NOTE: PLEASE DO NOT REPRODUCE THIS STORY WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING ME AS AUTHOR. TO DO SO WOULD BE BOTH ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL. THANK YOU. Kristy Kamin
Hands by Kristy Kamin
She stared at the clock. It was an old clock. It’s hands seemingly as slow as an old man. Or woman. ‘Why do we always say old man?’, she whispered quietly to herself.
The clock only had two hands, the minutes hand and the hour hand, which is what made it seem so slow because she couldn’t see the seconds with the clarity that she would with a more modern clock which would have the seconds hand steadily creeping around the clock face. This old clock, made of wood and likely the old-style cogs hiding behind it, but still after all these years steadily working, telling people the time.
A whistle blew, a hand grabbed her and started to pull,
‘’Time to go now’ said Mary’s mother.
It seemed as though it was always time to go. Never time to stand still like this. Mary kept her feet rooted to the floor. She didn’t care if her mum said it was time to go, the old clock still had its long golden hand on the five and her mum said when it was six-thirty they had to leave.
Her mum continued tugging, but Mary stayed put. The old clock told her it wasn’t time yet.
‘We are going to miss the train!’ her mother cried, exasperated.
‘It’s not six-thirty!’ said Mary, her lip out.
‘That’s what time the train leaves Mary. Not the time we have to get ready to go on the train!’ her mother said.
Mary held her spot, she didn’t listen to any of the boring words falling out of her mother’s mouth, she just kept staring at the old station clock. The long hand looked as though it may be finally moving now. It was so close to that six.
Mary was up in the air and flying, being held by two hands tightly clamped around her. Mary’s face contorted, she could no longer see the hand, just blurry faces as tears spilled from her eyes. Faces that were ignoring her as they were rushing this way and that. Mary kicked a few times and wriggled in the hopes of dropping out of her mother’s arms. But her mother just gripped tighter. Didn’t her mother understand? She just wanted to see that long, golden beam move onto the six.
“Damn you, mother!” she wailed at the top of her lungs. She knew that the ‘D’ word was forbidden in their family, but she had overheard her mum’s friends say it a few times when they thought Mary wasn’t listening. Mary had never said the ‘D’ word before, but she thought it might make her mother drop her in shock. Which she did – but not until they were on the train.
‘Mary Eve Rose McDonald!’ said her mother crossly. Mary could tell her mother was cross, not because of her tone of voice, which was calm as always, but because her mother used her full name. As her mother was telling her why a fine young girl shouldn’t be so disrespectful of her mother and blah, blah, blah, Mary thought to herself, as she always did when she was in trouble, ‘McDonald is such a silly name to have. it’s like the song Old McDonald had a farm, and although we had a farm when I was in my mother’s belly (her mother told her this when Mary had asked about the whole McDonald thing), the song is not actually about Father and the farm he had’.
This made Mary think about her father again – whom she had never met, and her mother had never mentioned except for ‘He was not a very nice man’ – whom she imagined to be a ‘not very nice man’. Therefore, she always imagined him as a man in overalls – like Old McDonald, even though the song wasn’t about him – chewing straw and kicking the poor pigs or sheep.
‘Old McDonald had a sheep, kick kick, kick kick, kick’, Mary sang in her head, she let out a giggle. She saw her mother ‘harrumph’ and shake her head, and then she was pulled to a carriage where Mary was sat down next to a large, hairy, and rather smelly old man who was already snoring.
As per usual, Mary’s mother was also nodding off as soon as the loud whistle blew and the train slowly started to gain momentum. Mary would have watched the people, and not much later, the fields outside her window, but she was not yet tall enough to reach the window, being that she was currently only six years old. Sitting there watching the snoring old man as her mother’s hand slowly unfurled, allowing Mary’s hand to fall out of her slender fingers, as white as the snow that capped the mountains Mary could not see slowly fading out of sight.
As soon as Mary’s hand slipped out of her mother’s with a soft thwap sound on her lap, the snoring man’s eyes opened as wide as saucers. The first thing the man saw was a blurry looking child sitting between himself and a young woman. He rubbed his eyes quickly with balled hairy fists. His eyes somewhat clearer now, the edges of his mouth curved upward ever so slightly.
‘What have we here’ he said, not really a question. He checked out the girl, she looked very young, dressed quite nicely in a white skirt with those puffs on the end, parents so liked to dress their young children in these days. Her white knitted top made her skin look much darker than it actually was. A half-breed by the looks of it. Never mind, she would still interest his buyers. In fact, she would interest more buyers than usual, as she could be bought as a slave girl, or as an adoptee. Win-win for him.
‘What a fine young specimen you are,’ he muttered out loud. He didn’t mean to, but he was a little too excited for the mighty price he would get for this one.
‘Scuse me, sir?’ Mary spoke. This man, now that he was awake, didn’t seem as innocent as he did when he was sleeping. In fact, now that he was awake, Mary could see that he looked like one of those ‘strangers’ her mother often cautioned her about. He was dressed in a fine black suit, which made him look all respectable, but he had that funny smile on his old wrinkled (and Mary thought a little dirty-looking) face. Mary grabbed at her mother’s limp hand. Her mother groaned funnily in her sleep like she often did through the night if Mary ever knocked into her in whatever bed they were sharing at the time. The kind of groan that said leave me alone, but in groan language.
