The woman composed herself, nesting her hands in her lap.
"That's the bit of good news. You can't miss 'em. They got eyes like cats and tails that grow out the back of their heads and down the length of their bodies. Front teeth like rats and skin so yellow and oily if you ever got hold of one, he'd slip right through your fingers." As the woman spoke, Addie tried to conjure the monster being described. She'd never seen anything like it, and she wondered, if they were so terrible, why they weren't gotten rid of. She asked the woman as much.
"They import them from California to work in the coal mines," she said. "Those devils are so used to living underground they don't mind the dark one bit. I bet if they didn't have to eat they'd do it for free."
Addie was beginning to sum it up. "How long does it take to train one?"
"I'm sure I have no idea." The woman was becoming impatient.
"Well," Addie continued, "you ever come face-to-face with one yourself?"
"I certainly keep my distance." She assumed a prim posture. "And if you know what's good for you, you will too."
Addie assured the woman she had no intention of getting anywhere near a coolie, and that she was grateful for the information.
Then they sat for a few minutes without a word between them while Addie thought about the warning. Maybe if she could get a rope somewhere she could catch one and train it. She'd once seen a man with a dog that wore a pink skirt and balanced on a large blue ball. Maybe people would pay to see a coolie do the same thing.
Maybe a coolie was no worse than a cat if you trained it right. The woman looked at Addie with obvious pity. "I didn't mean to worry you."
"Oh, I ain't worried. I was just wondering how I might catch one and keep it for a pet."
"Young lady," she said sternly, pressing so close to Addie's ear she felt the warmness of her breath. "I'm pretty sure no John is going to want to be your pet."
"John?" Addie was confused. "I'm talking about a coolie." The woman sat up and rolled her eyes, exasperated but catching on. "John Chinaman, dear," she said loudly. "John Chinaman. That is a coolie."
"You mean all this time you been talking about men?"
The woman harrumphed. "I wouldn't go that far."
The approach into the station seemed to Addie to be exceptionally slow. By then her stern seat companion had moved to another part of the car. The woman had filled Addie's mind with a fear of coolies, a fear of miners, indeed, and a general fear of the Territory. And now the train had become a slug on the tracks, prolonging whatever it was she was about to encounter. It was as if the rails were covered in glue, allowing every stand of brush, every rock, to become a dubious welcome party. To her right was the closest thing to a mountain she'd seen since just before Laramie. The land was more boxed in here, but only in relationship to the uninterrupted expanses that preceded it. Rock Springs itself was mostly an unsteady collection of wood buildings that looked to Addie like they'd skimped on nails and paint in the building of them. Finally the train came to a halt, and when she stepped off, she found she was just one of a handful stopping here. It didn't surprise her that most of the others were headed farther west. There was no sign of her brother on the platform, or at least that's what she thought until a man called out her name. Tommy had changed a lot in eight years. His hair hung to his shoulders and a beard had cropped up in uneven clumps. She couldn't see his mouth for the mustache hanging over it. Everything about him had gotten more extreme, she thought, shoulders broadened, the pace of his step, and the length of his stride. Back home walking through the woods taught a person to tighten up and pull in, but the Territory's openness seemed to allow a person's limbs to swing about as they pleased. The surprising set of changes in her brother made Addie wonder if this is what the place did to people and if she had any say in it all.
Excerpted from Take Me Home by Doris Haddock. Copyright © 2010 by Doris Haddock. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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