I don't remember how long had passed, how many track miles had seen me there, in the rickety wagon, holding my knees far apart and my everything well exposed for the small world in the small compartment. It must have been a while. My man was nodding next to me as if he were asleep, and maybe he was. Then the woman spoke and he jolted, startled.
"It's high time she put some clothes on, that one."
"Nay, I'm not done with her yet!"
"You seem pretty well done to me..." retorted the woman with her mordant wit, a light in her eye. "What if she promised to take everything off her back again any time you wish ?"
"You promise, don't you dear ?"
"Oh, I promise, I promise. I swear!" said I. And so I have, that was a promise well kept, you'd best believe me.
"Any time I wish ?"
"Any time you wish!"
"Well then... uhh..."
"There's her trunk, grab her something to wear, it's unchristian to be going around the trains nude like the day her mother made her. And besides, she might catch her death of cold."
It was a strange proposition, this, that I may catch any degree of cold in the sweltering heat of the desert, with my throbing entrails on fire. But then again... what did I know ? This old crow was clearly more adept at settling my life for me than I had ever been. Isn't it funny how that works ?
Ted went through my things and picked what I was to wear, and I wore that for the rest of the trip, and then I wore him three boys and two girls - your mother and another that never made it - and then I wore his mourning and then... oh but what use is it.
I'll tell you this though, I had no idea what love is when we met, I have no idea now and you will have no idea for as long as you live. Except in retrospect, when you sit down to write the story of your life for people that will never read it, then it is obvious. It's always fairly obvious in retrospect.
At the next station three men climbed in, idle workers of some description. They seemed a little drunk already as they passed by in the hallway, and no sooner were they settled down in the next compartment over that the scent of cheap gin permeated the air and the belaboured, unconvincing cheer of the poor filled the ears with its sounds. All this seemed to have a strange effect on that little shit, my mother-of-occasion's daughter. Her nostrils'd flare up and her cheeks were just a wee bit flushed ; her breathing just a wee closer to heaving than you'd expect.
After a while their boasts and loudness took a sudden turn to whispering, and within a click they were filling the doorway to our compartment. Ted and the woman looked at them cooly. I did not look at all, because I couldn't take my eyes off the little shit. You'd think she's witness to a miracle, an answer to her prayers, Lazarus walking on his hands to reach the set of a skin care commercial. Was Lazarus the one with the leprosy or the one with the paralisy ? I forget. Anyway, the one gifted with more speech among the lot of them put that gift of his to use :
"Way we figg'r is these are for eight people we figg'r sit all apart like strangers ain't none to neighbourly we figg'r."
And with that grand introduction, combined inauguration of congress, declaration of war and welcoming address they sat themselves down, a pair to my right, opposite from Ted, a straggler on the other side, in the corner, opposite the little shit's corner. Soon enough they offered us to share their drink. Ted refused, which I thought strange, the woman refused which seemed to go without saying. The little shit never refused, but also was never asked, and I could see in her deepening colors she well resented that. I don't know about a woman's intuition, but I can tell you straight out there's no such thing as intuition on a man anymore than there's tits on the back of any pig. Or any less, same difference.
The trip continued a little tense for a little while, the three trying their best to drink like they imagined higher class people drank, inviting each other after each gulp and so on, the woman looking them on sternly and Tom glancing over occasionally as if he were forced to ride against his will with the three men that he suspected stole his sheep but could never prove as much. It was riotuous, really, and I should have laughed, save I could never take my eyes off the little shit. You could almost read what was going on through her mind, a crazed race of crazed thoughts. I suppose this is normal, and to be expected of a girl that age. I know it was the same for me when I was a little younger than she was.
What's not ever expected - and I scarcely can think of why, seeing how often it happens - was the exact manner in which her crisis was resolved. Suddenly, her face drained white, her eyes a feverish look, she pulled her blouse roughly over her head, threw the whole thing at my feet and stood up.
"So what about this, then!" she almost yelled, standing there eyes ablaze, her bellybutton in plain view under a very stern and wide old-fashioned brasiere.
Everyone was in shock, unable to as much as open or close their mouth, respectively, but when she undid her bra and threw that at the speaker of the three the small world of the small compartment lost on tracks erupted.
