It somersaulted into the child and then spun and righted itself, yelping in outrage. It roared hatred at the train and the people on it. The dog consigned the train to Hell.
Johnson, the boy, backed away from him. Sunset orange blazed on the side of the car. The woman still hung out of the doorway. Lives east out in Zeandale! God bless, child!
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The air above the train shivered with heat. There was a wuffling sound of fire, and a clapping and clanking, and the brakeman did his dance. All of it moved like a show, farther down the track, fading like the light. The light was low and golden. This was the time of the afternoon the little girl most hated. This was the time she felt most alone.
She held up her white dress to make it sparkle. Her eyes stared and her mouth was puffy. The station had a porch and a platform and a wooden waiting room. The tracks ran beside a river. Dorothy could see no town. She recognized nothing. She pushed the hair out of her eyes. Nothing was right. She was scared, as if there were ghosts in the low orange light.
Mama would have held her hand, or Papa.
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She followed him. Her ticket was pinned to her dress, along with a set of instructions.
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If there was nobody coming to meet her? It had bare floors of fine walnut, wainscoting, a stove, benches. There were golden squares of light on the floor. Dorothy thought. Dorothy was alone.
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This was the time when Mama would lay the table. Mama would sing to herself, lightly, quietly. Sometimes Dorothy would help her, putting out the knives and forks. Sometimes Dorothy would have a bath, with basins of warm water poured over both her and her little brother, Bobo. And they would all eat together, sunlight swirling in the dust as the shadows lengthened. No dinner now. The chairs would scrape on the floor as they were pulled back in a hurry, for cards or for a dance. Papa would play the fiddle. They would let Dorothy sit up and drink a little wine.
People would hold Bobo up by his arms so that he could dance too, grinning. So what happened to little girls with nobody to take care of them? How did they eat?
Would it all be like that trip on the train? The train trip had seemed to go on forever, but this was even worse. She was afraid now, deep down scared, and she knew she would stay horribly, crawlingly scared until dark, into the dark when it would get even worse, until she tossed and turned herself asleep.
Toto sighed and shivered, waiting out the terror with her. The dust moved in the sunlight and the sunlight moved across the wall, and no one came, and no one came. Time and loneliness and fear crept forward at the same slow pace. Then the front door swung open with a sound of sleighbells on a leather strap, like Christmas.
Dorothy looked up. A woman in black stood in the doorway, carrying a basket. Dorothy nodded. The woman smiled and came toward her.
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There was something terribly wrong. The bottom of her rib cage seemed to stick out in the wrong place, and she walked by throwing her hips from side to side and letting her tiny legs follow. As she moved, everything was wrenched and jolted. Dorothy backed away from her, along the bench. Her face was young and pretty. Dorothy told her in such a low voice that Etta had to ask her again.
Etta sat down on the bench some distance away, and began to unfold a red-checked cloth from the basket. Some of the fear seemed to go. Dorothy nodded yes, with her mouth full. Dorothy was not entirely sure if she was a child or an adult. She did not understand the term. She thought it meant people who were between childhood and adulthood. Dorothy mulled the word over. The long arms and the twisted trunk had resolved themselves into something neutral.
Etta went pink. Are you married? It appealed to her sense of order. Dorothy shrugged.