Tube Strain V2

Updated: Jan 29


Tube Strain Feedback

Many thanks to all the people who provided feedback on my short piece last week. There were useful suggestions in the thought provoking comments I received. As one should, I have revised the work in light of this feedback. I am including the revised version in this post so those who were kind enough to comment can see how the story has changed. Text that has changed is in red.

I received feedback in the comments section on this blog, on Facebook and through email. Thank you, Fran, Tracey, Paula, Patricia, David and Hazel.


Tube Strain v2

I don’t know when he got on, but at Leicester Square the woman next to me gets off and he takes the seat, manspreading into my space. Too close. The tube’s crowded. When it’s like this you’re often pushed up against people, but I’m sure this is deliberate. He could easily be further away, and our shoulders wouldn’t have to touch. I feel awkward, I move away from him, trying to make a small gap between us, as if it’s my fault he has to be close to me. But it’s only three stops and I’ll be at Euston. I check the time. Thirteen minutes until my intercity leaves. About five more minutes on the tube.


Headphones mean I can ignore anyone who speaks to me. They aren’t playing anything, music distracts me when I’m reading, but they keep strangers out of my head space. From the corner of my eye I see him glance at me. He’s short for a man, his heads the same level as mine, and he overfills his cheap suit. He wants to talk, I can tell, he has that sort of expectancy, that display of ‘why are you wearing headphones when I want your company’ attitude. Well, I don’t want to talk to him.


At Tottenham Court Road, people get off and people get on. Someone sits next to him, gives him an excuse to shuffle up close to me again. I’m hard against the end of the bench seat and can’t squeeze away any further. He isn’t actually doing anything, he isn’t using his hands to touch me, or moving his leg against my thigh, I’ve had that happen a couple of times. He’s just sitting there. I can sense his attention on me, his awareness of what I’m doing. My concentration’s blasted now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read this page at least three times and still can’t remember it. I can’t read it again, he’s watching me. I swipe my phone and try to pick up the plot on the next page.


Goodge Street, maybe he’ll get off here, but he makes none of those early, just before stopping, movements. I resign myself to his company for another stop. I’m a statue of stillness, aware of his presence and wishing I wasn’t. I don’t want to move, although I need to. I feel him so close, shoulder against shoulder, thigh against thigh. I know if I move, he’ll feel me and I resent this, it’s like an invasion of me. I can’t get up. There are people standing in front of me, right in my face, but it’s him I’m most aware of. God, I hate London.


I grip the bag between my knees and grit my teeth. I can smell him. That unmistakeable combination of day-old deodorant and anxiety sweat with a pronounced male musk undertone. My neck turns involuntarily. He notices and turns to face me. His eyes are cold, grey glints of unreadable steel, there’s a crimson slash of scar that droops the left eye toward thin lips. The arrogant gaze of a male stranger with all its assumptions of propriety falls on me. I can feel my lashes falling, my head tilting down, my look going downcast. What am I doing, playing the submissive female? That’s not who I am. I’m not subservient. Didn’t I just tell Gavin to stick his job and walk out?


He doesn’t speak. I let my eyes glaze over and turn back to my phone, now out of focus. Warren street, only one more stop. “Please get off” I will at him, but he remains resolutely solid next to me. I can feel the heat from his thigh through my trousers. He doesn’t get up, he doesn’t move. The person sitting next to him leaves but he doesn’t move. Why doesn’t he? Surely, he should just wriggle out of my space a bit, shift up just a little? But no, he’s still there, pressing against me. I’m not going to look at him again. I don’t like his eyes, I don’t like the way he stares, I don’t like his thoughtlessness. Why doesn’t he budge?


Euston at last. My hand’s on my bag, the handle gripped tight. I’ll be out of here any second. But he stands just as I’m getting to the door, stands and follows me off the train. I can feel him, following close. I’m rude and push in front of someone on the escalator, so he can’t stand right behind me, but I know he’s there, somewhere.


