When she had arrived in late September it would have been a foolish, prideful exaggeration to call the cluster of tents and cabins a town. Now the November air chilled nearly a hundred rough made cabins, two general stores, a saloon, a hotel and hundreds of families in tents racing the arrival of winter to put up their own huts, and call them home. The crisp fall air was colder every night. The steaming wash water was more welcome each day. More of her time was spent hovering over the kettles now, rubbing the cold off her thinly clad arms.
She knew no one here by name and she didn’t care. She kept her head down and washed their wretched clothes, letting the world go on around her if it must, or to the devil if it would.
As the pouch she wore around her waist under her apron grew heavier, she took comfort in its weight. It was substantial evidence of something gained to counterbalance all she had lost. She did not yet know what use she would put them to, but it comforted her to know the coins were there. They were not yet enough to put a roof over her head, but the few supplies she bought with them kept her from starving. Someday, they would purchase for her a better life than this.
She swished the shirts in the hot water and felt her face sweat; lifted them on the end of the stick, dropped them into the rinse water and felt the ache in her back. Straightening to ease her back, the cold air chilled her face and stung her red, chapped arms. Ha! No one would be remarking on her looks today.
She shoved a lock of hair off her face. Plumped up by the steam and agitated by the constant scrubbing it was always in her eyes, and she was too tired at the end of the night to comb it out properly. It didn’t matter. Except for occasional forays into the one general store that had the lowest prices, she never saw anyone who wanted anything from her but laundry, and that was just as well.
No one to talk to meant no one to ask questions she didn’t want to answer. No one to ask how and why a sixteen year old girl turned up at the edge of town in a cut down wagon pulled by two mismatched mules, alone. No one to ask her to relive things that had happened and couldn’t be changed. It was just as well. It wasn’t a story that improved with the telling. And if she’d cried, which she certainly would have, the November wind would just have frozen those tears on her face. Better they remained inside, where she could pretend they didn’t exist.
© 2017 Christine Pinto