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Open Features: Strangers On A Train

So who were those Brits the American tourists met on the train? And who were those Americans?

Brian Lockett tells an intriguing tale.

To read more of Brian's stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett

“I couldn’t help overhearing,” said the fat man leaning across the table as the train picked up speed, “but at the end of the telephone conversation you have just had on your mobile, you gave your name as Jack Tendril. Am I right ?”

“That is so,” said the other man. “Is that of interest to you?”

“Well, my wife and I are visiting from the USA and we know a family called Tendril in our home town in Texas. So, naturally, I was wondering, it’s a fairly uncommon name, whether you might be related.”

“There is an American branch. Some distant relatives of mine settled in Alaska in the 1880s and, I heard, early in the last century moved to Texas.”

“That must be it!” said the fat man excitedly. turning to an only slightly leaner woman at his side. “Rita, my wife here, and I have been close friends of Tom and Gail Tendril for many years. Excuse me forgetting my manners.” He held out a fleshy hand. “Harvey Stenson. My wife Rita.”

“Nice to meet you. What a strange coincidence. This is my wife Janet. So you’re Texans?''

“Sure are. Austin. That’s where we live. Born and bred.”

By the time the train pulled into Leeds where Jack and Janet Tendril got off, they had learnt a great deal about the Stensons. They had three children, two boys and a girl, all married with children of their own. Henry was a real estate salesman in Seattle. Raymond practised dentistry in Boston. Christine was marketing director of a firm making mobile homes in Cleveland. Harvey and Rita had married thirty-two years ago after graduating from the same high school. They were making their first trip abroad for many years, having been tied down by Rita’s mother, a chronic invalid needing constant attention. She had died earlier in the year and they had decided to ‘not exactly celebrate, you understand, more reward ourselves’ with a European tour, of which this was the first leg. Harvey, who had founded his own business consultancy, had made so much money that he had often thought of retiring.

“Rita’s been on at me for years.“

“I coulda used you at home, honey. Believe me, you have no idea how demanding that old lady could get. Nothing I did was ever right. Too hot, too cold, too slack, too tight, too long, too short, too quick, too slow.“

“Honey, Mr Tendril and his wife don’ wonna listen to all his. All I’m sayin’ is ... “

“All you ever said, honey, was next year perhaps or in the fall perhaps.”

The Stensons gave the impression that they often had conversations of this kind, though on different subjects.

They had very strong views on political matters, that is to say strong and totally opposed views. They both had a great deal to say about Europe, though neither had ever been there before. Harvey politely enquired about the Tendrils’ views on Europe, but seemed impatient to move on before they had been expressed.

Rita Stenson had a lot of questions, which she answered herself, about England and the English. Harvey urged his new friends to make sure they visited Austin, Texas, when they were next in the States. He described several important features of Texan life to which he wanted to introduce them. He even produced adhesive labels which he stuck in both their diaries under S.

As the trained moved on, there was a great deal of waving and smiling. Janet Tendril turned to her husband as they stood on the platform.

“Ken,” she said, “that was a nice touch with the mobile ’phone. Did you think it up at the last minute?”

“Well, I have to admit I pinched it off a friend of mine, Denis Pawkes. Whenever he answers his mobile he says “Charles Draining here. Can I help you?” I thought it might be fun to sign off in a similar vein.”

The woman grimaced.

“Jack and Janet Tendril. I’m not very impressed. Next time I’d like David and Susan Greer or Simon and Tessa Bodmin-Perks.”

She laughed.

“I’ve forgotten why we started doing this. Pity we couldn’t get a word in edgeways. I’d thought up a terribly interesting story about my career as a ballerina being cruelly cut short by an accident on stage at Covent Garden.”

“And me?”

“It’s about time you told us about your time as Head of Modern Languages at Eton and how you were recruited by the IRA.”

“Sounds good, knock-about stuff to me dear. Getting back to the Stensons, though. Why do you think they told us such a load of bollocks?”

“I don’t follow.”

“Put it another way: Why is their luggage labelled Giovanni and Maria Locatelli with an address in Atlantic City? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? That and the sticky labels.”

They looked at each other and shook their heads. The woman assumed a Northern accent.

“There’s nowt so queer as folk.”

The man tapped the side of his nose and matched her accent as he said “There wuz enough said about that at our Edie’s wedding.”

They both burst out laughing.

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