More White Stuff
I woke up with a very strong desire to pee. And a stiff neck! A quick scan of my surroundings confirmed the feeling I had of not being at the Walters, that's right this is Sandy's flat. There seemed to be a strange not quite right glow in the room as I carefully picked my way towards the bathroom or what I thought was at any rate.
An icy blast and a vision of whiteness changed that assumption as I slammed the door shut and shivered with an extra degree or two of cold. I really, really needed that wee now so with renewed focus I leaped across the bodies strewn across the floor and into the thankfully empty toilet.
By the time I exited the bathroom a couple of other huddles of bedclothes were moving.
“Mornin'” a bleary eyed Maddy managed as I returned to my still vaguely warm bedding, “wassa time?”
“Um, seven thirtyish”
“It's snowing again,” I mentioned.
“Just what we need.” Mad moaned.
Well its not like we really have anything planned for today, well I don't anyway.
“Hi guys” Sandy's cheery greeting was far too awake for this time on a Sunday morning.
I snuggled into my sleeping bag but now I'm awake I just feel cold.
“Anyone want a drink?” Sandy offered from the kitchenette.
“Tea please” Ems voice mumbled from a nearby huddle.
“Anyone else, Gaby?”
“Er yes please Sandy” at least it would help warm me up.
Over the next thirty minutes everyone succumbed to consciousness and just after eight a flock of teenagers darted through the snow across to the Jones house where ‘call me Mary' Jones had breakfast on the go, mmmm, it smells delicious.
“Morning girls, breakfast won't be long, help yourselves to juice.”
“I'll give you a hand Mom.” Sandy offered.
On offer was basically what Brit calls a ‘full American', bacon, potato waffles, mushrooms, tomato then there was a plate of pancakes which I must admit were scrummy. At some point Sandy's little rug rat brother Kevin arrived and Mr. Jones appeared only long enough to collect a mug of coffee.
“Mfanwy Morgan, what have you done to your hair?”
I'd forgotten about Rhod's change of hair colour.
“It wasn't on purpose” Em replied, “Mum's gonna go mental!”
“Whoa, whoa! I'm not sure I want to know the detail just now. It does suit you tho'”
I can see why she's a counselor.
“You working today Sandy?”
“Late shift Mom.”
“So you girls got anything planned?”
Well what we did end up doing was fun and practical, a combination of clearing the drive and building a humongous snowman! It was still snowing but only lightly and the activity offset the cold to some extent. By lunch however it was time to go our separate ways, me and Brit were the last as we were going to the diner with Sandy and Rhod, I mean Em, Mrs. W was picking us up later.
When we got to the Diner there was an unexpected complication in the form of Sam. You remember Sam, the would be boyfriend of my girlfriend – he wishes!
“Hey Maddy, I thought you couldn't make it this week?”
Now what do I do? What has Mad said? Whilst I was formulating a reply I was rescued in effect by Brit.
“Sam you idiot, Mad's not here!”
“She is stupid, right next to you,” he turned to Dan beside him in the booth, “girls!”
“Er bro, I think you need to get glasses, that's her cousin, Gaby. Heya Gab, Em.” Dan offered.
“Dan“ I allowed.
“No way” Sam muttered.
“Jerk” Brit stated as the three of us sat in the corner booth.
“You think Mad is keen on him?” Em enquired.
“Well he thinks so” Brit supplied.
“I don't think so.” I added. Was she though? I mean it was clear last weekend that they were quite friendly but was it really serious on Mad's part? I'll have to have a chat with cousin Madeline!
“And that asshole Dan” Brit went on.
“He's not that bad.” I was as surprised as Brit at Rhod's declaration.
“You are kidding right? After last year in Warsop?” Brit pursued.
“We all make mistakes.” Em stated.
“Mistakes!” Brit was almost apoplectic.
“He's quite cute really” Em went on looking across the room towards the boy's booth.
“Well he is”
“What are you guys talking about?” Sandy asked arriving with our drinks.
