Coal dust seemed to follow them. From the air of one station, to their seat, to the acrid air she remembered so well in York. The entire trip by rail was a blur of eyes met and gazes averted; of the rhythmic lull of the tracks beneath he, and of Molly, who spoke only to ask for something to eat or to go to the bathroom. Lucinda sat up at night as Molly slept. She listened to the sounds around her, of the human life that continued existing. She heard and smelled the effects of humanity forced in confinement: the unwashed, the drunk, the sick. Twice a shadow approached her seat in the darkness. Twice she felt her pulse quicken, her fear turn to fury at having to defend herself. And twice the shadow passed with a nod or a muttered ‘good evening.’
Lucinda felt a shell of resentment and bitterness hardening around her. Mistrust and isolation were like a lance she used to keep the rest of the people at bay. She had known before the voyage that some people couldn’t be trusted, but afterwards she knew with certainty that that sentiment extended to the majority. She’d seen panic crack the shell of cordiality. She witnessed the human animal, and she saw the selfish brutish desire for survival in the eyes of each of those animals. Even in the busy streets she now walked with her daughter she was met with the nods and smiles of those who’s world was immersed in equilibrium, and she felt her resentment steel knowing that all it would take is one misstep in their carefully constructed routine to dash the laws of man.
She fell victim to that law, but she had also enforced it. To get from the passenger quarters to the main deck she had done anything she could to get through any barrier, even when that barrier was flesh and bone.
She once more felt the blood pumping need to enforce this law as she stared hotly into the eyes of her stout landlord. A bearded Scott known only as Haggie.
Her home was locked when she and Molly arrived.
The windows shuttered.
But what infuriated her the most was the signs of life she observed. The smoke curling from the chimney, the boots laid outside the door to not clomp dirt in.
Haggie blinked away sleep, and then raw panic flashed in his eyes as he recognized her. He tried to shut the door against her, his fear driving his actions. Lucinda felt the timber of the door bite into the flesh of her foot through her ill-fitting shoe. She forced the door open with one gloved hand and drew Molly closer to her, half out of protection, and half to get some of the heat that was emanating from Haggie’s apartment.
“Er. you were on the boat.” he stammered. “The ship that sunk.”
“I know.” her voice was like a patch of black ice in the darkness. “And now I'm here Haggie. Let me into my home.”
“Well. The stick in that is.” Haggie’s eyes locked onto hers for a moment, but he couldn't hold her gaze. Lucinda knows bad news is coming. She sees the discarded cans of expensive meat lining the counter, and the chesterfield that sat so dominant in their apartment now welcomes guests in Haggie’s.
He suddenly puffs up, emboldened by indignation at being visited in the middle of the night.
“How the hell was I to know? The papers said damn near no survivors, I’m not just going to wait around and hope, sorry but I’m not a charity. Aye and on top of that it’s past the first of May, Robert’s got family in town I’m certain, go darken their door.” Lucinda watched his face redden, watched his throat spit the words past his yellowed teeth to pollute the air between the two of them. She wondered briefly how that nobby little lump would feel between her thumbs.
Her thoughts are shattered by Molly, who’s voice is stained with tears.
“Daddy’s gone Mr. Haggie, we don’t know anyone in town, can’t we please go home. It’s all mommy and me have been trying to do.”
“Silence child.” Lucinda barks, and Molly’s mouth shuts with a snap. “We’ll not have this man see us beg. Sleep well Mr. Haggie, Sleep well and dream of the coins you make off those beneath you, but understand that if it wasn’t for this child.” Lucinda hugs Molly close to her who has started whimpering quietly, tears streaming down her face. “I would gut you like a lamb and spend the night sleeping peacefully on my chesterfield.”
Haggie blushed and his head snapped towards the swooping woodwork of the seat. Its shadow danced along the wall in the dying firelight. “That’s” he starts, but she silences him with a slap that renders the Scotsman speechless. “Enough.” Lucinda said. She took his momentary shock to snag a woolen top coat from a nearby rack.
“Now it’s a trade, instead of just robbery.” She moved her throbbing foot from the jam and Haggie’s door slammed in his face. She heard the click of his two locks as she descended the wooden stairs to the street. Molly can no longer hold the tears back and she begins sobbing in the street, shrieking that she wants to go home.
Angry shouts join in making a hellish cacophony with her sorrow and she begins pounding her tiny fists against her mother. Two words echo out of her like the drone from a bell tower.
Lucinda takes the blows from her child as penance for her inability to keep her word.. When her thigh has gone numb she manages to clasp both her child’s wrists in one hand, the same hand that hummed from slapping her landlord, and brings the child into an awkward embrace. Moly fights it at first, her breath ragged and raw as she gasps through her mouth, her nose rendered useless from mucus. Lucinda wraps the coat around her daughter’s shoulders and feels Molly buckle, giving into both her sobs and her mother’s embrace.
Lucinda doesn’t know how long they sit in the street. She shut her eyes and listened to the sound of her child’s heartbreak. For a moment she considers breaking into their old home and accosting the tenants for anything the Hessen’s left behind, but her body is weary from the exchange with Haggie, and her mind is already working on what to do next. When she stands she gathers Molly in her arms and walks towards the Second Street Mission. She knows the status attached to a woman and child, and she plans on using it to secure a hot meal and a cot for her daughter.
The wind holds the sting of winter still. In York it wasn’t kissed by spring until Victoria Day. Lucinda buried her face in the folds of the coat she wrapped her daughter in, losing herself momentarily in the scent of woodsmoke that danced through the folds. She stopped only once to redistribute Molly’s weight.The child, secure in the warmth, had fallen asleep. Ahead of her the dark street is empty.