As soon as I’m at the top of the escalator I’m on my way across the concourse. God the time. I should go to the loo, I could lose him there, but the tube took longer than it should. I’ve only five minutes to get the train and Euston’s so big. Platform 17, it would be, right at the furthest end. I don’t want to miss it. I walk as fast as I can. If I had the time, I would loiter in a space with lots of people about, especially if they were in uniform. But I haven’t. He’s still there, behind me. I can hear his footsteps. What if he’s getting on the same train? I can feel the sweat that’s been accumulating under my armpits begin to trickle down to my elbows. My t-shirt is sticking to my back. My eyes are flicking about as if I’m a hunted animal, and that’s how I feel, stalked.


I’m getting close to the platform now, I feel in my pocket for my purse, for the ticket. People are at the barrier and passing through. I can’t find my purse, is it in my bag? I can’t remember. I pause to look in my bag, but I feel him coming up behind me, he’s right there, I can hear him, he’s out of breath, he’s grunting. I forget my purse and run to the barrier, but I can’t get through without a ticket. I go to the gate where a guard is. He can see I’m panicking, and he must see the man behind me because he opens the gate and lets me through, then shuts it before the man can follow me.


I run down the platform and onto the train. Two minutes to spare. I still haven’t found the ticket, but I don’t care. I hear doors gasping closed. We’ll be gone soon and I’ll be safe. But a guard comes up to me. Asks if I have a ticket and I don’t. He asks me to leave the train and go to the ticket office. I try and explain but he insists, threatens me with the police. I get off and the train leaves. I want to cry, but I’m angry too. I won’t be beaten. I walk slowly back up the platform to the barrier, suppressing my anxiety with a determination I’m not sure is real. My heart’s pounding. The man is on the other side, but the guard is there.


The guard is waving at me, he’s holding my purse, the front flap open showing my photo ID. He tells me what happened. It fell out of my pocket when I got off the tube. The man picked it up and followed me to give it back. Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he call out? He couldn’t, says the guard, he can’t talk, his voice doesn’t work properly. I look at him, on the other side of the barrier. He meets my eye, smiles a lopsided smile, grunts, then turns and walks quickly away.


Tube Strain V1

This week I am presenting a short work (1200 words) written as an assignment.

I am keen to know if the voice of the protagonist is believable. The piece is a present tense, first person story and the protagonist is a young (certainly younger than I) female city dweller. As an older male living in a rural area I'd like to know if the voice in this piece sounds authentic. If not, in what way, and how could I make the changes that would make it so. Which aspects are particularly bad, which not so bad.

I would really appreciate feedback from any women who read this.


Tube Strain

He gets on at Leicester Square and sits next to me, too close. Close enough for me to shift my position to make a small space between us. I know the tube can get crowded and often unasked for bodily contact occurs, but I’m sure this was deliberate. He could easily have been further away and our shoulders wouldn’t have to touch. I feel awkward, I move away from him, as if it’s my fault he has to be close to me. But it’s only three stops and I’ll be at Euston. I check the time. Thirteen minutes until the train leaves. About five more minutes on the tube.

Headphones mean I can ignore anyone who speaks to me. They aren’t playing anything, music distracts me when I’m reading, but they keep strangers out of my head space. From the corner of my eye I see him glance at me. He wants to talk, I can tell, he has that sort of expectancy, that display of ‘why are you wearing headphones when I want your company’ attitude. Well, I dodn’t want to talk to him.

At Tottenham Court Road, people get off and people get on. Someone sits next to him,

gives him an excuse to shuffle up close to me again. I’m hard against the end of the bench seat and can’t squeeze away any further. He isn’t actually doing anything, he isn’t using his hands to touch me, or moving his leg against my thigh, I’ve had that happen a couple of times. He’s just sitting there. I can sense his attention on me, his awareness of what I’m doing. My concentration’s blasted now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read this page at least three times and still can’t remember it. I can’t read it again, he’s watching me. I swipe the reader and try to pick up the plot on the next page.