“Boys” I sighed.
“Don't tell me, Samuel Roberts and Dan Martin?” she suggested. “Mad came to meet Sam last Sunday” Sandy went on.
“She, er said” I put in.
“Have to go, catch you later.”
“Mad's going with Sam Roberts?” Brit seized on this bit of information like a terrier.
“I er dunno, she told me she came to the diner last week and saw him.”
“I'm sure she said Miss Bell took her over there for dinner too.” Em added.
“Well I suppose he is on the basketball team.” Brit allowed thoughtfully.
“You okay Gabs?” Em enquired.
“Um yeah” I busied myself with the hot chocolate Sandy had supplied.
I sort of switched off, Rhod and Brit were having quite a conversation but I wasn't listening at all. A few flakes of snow were drifting down out of the bruised afternoon sky and adding themselves to that already on the ground from last night. My thoughts wandered away from the present….
“He's in my homeroom, he gets a lift home with us sometimes”
“There's nothing going on,” she blurted.
“Really, we just do homeroom together, honest.”
And she wasn't exactly denying much on Monday either. Should I be bothered? Its not like I care really. Who am I kidding? Of course I care! She's my girlfriend. But am I her boyfriend? Now that's a question I'd never really considered before, does Mad see me as her boyfriend or just boy friend? We have had the occasional snog but what does that prove? And we're related. Does that make a difference? Are we just ‘close family'?
“Gabs, Moms here,” Brits voice brought my daydreaming to an end.
“Hi girls, I thought I'd best come a bit early with the weather the way it is.” Mrs W mentioned as she joined us.
“I guess” Brit sounded disappointed.
I checked outside the window, it wasn't heavy but those snowflakes were now descending from an almost black sky and were settling on the cars in the car park as well as coating the tarmac.
“You girls ready? Gaby?”
“Um, sure Mrs Walters.” I pulled my coat on and gathered my stuff together.
“You guys off?” Sandy asked.
“Uh huh” Brit offered.
“I hope they weren't any trouble Sandy.”
“Not at all Mrs Walters, I enjoyed it as much as them.” She replied.
“Well that's good to hear. Tell your Mom hi Sandy”
“Come on then girls, bye Sandy, Merfanwee.”
“Bye guys” Sandy countered which started the usual, by now, round of hugs, air kissing and exchange of farewells.
“Easy on the volume kiddo”
“You have a good weekend?
“Well it was okay. Never guess what?”
I spent ages telling Mum all about Saturdays ride, the Atlanta Winter Classic, the bike and about a minute on the sleepover. Mum was okay about me doing the ride but she was a bit concerned about the whole bike thing with Diane Biggs.
“Look Drew, I'm not very happy about her giving you a bike, especially an expensive bit of kit like that. What if you damage it?”
“But Mum…” I whined.
“I think I ought to speak to this Biggs woman, you have her number?”
“Um no, I could ring Erin and get it?” I suggested.
“You trust this Erin?”
“She knows about you know what.” I allowed.
“Well give me her number and I'll talk with her then.”
I found Erin's card and dictated the number to Mum. I realised that I hadn't even asked her how she was.
“I have to go to the unit tomorrow for a scan”
“Is that good?”
“Its normal Drew. Look kiddo, I'm feeling a lot better this week, I even had a go on the turbo yesterday.”
“Really?” I hate the turbo; I prefer the rollers, its really hard work to concentrate for long its so boring.
“Well to be fair I didn't do much more than turn my legs for quarter of an hour and your Dad went mental.”
“You should be resting Mum” I tried to sound grown up.
“I've been resting for weeks Drew and I am feeling better. I was talking to this woman at the clinic the other day and she said she couldn't hack the sitting around bit either. At the minute she's training to ride from Italy to Yorkshire on a tandem.”
“Really Drew. I'm not exactly up to that just yet but don't write your ole Mum off just yet.”
“Mum! I'd never do that!”
