"And I said I didn't want to go to no box car soiree full of strangers," Stinging Polly Papercuts complained. "I don't even like going to parties where I know everyone - and my cuts are killing me, today."
|Looks legit. Hey - maybe they'll have lobster rolls! Photo by [Maris] - 2004|
"Oh hush. This isn't your run of the mill box car party. You'll love it. Hey - have I mentioned that the river we're running along is the Passagassawakeag?"
"You're a Passagassawakeag," Polly said with her signature ooh that stings clenched-teeth hiss. "If you were any kind of friend, you'd have left me to sleep in the woods. I'd be happy to hear all about the grand time you had at the party - tomorrow."
"Nope. You need this. Trust me," said Betty, The Exorcist. "Besides, maybe I feel like you kinda owe me one. Hurry up..."
Stinging Polly Papercuts did kind of owe Betty one. A decade ago, when she was still Pollyanna Archer, a hobo virgin in every way, having just joined Hobo Nation, Betty performed one of her namesake "exorcisms" on Polly, and since had claimed to have saved her life. In reality, all Betty had actually done was misquote a few Bible passages, make some weird noises, and wave her arms around for a few minutes, and then declare that the nonexistent "demon" in possession of Polly's mortal soul (which here means hiccups) had been successfully "exorcised."
Even then, at the age of fifteen, Polly recognized this exercise as the complete and utter bullshit that it was. She had learned to spot such nonsense at an early age. Her father had been a philandering preacher in the 1920s, and had he been half as good at avoiding being stabbed by his wife as he was at cherry-picking the Bible to rationalize his behavior, he might have lived to stop Polly from becoming a hobo. But he wasn't, and he didn't. And so, two weeks after her mother died of acute early-onset tax accountancy, Pollyanna hit the road with all that she could carry, found train tracks that stretched westward from her New Haven home, and reinvented herself as one of the toughest New England hoboes of the 30s.
Until she became possessed by the hiccups. At first, they hadn't bothered her at all. She had survived being caught in a whirlwind of discarded papers, outside a Newbury school on the last day of the Spring term, and went weeks at a time without so much as a mention of the searing, stinging discomfort that resulted. But the hiccups kept her awake, and she loved her sleep like a junkie loves her junk. Hence, her willingness to let Betty "exorcise" her demon. It didn't help at all; she knew that the hiccups had simply gone away on their own - but she had made a friend. They had scarcely been apart in the ten years since.
But now her cuts were barking at her, and her friend was being weird. She emitted pained little grunts as she hurried after Betty, stopping short when she saw the box car. "That? That looks like a place where livestock goes to die, Bet. I wouldn't pull that door open on a dare."
Betty The Exorcist stood on tiptoes next to a noisy wooden box car that looked as if it might disintegrate with the next stiff breeze. She knocked three times. The garrulous sounds from within stopped, and amid a chorus of shushing, a deep, rough male voice said, "What."
Stinging Polly Papercuts dropped her sack on the gravel ballast and groaned, "Come on, Betty. I don't think we should be here. Let's just leave..."
"Oh, don't be a stick in the mud. Come on..." The door creaked open an inch or so and paused a moment, before grinding and scraping its way to a less-unwelcoming fifteen inches of dark openness. Betty and Polly strained to see inside, but could not.
"Betty? Betty, The Exorcist?" a voice said from inside. "Hey fellas - it's Betty, The Exorcist! And she's got a woman friend with her. Come on in, ladies!" A grubby hand popped out of the darkness of the car and carefully pulled each woman up, in turn.
It wasn't nearly as dark as they had expected, as there was a small fire burning in an old oil drum, and several panels of the car's roof were gone. The interior smelled of woodsmoke and cooking meat and beans, and there were easily thirty hoboes - mostly men - standing around, talking and laughing and drinking homemade hooch.
Polly and Betty found said hooch, and quickly began to relax. In fairness, Betty was already pretty relaxed. They ate and drank and exchanged stories with their fellow hoboes, and Polly Papercuts managed to forgive her friend for dragging her here.
"You think you forgive me now?" Betty laughed, taking Polly by the hand and leading her through the revelers to one of the corners of the box car, where a dirty and poorly-lit, but clearly tall and handsome hobo stood, by himself.
"Betty..." Polly protested.
"Shush. Stinging Polly Papercuts," Betty announced, "I'd like you to meet Talmidge, The Bactine Bearer. Talmidge - this is Polly."