An Excerpt from All Passengers
Slumped in the backseat of the taxi, Edith felt nauseated and ugly. Her coat was creased, her legs were bare, and her tangled hair hung loose about her shoulders. Her head throbbed as she continued to grapple with where she had been and what she had done. “A special place for us,” Edwin had said. The place was nothing but a dump, she thought. How could I have been so stupid, listening to his pathetic talk? The day was a disaster! Mavis was right—I do deserve better than him. I am finished with him. Done!
“Pitt Street, miss,” said the driver.
“Thanks,” she said, handing him a five-pound note. “Do you have the time?”
“Four-thirty,” he said. “It gets dark early.”
“It does. Keep the change,” she said.
“But this is a fiver! Are you sure, miss?” “Yes,” she said.
Pitt Street was busy as usual with shoppers and traffic. She caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window and winced. The belt was missing from her raincoat; it hung loose from her shoulders and flapped against her bare legs. Her hair fell about her face. Her combs and scarf were in her handbag, slung across her shoulders. She took some comfort in the fact that in the diminishing daylight, her disheveled appearance would make her less recognizable to the locals. She walked quickly, deciding that once home, she would make a concerted effort to be kind to her mother. She would apologize to her and tell her that she had been left alone due to a simple misunderstanding. “I honestly just forgot about Lil’s hair appointment,” she’d say. “It will never happen again.” She would make Welsh rarebit for Ma’s supper, her favorite. They would both have a good sleep, and tomorrow they’d feel fine. She could request a leave of absence. Take Ma on a trip—why not? She had heard about holiday places that catered to infirm folks. Perhaps get Uncle Leon to join them; she could dig him out from wherever he was. They could move down south, where it was warmer. Why hadn’t she thought of all this before? Was it any wonder Ma was disgruntled? A change was needed. Things will be different, she decided. I can and will get every- thing sorted out. “No use crying over spilled milk,” Ma would say.
She breathed deeply, and the cool late-afternoon air blunted her feeling of nausea. “I’m actually coming now, Ma,” she whispered, and picked up her pace. At the corner, she waited for the lights to change before turning in to Slattery Street. She kept her head down. Her bare feet slipped in and out of her shoes, and the heels clacked loudly on the pavement. Edwin had sold her these shoes. She shivered and could still feel his grasping hands, smell his mothballed clothes.
“Edith!” someone called, “Edith!” She looked up to see Percy Hobbs, the newsagent, in the doorway of his shop. “I have your weekly—it came early,” he said. “Hang on, I’ll get it.” She waited. Percy returned with her copy of Woman’s Weekly. “She’s a bonny lass,” he said, eying the picture of Princess Diana on the cover.
“She is. Thanks, Percy, I—Ma all right, is she?”
“Oh, she’s fine, you know, the same. I must be off.”
“Bit of a carry-on down yonder,” he said. “Ambulance shot by like a rocket! The missus heard it in back.”
“That’s right,” said Doris Hobbs, appearing in the doorway. “You’re early, Edith.”
“The office was quiet,” Edith said. “Anyway, thanks, Percy. I’ll be seeing you.” She turned, but her shoe didn’t. The heel was stuck between the paving stones. “Oops!” she said, and quickly regained her composure. “’Bye.” Percy removed his flat cap, stroked his head, and said something to Doris. Doris folded her arms and watched the street from the shop doorway. A short distance away, Tom Lott, the butcher, stood in the middle of the sidewalk, cranking back the awning above his shop. He didn’t see Edith, she didn’t see him, and she walked headlong into him.
“Oh, sorry, Tom,” she said. “Whoa! Edith,” he laughed.
“Sorry, Tom.” She covered her mouth. The taste of stale sherry rose from the pit of her stomach. “I’m—I’m so sorry,” she said, forcing a smile.
“No matter. What’s the fuss about down the street?” “No idea. Have to be off! See yer, Tom.”
“See yer, Edith.”
Hair by Hilda was the local beauty parlor. It was the last shop in the row. Edith looked in the window, mindful of the possibility that Lil could be among the roller-headed patrons that stared back at her. Edith didn’t see her. Good, she thought, Lil might be with Ma after all.
All the houses on Slattery Street were semidetached and identical, each with a small garden and gate that fronted the street. Edith’s house, No. 23, was just half a block from the Pitt Street corner. Thank God I’m almost home, she thought, and then stopped abruptly as she drew closer. A crowd of people spilled over the sidewalk and into the street.
“Excuse me,” she said. They stood in groups, some at their front gates, others in the street. The traffic was at a standstill. Darned traffic, she thought, maybe there’s a collision. Percy had mentioned an ambulance. She glanced about before heading for the alley that accessed the back gate to her yard.
“Hey!” a male voice yelled. “You can’t go down there.”
“But I …” It was dark now and impossible to see where the voice hailed from. “Excuse me,” she said, “I need to get—”
“They blocked it off,” a man said. “Better stay out. The police did it.” “Why is it blocked?” she asked, and standing on tiptoe, she tried to see what was happening down the street. She saw a rotating flashing light and heard the strident crackle of a radio that she assumed was from a police car. She approached the crowd on the sidewalk. “Excuse me,” she said to no one in particular, “but I do really need to get through here!”
“Good luck,” a man said. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“It’s a fuckin’ circus,” he said. “They broke in.” “What? Who? I live just down—”
“They found someone,” a woman said. “Cops broke in.”
“Oh my God! I have to … please!” A boy on his bike edged forward, causing people to move suddenly. Edith was shoved. She tripped. Her foot came out of her shoe. She bent down to retrieve it and was pushed again from behind. She dropped her magazine and the shoe disappeared. “Damn,” she said, putting the other shoe in her pocket. After elbowing her way through, she finally got close enough to see the police car that was parked outside Lil’s house, its blue light swooping over the heads of the onlookers and scanning the walls of the houses. Next to it was an ambulance, with its doors open and lights flashing.
“Oh my God!” yelled Edith. “Oh no! What happened? What is this? Let me through!” She felt sick. She was shivering and standing in the gutter. Rainwater was washing over her bare feet. “Wait! Let me … wait!” An arm pushed against her neck and shoulders like a huge lever as she tried to step up onto the sidewalk. “Back, miss,” a police officer said.
“But I—I—that’s my house,” she said.
Follow along as Brenda Foster reads this excerpt from Chapter 7.