“I know kiddo, look what I'm saying is, I doubt if I'll ever be up to racing again but that doesn't mean I'm finished riding.”
My voice caught in my throat. This whole thing with Mum, its sort of a bit strange, remote. I don't suppose anyone ever really comes to terms with this sort of thing and Mums disappearing and stuff makes it even weirder. What will it be like with Mum around but not racing? She's raced as long as I can remember, well since she was my age actually. If it's weird for me it must be even weirder for Mum, and Dad of course.
“Drew? You still there son?”
“Um yes Mum.”
“You went very quiet?”
“I was thinking”
“Look I'd best get off this phone, I'll ring this Erin person and we'll talk tomorrow okay?”
“Okay, bye son”
“Bye Mum, I love you” I really wanted to give her a hug.
“I love you too Drew.”
It was agony to put the phone down, my thoughts in turmoil, about Mum, about me, about the bike Diane is building for me.
“So dress up warm, we'll be leaving at eight thirty sharp.” Miss Cowlishaw stated after Mondays cheer practice.
As school days go it wasn't bad. The snow finally stopped late Sunday night but unlike at home where it usually disappears by morning it was still as much in evidence even now as it was yesterday. Classes are, well classes.
“See you all in the morning”
“Night Miss” we all echoed.
“Sounds like a bunch of fun” Ally moaned.
“Yeah, three hours on some old train.” Bernie agreed.
Personally I thought it sounded better than going to another bitty museum and Mr Pilling let it slip that it was going to be on a steam train too.
Back at the Walters I collapsed on my bed, with the competition this coming weekend, Miss C and Miss B worked us especially hard today and I ache everywhere.
“Hey Gab, you seen my black bra?”
“In the washing thing?”
“Oh right, thanks sis, um you've not got one I could borrow?”
“Second drawer” I replied without opening my eyes.
How many boys get to lend their sister clean underwear? More to the point, a bra? Not many and I wish I wasn't one of them. What's worse is that Jules seems to be treating me more and more like a sister. In the past, when Gaby has inadvertently made an extended visit she's been, well just about tolerant but still treated me like her brother . This time it's been over three weeks already and she's; well she's treating me like a girl, a sister . I suppose when I'm looking so girly, I've even got my ‘breasts' and the gaff on nearly 24/7, well I guess its sort of natural. Weird, but natural.
“So its alright then?” I hedged.
“I'm still not keen,” Mum stated, “but I'll take what Erin said at face value so yes, you can use this super bike”
“Remember what I said earlier?”
“Put your sister on then.”
Yes! I get to ride the bike Derek designed for me Saturday. I can see Mums concern I suppose but it wouldn't be right if I missed out just because Mum's famous would it? I know that famous people endorse stuff, that's a lot of what Mum was doing at the bike show in Germany, negotiating contracts and stuff, but me using this bike?
The other good news was that the hospital told Mum the scan thing was clear, apparently that doesn't mean she's cured but it's a really good sign. Suddenly life is starting to look up.
“Does this look okay to you Jules?” I asked peering into the mirror at my chest.
“What?” she replied absently without looking up from her Bryson.
“This, look” I turned to face her.
“Wha? You took your boobs off. I sometimes wish I could.”
“What am I looking at?” she sat up to look at my boob less torso.
“This” I squeezed myself.
My sister examined me, poking and prodding at my poor body.
“That hurt?” she squeezed the swelling.
“Geroff! Not hurt exactly, its sort of tender, the other sides the same.”
“Well I can't see anything wrong, you leaving your boobs off tonight?”
“Well I'll check in the morning but I think its just coz you've had them glued on for so long, it's made you a bit sore.”
“That's what I thought.”
“Tell you what, I've got some cream that might help take the sting out a bit.”
“Brrrr!” I said to no one in particular as we waited on the platform.
The snow still coated everything but the railway track itself was clear and it wasn't actually snowing right now, there was even a patch of blue sky to the north. I stomped my feet to keep warm with limited success.
