They belong, Temple thinks. They have the stink of belonging wherever they go. This world is their world, and they take possession of every yard they cover, and they run the sun to its grave every night.
POINT COMFORT? Wilson says. He takes off his cap and scratches his head. I think I heard of it. An hour south of Houston, maybe. What you want to go there for?
Maury’s got relatives there.
You sure about that?
No I ain’t.
That boy is sure lucky he ran across you.
I’m just droppin him off. He can’t stay with me.
Uh-huh. He looks at her a good long time, nodding and contemplating as if there were a news ticker going across the surface of her eyes.
Well, he says finally, what you do, you ride with us to Longview, and maybe from there you can hitch a ride south. I know some people.
It would be a kindness of you, she says. My feet were gettin tired of covering ground.
That boy of yours, he like lemonade?
I guess, she shrugs. He’ll drink it, leastways. He don’t like bingberries.
Then she looks at Wilson and feels like she’s been caught somehow but she’s not sure how. He smiles and gazes through the glass at the tracks that roll on before them in parallel lines that converge in the distance.
Like I said, she clarifies, he ain’t no kin of mine.
SHE AND Maury ride in the third boxcar along with some refugees. They are huddled and helpless and look at her through eyes that seem to predict death. They are already gone, these women with their infants clutched to their br**sts, these men nursing their open wounds and wondering what contagion is already spreading through their bloodstream, these sons and daughters of the earth whose spirits have already leaked out through the rips in their flesh and the cankers in their brains.
Temple hates them instinctively. Wilson, like an inadvertent grim ferryman, does not know that what he brings home is a boxcar full of death. And these dead are worse than the meatskins, because they lack even hunger.
She sits in the open doorway of the boxcar and watches the world scroll by. Maury, next to her, turns the die-cast jet over and over in his hands.
Here, look, she says.
She takes it from him and shows him how to hold it from underneath and look at it from the side so that it looks like it’s flying through the air as they move.
You try it, she says. See? See it flying? It looks like it’s going fast, right? But real jet fighters go even faster. They go faster than the sound barrier.
Maury looks at the toy between his fingers, and everything about him goes quiet and peaceful.
You like that, don’t you? Old as you are, I guess you saw a lot of planes when you were a kid, huh? I guess you remember them pretty good. I seen some, but not a lot.
She looks at him, his eyes.
You look like you’re flyin away in your head, Maury. Like you’re movin speedy between the clouds. Me too. Me too.
And she turns her back on the lost and the dead and the trampled down, she leaves them to their airy graves, and she and the big man next to her look upward at heaven and find there not just gates and angels but other wonders too, like airplanes that go faster than sound and statues taller than any man and waterfalls taller than any statue and buildings taller than any waterfall and stories taller still that reach up and hook you by the britches on the cusp of the moon, where you can look and see the earth whole, and you can see how silly and precious a little marble it really is after all.
THE NEXT time the train stops, she takes Maury and climbs into the next boxcar. There are fewer people there because it is less well appointed. In the last boxcar there were mattresses and bottles of water and a worn-out old couch and some chairs. This car is mostly bare. A few of Wilson’s men scale the outside of the cars to come here and sleep when their own car is too noisy. And there are some others here too, men sitting on the boards and leaning against the walls of the car, smoking, their eyes lit up briefly by the cinder between their fingers. And another man asleep in the corner with a Stetson resting on his chest.
She takes Maury by the hand to the dark corner where she might be able to sleep some. She tells Maury to lay down, and he obeys, and she settles next to him and folds her hands under her head and waits for the rocking of the train to put her to sleep.
In her dreams, there is a man. At first she thinks it’s Uncle Jackson, because he comes and puts his arms around her and behind him is Malcolm. But the way Malcolm is looking at her, she knows something is wrong. He looks fearful, and she wants to tell him that there’s nothing to be scared of. But he points to her forearm that’s still wrapped in an embrace around Uncle Jackson’s back, and she looks and she sees that boils have surfaced all over her skin, and she thinks, That’s funny, I must be dead already and I didn’t even know it. And then she tries to apologize to Malcolm, because he is right to be afraid of her, because she realizes that she would eat him given the chance, that she would eat him all up starting with his cheeks—and that the hunger to consume, she would like to tell him if she could, is not so different from the hunger to protect and keep, or maybe it’s just her own perverse mind at work. But then Uncle Jackson’s arms get tighter around her, and she realizes that this man has a beard whose scratchy hairs are tickling her face, and that Uncle Jackson was always clean-shaven, and that the man holding her isn’t Uncle Jackson at all. And she starts to say, Wait Mose, wait Mose, but she can’t say anything because Moses Todd is squeezing all her breath away because she’s a meatskin and the only things Moses Todd hates more than Temple herself are meatskins, and so it stands to reason that he should want to squeeze the life out of her and that Malcolm should be fearful of her—it all stands to reason—
And when she opens her eyes, it’s true, there he is, Moses Todd, bending above her in the boxcar, saying, Well, look who it is!
And with an instinctual violence, she strikes out, landing a quick punch on his jaw, then rolls out from under him and stands.
Whoa, he says.
But she’s already on top of him, grabbing him by the neck and poised with her other hand quickly unsheathing the gurkha and raising it for a kill strike.
Whoa there, he says, shrinking from her, holding up his hands in submission. Easy, darlin. It’s me. I ain’t gonna hurt you. It’s me, Lee.
Her eyes clear in the dim light of the boxcar, and her mind clears of the phantasms of sleep, and she notices that all around her other men have risen to point guns and other weapons at her.
It’s okay, says the man who she has by the throat. He says it to everyone else in the boxcar. I just startled her is all. That’s what I get for wakin a dreamer.