Goodge Street, maybe he’ll get off here, but he makes none of those early, just before stopping, movements. I resign myself to his company for another stop. I’m a statue of stillness, aware of his presence and wishing I wasn’t. I don’t want to move, although I need to. I feel him so close, shoulder against shoulder, thigh against thigh. I know if I move he’ll feel me and I resent this, it’s like an invasion of me. God, I hate London.


I grip the bag between my knees and grit my teeth. I can smell him. That unmistakeable combination of day-old deodorant and anxiety sweat with a pronounced male musk undertone. My neck turns involuntarily. He notices and turns to meet my eye. The arrogance of the gaze of a male stranger with all its assumptions of propriety falls on me. I can feel my lashes falling, my head tilting down, my look going downcast. What am I doing, playing the submissive female. That’s not who I am. I’m not subservient. Didn’t I just tell Gavin to stick his job and walk out.


He doesn’t speak. I let my eyes glaze over and turn back to the reader, now out of focus. Warren street, only one more stop. “Please get off” I will at him, but he remains resolutely solid next to me. I can feel the heat from his thigh through my trousers. He doesn’t get up, he doesn’t move. The person sitting next to him leaves but he doesn’t move. Why doesn’t he? Surely, he should just wriggle out of my space a bit, shift up just a little. But no, he’s still there, pressing against me. I’m not going to look at him again. I don’t like his eyes, I don’t like the way he stares, I don’t like his thoughtlessness. Why doesn’t he budge.


Euston at last. My hand’s on my bag, the handle gripped tight. I’ll be out of here any second. But he stands just as I’m getting to the door, stands and follows me off the tube. I can feel him, following close. I’m rude and push in front of someone on the escalator, so he can’t stand right behind me, but I know he’s there, somewhere.



As soon as I’m at the top of the escalator I’m on my way across the concourse. God the time. I should go to the loo, I could lose him there, but the tube took longer than it should. I’ve only five minutes to get the train and Euston’s so big. Platform 17, it would be, right at the furthest end. I don’t want to miss it. I walk as fast as I can. If I had the time, I would loiter in a space with lots of people about, especially if they were in uniform. But I haven’t. He’s still there, behind me. I can hear his footsteps. What if he’s getting on the same train? I can feel the sweat that’s been accumulating under my armpits begin to trickle down to my elbows. My t-shirt is sticking to my back. My eyes are flicking about as if I’m a hunted animal, and that’s how I feel, stalked.


I’m getting close to the platform now, I feel in my pocket for my purse, for the ticket. People are at the barrier and passing through. I can’t find my purse, is it in my bag? I can’t remember. I pause to look in my bag, but I feel him coming up behind me, he’s right there, I can hear him, he’s out of breath. I forget my purse and run to the barrier, but I can’t get through without a ticket. I go to the gate where a guard is. He can see I’m panicking and he must see the man behind me because he opens the gate and lets me through, then shuts it before the man can follow me.


I run down the platform and onto the train, slamming the door behind me. Two minutes to spare. I still haven’t found the ticket, but I don’t care. I hear doors slamming. We’ll be gone soon and I’ll be safe. But a guard comes up to me. Asks if I have a ticket and I don’t. He asks me to leave the train and go to the ticket office. I try and explain but he insists, threatens me with the police, with arrest. I get off and the train leaves. I’m in tears as I walk slowly back up the platform to the barrier. The man is on the other side, but the guard is there.


The guard is waving at me, he’s holding my purse. He tells me what happened. It fell out of my pocket when I got off the tube. The man picked it up and followed me to give it back. Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he call out? He couldn’t, says the guard, he can’t talk, his voice doesn’t work. I look at him, on the other side of the barrier. He meets my eye, smiles, then turns and walks quickly away.

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I welcome any constructive criticism, as comments on this blog, or through social media links.

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©2019 by Rik Lonsdale