They make their way to the self-service ticket machine, wait their turn. The queue behind them lengthens, but on his fourth try Samuel is successful and the machine spits out their tickets. Samuel grins his satisfaction. Now to find their track, two levels down that wide marble staircase. Merilee is careful on the stairs, shiny flooring underfoot makes her nervous these days. Some weeks back she slipped on a tile floor with a glass in her hand. The splintered shards cut into her elbow. A dash to emergency in an unfamiliar town. An unpleasant admission that she’d been drinking when she fell. The wound was slow to heal. At first she couldn’t lift her hand close enough to brush her teeth. It took weeks before she could touch her shoulder or pull on a sweater unaided. The muscle mended, but the dendrites remain alert. A cool breeze or a pose held too long ignite the burning sensation.

Samuel, with his usual sense of urgency, sprints down the stairs. Tapping his foot, he waits for Merilee to catch up.

“The stairs are slippery,” she explains, but Samuel is already heading down the tiled tunnel, deaf to her words.

On the lower level, they squint until their eyes adjust to the shadowed caverns. Reviewing the track numbers posted at the entrance to each passageway, Merilee is first to find the number six. Their footfalls echo as they trudge deep into the narrowing corridor. It’s tumbledown with decay and it smells acrid. The sole source of light, naked bulbs housed in metal cages. Not all are lit. They arrive at the platform. Under a broken light, a man leans against the stone wall, his back to them. Merilee grabs hold of Samuel’s jacket when the man moves towards them. We need to find the validating machine she whispers. But Samuel has already spotted the green metal box on a far wall. What would she do without him? He inserts their tickets and the machine rewards with a heavy thunk sound as they’re stamped and thrust back out. Checking them first, Samuel hands his wife her ticket. The man from the shadows crosses the yellow hazard line at the edge of the platform, turns to read the sign at the north end of the track. Digital lights inform the darkness that the La Spezia 11710 arrives in five minutes.