“Gaby, can you stand back from the track please.” Mr P instructed.
“Yes sir”, I shuffled backwards a step as the sound of a whistle rent the air.
I looked eagerly up the track and wasn't disappointed by the approaching leviathan belching smoke and steam as it approached what answered for a station hereabouts. Behind the loco I could just make out five, no six carriages through the billowing clouds and the single headlamp gave the approaching monster a cyclopaedian appearance.
It was just like I'd imagined, well mostly, the thing at the front, cow catcher I think its called, a bull bar for trains, the bell ringing as the monster approached us, the noise increasing to a crescendo as it reached us, steam billowed past us, I even felt its strength as it penetrated my skirts. It screeched to a halt and our teachers ushered us up the steps into the second carriage.
It was a real old carriage just like you see in those old cowboy films. Hard wooden benches supplied the seating except for a bit in the middle where one of those old-fashioned stove things stood. Like moths to a flame we all managed to head to that area, the carriage was frigid and the stove was the only heat on offer.
“Good mornin' everyone, my name's Zachary Wilson, the conductor on this here train.”
Our host went on to tell us about the carriages, the loco, the line we were on and yes, you'd better believe it, we were going to get another Civil War lecture!
With a clunk, shake and whistle, the Alleghany and Rockingham Railroad service S1 departed Pleasant Valley station. It was pretty cool, yes cold as well, as we chuffed along through the snow covered Virginia countryside. Zach kept up an interesting commentary about the tracks history and the renewed interest in commercial use of the line, hereabouts known as the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. We were lucky, he told us, today's train was only running as a trial before the tourist season kicks off in a couple of months. The loco, number 438 is only just out of the repair shop and this is the proving run.
We chugged alongside the interstate for a bit before arriving in Staunton finally pulling into the modern Staunton station. We all climbed down and Zach took us up to see the loco while it refilled the water tanks.
“So kids, before we get back on, can I have a couple of volunteers?”
Well you know the adage as well as me.
“Its in the cause of history, how people travelled a hundred years ago” he offered.
“Go on Gab” Rhod prodded me and I nearly fell forward.
“Well that's one, you are?”
I gave Rhod a look, “Gaby Bond sir”.
“Okay Gaby, if you go along with your teacher Mr?”
“Mr Pilling to the caboose at the end of the train, we'll set things up.”
Why do I get the feeling I'm not gonna like this?
“Come on Gaby, looks like we just volunteered!”
“Yes sir” I agreed as I followed Mr P back down the train.
I was right of course. Mr Pilling and I were now nineteenth century passengers on the A and R Railroad and in the caboose, that's a sort of guards van affair another member of the crew, Mary Anne Babcock, took us in hand. Over the course of the next half an hour as we trundled towards Buffalo Gap I found myself stripping and donning period costume. I might have fancied being a train driver, or even conductor but no, I got a true nightmare.
“My, you look sweet in that Gaby.”
“I don't feel it,” I complained.
“Now don't take on so, I'm sure the other girls would love to be in this sort of finery, come on, lets find Mr Pilling and go back up to Zachary.”
To be fair she was dressed similarly to how I now found myself. Which was way too authentic for me. If I'd just donned a frock it would have been bad enough but Mary Anne had gone all out for authenticity and its not very comfortable! I've no idea what half the garments are even called but even if its not done up tight a corset I do know and the bloomer things are draughty. The dress itself is nothing like I would've imagined, I always thought that Victorian dresses were all silk and stuff but this is heavy cotton with loads of petticoats and buttoned from neck to waist. The whole was topped with a short brocade jacket, hat and a ‘muff'; at least I was reasonably warm.
Mr Pilling looked somewhat more comfortable in his long jacket and heavy coat, in fact I'm sure that apart from his high hat, no one would really give him a second look in modern times – unlike me.
“Oh wow Gaby!” Mad exclaimed.
“You look like the real thing,” Em mentioned.
No thanks to you Rhodri Morgan.
