[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…In this episode (7.1) Letitia and Wilhelm board the Princess of Tasmania bound for Melbourne.]
The Princess of Tasmania towered over the tedious queue of cars. Cars and some trucks, flanked one side of the Mersey River, waiting patiently to be uploaded. Not one vehicle seemed to be moving, and the long line just seemed to be getting longer, stretching into the distant blur on the horizon. The faces of the unfortunate occupants were gridlocked into grim expressions of determination or abject resignation that the next few hours of their lives would be spent sitting in the car and waiting for the ferry to swallow them up. There were, some enterprising fellows who reclined against their Holden or Ford Utes and puffed on their cigarettes.
From the vantage point of the deck, Letitia and Wilhelm cast pitying glances down upon their fellow car-jammed passengers. Boarding was a simple affair in the company of Wilhelm. After disposing of his Aston Martin in the care of a steward who looked after cars belonging to the rich and privileged, Wilhelm and Letitia presented their tickets to the ticket officer, and then simply walked onto the boat via a firmly fixed wooden slatted plank. While the masses languished in the linear car park below, the few car-free passengers scattered themselves sparsely around the sunny edges of the ferry or sought their cabins for comfort.
Letitia leaned on the thick metal white rail and basked in the soft southerly breeze that took the sting out of the late afternoon summer sun. The cavernous mouth of the ferry had not opened yet and the queue of vehicles kept piling along the side of the river far, far into the distance.
Directly below her, sat a Kombi Volkswagon housing a hippie couple and a pair of feral children. Well, they certainly were acting feral. Letitia reckoned to Wilhelm that waiting in a traffic line for hours on end would do that to anyone, especially kids. One of the dirt-smeared youngsters had climbed on top of the van with the family’s pet dog, a Jack Russel, and was attempting to tan himself. The problem was that the boy could not lie still long enough for the sun’s rays to catch the patches of skin that weren’t dirt blocked. A small girl in little more than grubby shorts and a singlet joined her brother on the roof and a tussle on the hot tin roof ensued. The mum, head clad with a brightly coloured beanie risked creeping forward the van to sort out her charges. Letitia tried not to stare directly at them from the deck in case she embarrassed the family. But she just had to point at the van and laugh, ‘What has become of the dog, Wilhelm? I wonder if dogs are even allowed on the ferry. How do you reckon the Kombi crowd have advanced this far with the dog in tow?’
Then she spotted the dog a few car lengths closer to-the-yet-to-be-opened opening of the boat and peeing with much satisfaction on some unsuspecting victim’s car tyre. Letitia looked back to the van. The kids were off the roof and squirming discontentedly in the hot car with only natural air-conditioning (open windows) to keep them cool. An older emissary, flowing long brown hair adorned with a red and brown headband and John Lennon glasses, hopped out the olive-green Kombi, and then wended his way in and out of the car jam in search of the dog.
Letitia never did find out the end of the hippie family’s story. After Will had excused himself in search of a toilet, a blonde girl with more make-up than sense began sneering at her.
Letitia locked eyes with the girl and pointed at herself. ‘Me? What did I ever do to you?’
But, she knew. Her dark skin tones marked her. Alien.
A midget-sized freckle-faced boy had sided with the blonde girl and together they made a formidable team ganging up against Letitia. She had never heard so much colourful language in her life, except perhaps when Jemima was asked to grow her shaved head of hair in Year 7 when she was thirteen. By 2017, in Mirror, shaved heads were the norm. Oh, that’s right! It’s not 2017, apparently; the date is sometime in January 1967. Letitia sighed and murmured to anyone near who would listen, ‘I didn’t realize how rude children can be, even in 1967.’
The evil duo were doing their worst to get a reaction out of her. She was almost embarrassed for them as they began cavorting before her, for her exclusive benefit with suggestive, rude gestures. Letitia thought, Are they for real? I cannot repeat what foul words are coming from their mouths.
The girl proceeded to hold up her cheap plastic camera, aiming it in Letitia’s general direction. Then she screeched, ‘Get out of my way! You’re ruining my picture!’ Followed by a barrage of insults aimed at Letitia.
The boy then raised his voice above the profanities. ‘Nice dress, Miss Fahrer, did you get it at an Op shop?’
‘What?’ Letitia glared at this menacing midget. ‘How did you know…’
The tart of a teenage girl minced up to her, still holding up the camera, and spat out the threat, ‘My mum’s going to get you for failing me in Science, Miss Fahrer!’
‘What? You must have the wrong person—I mean, teacher,’ she said. Me, teach science? Now that’s a joke! Or, is this what this world’s Letitia did? Teach bratty kids?
‘You can’t get out of it that easily!’ the boy sneered fiercely. ‘There’s only one Miss. F ‘n that’s you! ‘n you know it.’
‘They should sack you, Miss F. My mum is going to get you sacked for – for – for—how come youse are so dark?’ The girl bared her buck teeth as she poked Letitia’s shoulder. ‘Too much baby oil and suntanning, eh?’
‘Yeah, right,’ Letitia replied. ‘The sun’s strong down south in Tasmania.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ she snorted. ‘What give’s you the right to give me a detention for my skirt being too short? Huh?’
‘You’re just a perve!’ the cheeky boy added.
‘Yeah! Perve!’ the girl repeated. ‘And, what’s with the French accent? Why are you putting on a French accent? You sound so stupid!’
‘Er, I think you’ve mixed me up with someone else. I’ve never taught in my life.’ Letitia began to back away from this troublesome pair, searching for an escape.
A woman’s sharp voice stabbed Letitia verbally in the back. ‘That much is obvious.’
‘Yeah, I was just, just telling them, that they, that they have the wrong…’ Letitia turned and stammered to a grown up and more weathered version of the teenage vixen.
A cigarette hung precipitously from the stale yellow fingers, and the rotting plaque covered teeth ground angrily at her. ‘No, we have the right ‘un. My daughter worked bleeding ‘ard and what did you do? But fail ‘er!’ The woman with straw hair dark roots showing, jabbed the air with the cigarette butt and ash fell onto Letitia’s dress.
‘I’m very sorry for your daughter’s misfortune – but, but I – I mean – you’ve got the wrong person. I’m not a teacher. I never have been. I’ve been living in France.’
‘I’m goin’ to get you sacked! You’ll never teach again.’ The mother aged beyond her years to even be a mother of this teenage girl, hammered her fist at Letitia.
‘Fine. Go ahead. See if I care!’ Letitia replied and then darted past the wheezing woman. Before they could again accost her, she ducked through the nearest door, climbed several sets of stairs and raced along the narrow maze of cabin passages.
Finally, Letitia had found her cabin. After several nervous jabs at the hole with her key, she unlocked the door and bolted into her room. There she sat on the edge of the bunk in an effort to regroup her thoughts. She trembled. A rising sense of nausea overwhelmed her.
She rifled through her purse and popped a couple of travel-sickness pills Will had bought her at the local chemist in Devonport. Then she lay on the bed. The heat of the sun through the salt encrusted porthole made her stuffy and ill. She closed her eyes to ward off the urge for the complimentary paper bag.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021
Feature Photo: On Deck, view of Mersey River, Devonport © L.M. Kling 1998