"Look at me!" she yelled in a voice they probably heard in Sydney, booming, thundering over the hills and shrubs, reflecting back into the horizon.
"You silly little girl, what are you doing! Sit down!" bemoaned her mother, trying in vain to grab a hold of her errant offspring, to cuddle her up among her skirts somehow, to at the very least make her sit. The girl was having none of that, her mother couldn't budge her off her feet anymore than ants can move a tree. Well... I suppose in the end ants do manage to move trees, but never in the moment like that, and in that moment that's what'd have been needed.
The men whistled, they said I don't remember what, Ted shook his head.
Soon enough they had resolved they will take the girl away and converse privately for just a little while. Two of them had their booty by her waist, plucking her from the clinging arms of her protesting mother just as the crazed girl was screaming "No, mother, let me go! I want to go with them! I want them to do things to me, mother!" at the top of her lungs. The third, the straggler was by the door, looking up and down the corridor, a useful behaviour in some circumstances turned into habit by an obviously lengthy practice. Some fine gents the little shit's found herself, I thought.
Out of nowhere little Tommy sprang up. Incensed with the aggitation he grabed of his sister haphazardly, her calves, her breasts at one point. He swore that he shall save her, he kicked the men in the shins with all the unbridled anger of his youthful conviction. Eventually the mother let go of her daughter to restrain her son and And so they did take her, but they did not take her very far.
I could feel her body bumped against the back of my seat, by the three men in turn. For one thing, she was a virgin, briefly, at the start of her adventure. Of her new husbands, one was clearly hurting her, though she could scarcely bring herself to admit this, or perhaps she had no idea there can be such a thing ; the second, the silent middle one she mixed and matched with beautifully, and their bouts lasted a while and pleasantly exhausted them both ; the third she didn't really like, and he seemed to be resenting her, the sure sign of a man more endowed in his mind than in his pants. Incredible how much one can tell by merely being the back against which the waves of another's toil break, is it not ?
We could hear it just fine, too. The grunts of the men, her squals and screams, the things she said. It was incredible, what she said. At one point she was yelling "Put your boot in my mouth! No wait, not your boot, put your cock in my mouth!" She called out to be used, I distinctly recall "defiled" and the verbal imperative peppered throughout the conversation, it was a scene to behear and she was definitely having the time of her life.
"What is she doing mommy ?"
"Never you mind that. You'll see when you're older".
The little boy was pensive. He'll see when he's older ? Defile ? Boots, mouths ? Perhaps the world awaiting him out there is a wee bit wider and thicker than he had hitherto imagined. Perhaps...
The happy foursome took off at the next stop, the girl not as much as coming to say her goodbyes to her mother. "Like any mongrel, like a rabid dog!", the woman observed, in tears, and maybe she was right. Or maybe there just wasn't any time.
The old woman sat there, distraught, fighing back her tears and a painfully visible knot in her throat. She mechanically patted her son, with the absent air of the bereaved, and the son in turn looked back at her with an apprehensive confusion painted all over his face.
It was at this juncture that I burst out in laughter, colored, incontrollable, a little absurd I suppose, like all laughter ever. What was I to do ? It was funny, it was hysterical, it was beyond belief. There we sat, me, the girl she thought ill equipped to face the realities of their foreign, strange culture, happily married within the hour, without asking or indeed needing as much as a candle, let alone priest or church bell. You have any idea how much a church bell costs, a hundred tons of brass ? Or how hard they are to make, so they sound like anything but gargled glass ?
There we sat, the painful absence of her well groomed daughter strangling her. She did more for me in two hours - turning nothing at all into absolutely everything - than she managed to ever do for her own kin, and if that's not laughable then I scarcely know what is. Why do you suppose we always do more for strangers ? Is it perhaps because we do not care about them ?
"You're not going crazy, are you ?" she asked me with surprisingly calm lucidity.
"No. Are you ?"
"I should definitely hope not."
"Once we are settled down", spoke Ted in a croaked, unsure voice, " I trust you will do us the honor of your visit ?"
"My dear boy" she answered with a sad, sad, very small and tiny smile, " I would certainly love to".
Indeed she did, and then baptised my first, the daughter, the one that never made it. And of her daughter, the one that never made it, indeed we met her again, and sooner than anyone in that little train compartment at the time suspected.
But that's a story for perhaps another time.