The weather was turning and by the time Zach pointed out Elliot's Knob it had started snowing again. I perched uncomfortably on the wooden bench in my constricting, uncomfortable and voluminous costume cursing my lot and especially Em. The stove was struggling to keep anything beyond ten feet away even remotely warm and I was grateful when Mary Anne produced a huge thermos of veggie soup. We halted briefly at Goshen before pushing on towards our final stop at Clifton Forge. The snow reduced visibility to little more than twenty metres at a guess and 438 slowed to what could well have been walking pace if there had been anything visible to gauge it against.
It was blowing an absolute blizzard by the time we stopped at Clifton Forge.
“Holy caroly!” Zach stated as he returned from the carriage doorway, “it sure is coming down. Jerry don't reckon on moving 438 fur a while so it looks like we all is stuck here at Clifton fur a while.”
“Anyways, we can go into the station and git warmed up, we can worry about getting y'all home from there.” Mary Anne suggested.
It wasn't the easiest thing in the world, climbing down from the train in nineteenth century garb, in fact Mr. P had to help me down. I found I had to lift the skirts up to prevent tripping on them as I hurried after my less encumbered peers through the snow to the little station building.
Being out of season Zach had to unlock the building, which of course wasn't really much warmer than the carriage, we had left behind.
“Let me get the stove going” Zach stated heading to the wood burner against the middle wall.
“There's a bathroom through the other side.” Mary Anne instructed – a file of cold twenty first century teenagers headed straight off.
“Right, stoves going, it'll soon warm this place up, I'll go see if I can rustle up some weather news.”
I had just about defrosted enough to start taking in my surroundings. Those of us not currently waiting to use the toilet were in what I guess was originally the ticket office. Timetables and sepia photo's of the railroad adorned the walls, a sign pointed to the waiting room, which was where Mary Anne had sent those wanting a wee. Zach had gone through into the office and I could hear him talking on the phone although the stove was my main concern at the moment, my legs are frozzed!
“You okay Gaby?” Miss C asked.
“Yes Miss, just a bit cold.”
“I think we all are.”
“Do you think we'll get home okay?”
“Of course we will, Zach seems to have everything under control.”
“So what's it like wearing all that?”
“Okay I guess, it's not that comfortable though, I've got all the stuff on underneath too.”
“My, she's thorough.”
“Yeah” I agreed.
Most of our party was now gathered in the ticket office, and to be truthful the stove was doing a fair job of heating the space. Zach reappeared from the office and joined us as we huddled together.
“Well it looks like the roads are closed between here and Staunton so we might be here a while. I'm just gonna ring the CSX to see if they're running anything northbound.”
“Can I use the phone please Zach?” Mr. P asked.
“Sure, come on back.”
“As we gonna be here for a time we might as well show you the museum.” Mary Anne told us.
She moved like she always wore the full skirts and stuff and in a moment of insight I realised she probably did wear them a fair bit as part of her job on the A&R. I watched how she moved and tried to copy her, I thought I could cope with dresses and skirts pretty well but all these acres of heavy cloth required some different skills.
We followed her through to the waiting room, which turned out to now be a small visitor centre cum museum. It was quite interesting going around the exhibits with Mary Anne; she had real enthusiasm for the railroad like Dad has for his digging. She pointed stuff out and explained things that I'm sure we would've otherwise missed and even though I'm not really into all this Civil War stuff I was getting quite into it the way Mary Anne told it. We were almost done when Mr. Pilling and Zach came through.
“Listen up people!” Mr. P instructed.
“We've managed to organize transport back to Staunton where George will pick us up with the school bus. We're hitching a lift on the CSX that's due through in about fifteen minutes. If you need to use the toilet I suggest you go now as we'll be travelling no frills in the guards van. Questions?”
There were none and this time I joined the toilet queue myself. I was dreading this, hell I need to get changed back into my stuff before we go. I was actually glad of the draughty bloomers in the end, I would never have managed to have a wee with modern knickers on and all this lot as I could hardly bend due to the corset.
