Some of the men ask about my sewing. Mr. Baker breaks off from pig talk and points at my lap.
"And what useful item are you making there, Miss Finnegan?"
I hold the lace netting out to him.
"Ah, a veil." His whiskers dip and bob as he speaks. "Do you have a sister getting married?"
"I have no sisters."
Mary covers the marriage terrain for me as we lie on our bunks. It amuses her so I feign interest. Sister Crock is already snoring loudly in the next compartment. Mary starts with the older, portly men and works down to the more likely. Many of them are damaged, either by the war or by work. Several have lost fingers. Mr. Plattfuss has a glass eye. Mr. Baker has a glass eye and an ugly, dragging scar across his cheek where a sharp fencing wire has danced upon him. All of the older men, that is older than thirty, have sun-roughened skin and thinning hair. Mr. Pettergree, the new soil and cropping expert, seems to be some sort of scientific recluse. He never comes to the sitting car and we have seen him only from a distance.
"And what think you of the Asiatic?" Mary asks me with mock formality.
I laugh, but the truth is I think of Mr. Ohno a great deal. I imagine him standing in the poultry car taking off his jacket. He hands it to me so I can study its strange seams and creases. Then I can't help but lift it to my face.
Only one of the men is beautiful -- Mr. Kit Collins from horticulture. Mr. Kit Collins has large green eyes and curly hair. He is an expert on the pruning and irrigation of fruit trees. On rest days when the men play cricket in a paddock next to the train, Mr. Kit Collins always switches the ball for an orange, and the batsman always pretends he hasn't noticed until after the orange has been hit and flies mushily through the air.
Copyright © 2005 by Carrie Tiffany
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