‘’The 10-15 train for Manchester Piccadilly due to arrive at platform 2 is running approximately twenty three minutes late. We apologise for any inconvenience.’’
‘’Typical!’’ Sophie heaves a sigh and reaches into her jacket pocket for her mobile, and in doing so drops her rail ticket on the floor. Texting Annabel with one hand and bending to retrieve the ticket from beneath the bench, she catches sight of a shoe. A red shoe. Very smart. Lovely soft leather and practically new by the look of it. But who wears shoes like that these days, Sophie muses, regarding her own heavily shod feet.
The shoe is so dainty. And tiny too. Size three, Sophie notes. Wow! But it’s not a child’s shoe. It’s some sort of court shoe she thinks, with a stubby little heel.
Is there another? She peers further under the bench, but there’s no sign of a partner. How very odd for someone to lose just one shoe.
Her mobile pings with a reply from Annabel. Not to worry, it says, she’ll wait for Sophie in Costa Coffee inside the station complex.
The plan is to spend the day shopping. Trying on clothes they can’t possibly afford, testing expensive perfumes, maybe taking in a film and gorging on pizza. Girlie stuff. Sophie can’t wait to get to the city, away from this dreary, little village where nothing ever happens from one decade to the next.
Her family have lived here since forever. Her gran’s great bid for freedom amounted to no more than working for a while in some posh, old department store in Manchester, before returning to the village to marry her electrician sweetheart, never again to budge.
That was back in the swinging sixties, though Sophie doubts that gran ever did much swinging. And she lives here still, alone these days, in the same stone cottage. What kind of life is that?
Even mum, who went away to university and trained as a teacher, came back like a homing pigeon. That’s what people are like in this part of the world, drawn to the place like iron filings to a magnet. You would think this damp, little corner of the planet was the centre of the universe.
But not for Sophie. She’s off to university herself in the autumn, to Bath which is as far away as she can get. And she’s never coming back.
Even if the stone cottages have been stripped of their industrial grime and restored to glowing cleanliness, and even if the one and only pub in the village is now gentrified and serving Mediterranean cuisine with vegan and gluten free options, neither is enough to keep Sophie here.
She’s tired of the mud, the biting wind in winter and the sheer lack of anything to do.
‘’There’s no place like home, love.’’ That’s what mum says. ‘’Just you wait and see.’’
But Sophie has plans for the future and they don’t include rotting away in this south Lancashire backwater. There’s a whole world out there. And Sophie plans to see it.
But what to do now with this shoe, she wonders? Perhaps she’ll take it to the ticket office, where they have a shelf piled up with umbrellas, odd gloves and forgotten paperbacks. Now umbrellas and gloves, Sophie can understand someone might easily drop or forget, but a shoe; surely no one would hobble away wearing only one shoe without noticing.
What Sophie can’t possibly know, is that sixty years ago to this day, back in 1963, another young woman, dressed to the nines and nervously awaiting the Manchester train, sits on this very same bench. Yes, the same one. This tiny, rural station you see, has been quite untroubled by modernisation.
The young woman, whose name is Sheila, glances again at her wrist watch. If only the wretched train would come. If it’s late she has no way to let them know. The station phone box has been out of order now for weeks, vandalised by a bunch of hooligans on motor bikes.
Sheila has an interview for a job at Kendal Milnes, the fanciest department store in Manchester. It’s her dream to work there. All those lovely scarves and bags and frocks; really posh scent and soft leather shoes. She’s wearing new shoes today, smart red court shoes to match her bag and gloves. To be honest the shoes are pinching like mad. Soft leather they may be, but as yet unworn in.
It’s hot today too. One of those infrequent days in this part of the world, when the temperature rises above tepid. Sheila can feel her feet swelling up, like mum’s Victoria sandwich rising in the oven. And her smart little navy suit is too warm for the weather as well. Perhaps she’ll just kick off her shoes until the train arrives.
Oh, how she wants this job. It’s not a great ambition to be a shop girl. Even Sheila knows this. But she has her heart set on it just the same. Now if she were clever like Rebecca Watson, it might be different. Becky went to the grammar school in Bolton and is off to some university soon, somewhere down south. But Sheila never could get the hang of book learning somehow.
History with all those dates and wars and kings. And as for maths, well Sheila’s just hopeless. Jumbles of numbers and letters and shapes just make her head spin.
Anyway, according to Nana Kershaw, as long as she can make a respectable steak and kidney pie, turn a collar and decently darn a pair of socks, what else is there to know?
She isn’t sure that she completely agrees with her Nan about this, but it’s fair to say that Sheila has never felt the pull of academia.
Sometimes she thinks it might be nice to move away from this tiny village where her family goes back for generations. Perhaps there are more exciting places to live? Astley Cross, with its blackened stone cottages and one solitary pub, where the highlight of the week is watching Top of the Pops and Dr Kildare on the telly, isn’t exactly thrilling.
But Manchester, now that’s different. Just the thought of the big city brings a sparkle to Sheila’s eye.
Oh, here comes the train at last. Sheila rummages beneath the seat to recover her shoes, anxious now to be on her way. Squeezing her foot into the left one, she fishes around some more for the right. Where can it be? Panicking now, she grovels under the bench, but there’s no sign of it.
How can she go for an interview at Kendal Milnes wearing only one shoe? A torrent of tears well up behind Sheila’s eyes, threatening to destroy her carefully applied make up. What is she to do?
What Sheila can never know, is that the shoe quite simply slips through a tiny tear in the fragile fabric of time, finding itself quite unexpectedly in an exciting future age.
Of course neither Sheila nor Sophie would ever believe a single word of this. Not for a moment. But then, how else do you explain the shoe’s unlikely reappearance, beneath Sophie’s seat in 2023?