The sway of the train car made her torso undulate like the belly dancer I’d seen on a Youtube video last week. Despite the soft blush color of her dress, she didn’t look drab. There was something exotic about my aunt. Her black hair and pale skin complimented her narrow face and smooth complexion. She came and went without notice. Except for the unlikely swell of steam bursting with a wet hiss from the locomotive, it might have been a normal day.
“What happened?” My voice cracked even though I willed it steady. The almost imperceptible tightening of her mouth said she found my fear amusing.
She laid long fingers on my forearm. “Calm yourself Joseph. This is our way.”
I didn’t understand what the hell that meant. Blind Mary enjoyed being a damn cipher.
The first time I saw her, at age ten, I knew she was a freak. I’d avoided her in the mad disarray of events. She had always been at hand. Too close, observing him, as if she could see. He’d found it strange that both she and his uncle were blind.
Was it catching?
She’d left a week later. Just walked through the door and disappeared into the night. His parents didn’t seem to worry, and Uncle Bart had told him to go to his room. He had.
Yesterday Blind Mary had reappeared. She seemed to materialize out of nowhere on the front porch, emerging from the ether of the summer night. A single bag and a shawl slung over one arm, as though a southern refugee in the aftermath of the War Between the States.
Tiny round purple lenses hid her sightless eyes, but you’d never know she was without sight. She’d none of the awkward mannerisms of his uncle. Like an old man, he waddled down the halls of the creaky house, one hand trailing the faded wallpaper, his cane tapping out a muted rhythm on the tiles. Blind Mary walked with grace, her lean figure moving like a dancer. She carried no cane. She never trailed her fingers along a surface or used touch for identification. She was ageless.
Sometimes I thought she saw, even though the vacant pale blue eyes behind the glasses were filled with emptiness. Like her heart.
I shivered and she withdrew the hand. When she’d walked toward the porch this morning, I’d followed. Curious of how she traveled, expecting to find a waiting taxi, I slipped out the door behind her. I remembered the latch clicking shut behind me, registered the whoosh of sound in my ears, and experienced a disorientation lasting a full long minute. The sensation reminded me of the woozy effects of the bourbon I snuck behind the summer house last Labor Day barbecue. Nausea and chills filled me.
A piercing whistle spiked through my head. I blinked. I was sitting on a train, a hard wooden bench beneath my ass. The smell of wood smoke and sweat permeated the air. Rough wool trousers encased my legs, sturdy boots studded my feet, and a collarless shirt buttoned down my chest. I scuffed palms down my thighs, registering the muscles retract, fighting the sense of rightness.
“Where are we?” I might as well have asked when. By the look of things, here appeared to be the nineteenth century.
Don’t think about that.
A breath of laughter slid between Blind Mary’s thin lips. “We’ve come to collect your sister.”
I froze. Amelia, six years older than me, went missing at seventeen.
I’d turned sixteen a week ago. “Amelia’s gone.” Effort pushed the words out of my mouth.
The same statement had been repeated hundreds of times. It was the litany of social workers, liaison officers from the local police department, and well-meaning neighbors. Each insisting the family must accept the inevitable. No one suggested Amelia had run away from home. It always bothered him, as if someone knew what had happened.
Blind Mary held out a rectangle of paper. The violet tinted glasses reflected a distorted outline of my shape.
I suppressed a shiver, reached out and took the offering. Turning the photograph around I glanced down and an icy trail inched up my spine.
“Amelia has been found.” Blind Mary said.
The picture, more than a century old, displayed a trio of people. We three. I sat in a chair with my back to the photographer, a traveling hat atop my blonde head. Amelia perched at my side, her dark hair twisted up, looking older and prettier, so like our mother. Blind Mary stood guard, her intense gaze challenging the camera. The broom in her hand sparked an association of witchery and just now, I would consider anything possible.
Dazed, I whispered Amelia’s name.
“We’re approaching the station.” Blind Mary flicked her fingers in my direction. “Put on your hat and coat. You want to make a good impression.”
I had the unnerving sensation that I was the one without vision. The train slowed. The shriek of the whistle and the squeal of iron wheels scraping against the track drowned out all other sound. I grabbed the side of the bench as the car lurched. Trees flashed past the window and then buildings. A moment later the train shuddered to a halt.
A plume of steam obscured the view of the platform.
I climbed unsteadily to my feet. The soles of my boots sat unaccountably familiar on the floor. The texture of the black coat, as I slid my arms into the sleeves, was comforting.
Blind Mary waited at the sliding door with one hand outstretched. “Come along, Joseph. We’ve much to do before the photographer sends us home.”
I took a step forward, wrapped my fingers around hers and let a blind woman lead me into the past.
Flash Fiction Challenge: The Unexplainable Photo @ www.terribleminds.com