The old man’s grin widened, just a little.
‘I was saying what a cute little girl you are. What’s your name?’
‘Mother told me not to talk to strangers,’ Mary answered, her voice shaking.
The man laughed. ‘Oh, I’m no stranger. You can just call me uncle Bob. Do you want to hear a story?’
Mary held her mother’s hand all the tighter, shaking her head. The old man moved his bottom half so that he and Mary were now touching. He smelt like old tobacco. Mary’s stomach felt bad. She shook her head, ever so slightly. Because she was trying really hard not to move. She wanted her mother to wake up and take her off the train. But the train was still moving. And from Mary’s past experience, it would probably be moving for a while longer.
‘Of course, you want to hear a story,’ the man said, laughing – or to Mary, it sounded more like a growl of an old angry bear.
‘Once there was this little girl – much like you actually’, and as he said this, the old man rested his right hand on her left knee, it was missing one finger. She shuddered. He patted her leg a couple of times, but still left his aged hand there as he told his story’…
‘And this little girl much wanted to go on adventures, not just be dragged around by her mother everywhere. Even though this girl was little, in her head she was much bigger than she looked. She didn’t want to be stuck on dreary old trains, or in train stations, this little girl wanted to see the big, wide world without anyone telling her when or where she should be.
This little girl met a hairy old man on a train – much like this train. She was at first frightened of him because he looked like a scary old man. And she wasn’t used to old men with their manly smells and their hairy hands.
But this man had been on many adventures, and the little girl could see this. She could see this because his skin was old and leathery, like someone who had been outdoors a lot, and she knew from experience that being outdoors a lot makes you more likely to come across adventures.
After talking with this old man for a while, the little girl knew this was the person she was to be with, because even though the little girl knew in her head she was bigger than she looked, on the outside she still looked like a little girl, and if she were to go on adventures on her own, then she would be taken to the closest policeman to be returned to her mother.
The train stopped at the next town, a town she had never been to, and the old man held out his four-fingered hand to her – another tell-tale sign of a man who had been on adventures, maybe his finger was sliced off during a sword duel in another land. The little girl took his hand and was led to where many adventures awaited her.’
The train Mary was sitting on, stopped then, and the old not-so-scary anymore man arose, taking his hand off Mary’s knee. He held out his four-fingered hand to Mary, bowing ever-so-slightly and said in an almost graceful way,
‘Shall we then?’
Mary held her small shaking left hand towards his, still a little frightened, but anxious for the adventures which awaited her. Maybe this man would let her watch the long golden rod move onto the six.
Her mother stirred; Mary slowly let go of her mother’s hand. She would leave her peacefully sleeping. Maybe when her mother woke up and found Mary gone, she would breathe a sigh of relief and be able to go on her own adventures. Mary again looked toward the man, his lips curling up, but no longer a stranger. He might look a little strange, but he was offering her exactly what she wanted. Mary thought of the little girl in his story, and her head was now swimming with all the adventures she was about to experience.
Mary’s fingers were almost touching his when her mother suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs. The man lunged for Mary, but her mother was now hitting him with her red bag. The red bag Mary had always seen her mother with. The red bag which was only as big as Mary’s large teddy bear – which was inside that bag. Her teddy bear would be getting hurt with all that slamming against that man’s face. That lovely man (Mary had forgotten now that he was once a scary man to her) who was going to take her on adventures.
Mary started crying.
‘Stop mother!’ she shouted between sobs. But now the Railroad Police had arrived and were escorting the man off the train. A feeling of loss, a loss of freedom, a loss of adventure, Mary hit at her mother with tiny curled fists. She struck her mother over and over,
‘Damn you!’ Mary cried. Her mother was looking at her with tears running down her own face, leaving lines of black soot down her cheeks from her eyeliner. Her mother always wore eyeliner. Her mother never cried. This realisation caused Mary to stop crying herself. She sat – or rather fell – back onto the train carriage chair. Her mother sat beside her, pulling a tissue out of the red bag. Mary stayed silent, still in shock to see her mother’s tears. Her mother dabbed the tissue on her cheeks, attempting to remove the blackness.
The whistle blew, and Mary was bobbing this way and that as the train started to move again. The rest of the passengers were also silent, shocked by the commotion only moments before. Mary put her spindly little hands in her lap, squeezing them all the way down between her legs, pushing her white skirt down, so that if it weren’t so puffy, it would look more like pants.
‘That man was a bad man!’ Mary’s mother said so quietly that Mary barely heard her. But this time, Mary was listening very hard. Her mother had been crying, Mary was very interested in what she had to say.
‘I know what a bad man is like. After your father…’ her voice trailed off, Mary could not hear her mother now, the train’s loud whistle sounding again.
‘There must be some sheep on the tracks up ahead,’ Mary thought to herself, and now she was no longer interested in what her mum had to say, or the strange man, or anyone else for that matter, as she was starting to feel sleepy. She allowed the roughness of the train to lull her into a deep sleep, the last thing she heard was her mother’s familiar, ‘harrumph’, and the feel of her calloused hand enveloping her own.