I was barely out of the toilet cubicle when Mad shouted me.
“Come on Gab, trains here, I've got your bag”
“Thanks” I replied straightening myself out a bit.
It was still chucking white stuff down in significant quantities as we stumbled across to where the CSX train was briefly paused.
“Okay folks, up you come” a guy who I guess was the guard instructed.
We were barely all on board before there was a clunk and judder, as we started moving. Outside the snow swirled playful about as we settled into the cramped cabin at the end of the train. At least the confined area was warm, Mike, the brakeman as he called himself, was a cheery chap and he entertained us with more modern railway tales as we trundled back towards Staunton through the blizzard.
Somewhere just before Buffalo Gap the white out started to thin and when we turned away from the Shenandoah mountains it pretty much gave up revealing a white landscape as far as you could see. Which was not that far now as it was late afternoon now, I looked at my watch, ten past four. Shit! Sorry about that but I just realised I'm still dressed a la 1900.
“Gaby, what is it?”
“My clothes Miss, I didn't get a chance to change back and I left my stuff on the other train.” I was getting a bit wound up and panicky, I might not like dressing as a girl but I did quite like the stuff I set out in and the thought of losing it…
“Slow down Gaby”, Miss C soothed, “we'll get your stuff back from Mary Anne, don't worry, I'm sure she'd like the stuff you have on back too. And Mr. Pilling is in the same boat too now I think of it.”
“Where are Zack and Mary?”
“They stayed at Clifton Forge with the train.”
The train screeched and growled as Mike applied the brakes talking over his crackly radio and the train slowed to a halt.
“Here we go folks.”
“Thanks Mike” Mr. P stated everyone's feelings on escaping being marooned.
Staunton, although under a thin blanket of snow, was currently under clearing skies and ‘enjoying' minus temperatures. Our guardians marshaled us to the station building where we congregated to wait for George.
“I'm starving” Jules moaned.
Now she mentioned it so was I. I thought back – apart from the cup of soup on the train earlier we've not eaten since breakfast.
“John, what do you reckon?” Miss C asked.
“Well I could do with something.” He agreed.
“ People .”
We gave Miss C our attention.
“As our ride isn't here yet we'll get something to eat while we wait.”
“Kewl” Em mentioned.
“MacDonald's, our treat” Miss C went on.
“Right!” Bernie the burger bunny exclaimed.
Well food's food, even if it is Maccy D's. A couple of minutes later I was having second thoughts as I straightened my skirts in the nauseatingly bright and busy food dispensary.
“What're they looking at?” Ally asked.
“Dunno” Mad replied.
I knew though as I looked around – it was me.
“Heya Scarlet where's Ret?” one wag called out which caused his buds to burst into laughter.
“Come on girls, sit yourselves down.” Miss C prodded us out of the doorway.
I have to admit I probably did look a bit strange – even for round here. I adjusted my rucky on my shoulder and with as much aplomb as I could muster followed the others to a table and flounced into a seat. And discovered again that this outfit is not made for sitting in!
I was conscious that there was a lot of whispering and sly looks from the other mostly school age patrons of the burger bar. Well let them, I bet anyone not in jeans and a jumper gets the same treatment around here.
And to make matters worse, when the food turned up I couldn't manage even as much as pigeon portion, I felt really full after just a few chips, I had to force half a quarterpounder down and had to pass on the fruit pie, humph!
George eventually turned up and we finally started the last leg of today's adventure. I know I got a bit stressed earlier but it was actually a really good day – not that I want to repeat it any day soon! We got back to a freezing Grottoes a bit after six, Jules and I got dropped off about half a mile from home and walked the last bit along the now slippery town streets. It was odd walking in the full skirts but surprisingly warm, I was certainly glad of the muff although I had to be careful, as my balance was a bit off.
I was well glad to finally arrive at the welcoming light of the Walters front porch.
Maddy Bell 11.02.06 © 2006
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