Chapter 10: Gayla

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He never did say a word about the haircut, and resumed his stern “Captain face” directly after his outburst of laughter. That night in his—our—cabin he stood behind me and ran his hands through the short curls as if assessing them… But never said a word, just picked up my hairbrush and made the much briefer job of brushing it.

The trousers were a different matter, though I sensed his resignation even when he raised the topic, and pressed my advantage. I did have practicality on my side, and he knew it—however his sensibilities were outraged. And they were. “Woman, I can see your shape!” I retorted that it’s the shape God gave me, and that for that matter, I could see his shape, and that of every sailor, and survive a day without paroxysms of lust. I understood his point, though. Even the shapeless duck trousers whose fit felt so ridiculous to me were far more revealing of my lower half than any acceptable women’s clothing here. He’d have a fit if he could see me in designer jeans.

I’m clutching that hairbrush in my pocket right now, remembering how I nearly jumped to take it out of his hand when he picked it up on our wedding night, protective of the precious cargo stowed in its hollowed-out handle. I disguised my reaction as a simple start, fitting enough given my nerves at the time—but I remember my clenched fistful of skirt in that moment, echoed now by the same fist wrapped around the hairbrush. At least this time I know a bit about the Travel, though. Last time, for all my attempts at preparation, I didn’t even know for sure that what I wore would come with me.  All the gold jewelry I wore (knowing it would translate to the only funds I would have) and even the hairbrush handle, bearing the only hope I can imagine of surviving an upcoming mid-sea splash into the waves of the Bermuda Triangle…

I’m deliberately shying away from that thought, but at the same time I’m standing here at the rail and dreading it. Last time I had no idea of the mechanics (like whether the things I carried would travel with me) but I had reason to believe in the outcome. I even had reason to believe I’d know where I’d land—as outlandish as it was, it made fodder for a gossipy mention in the “sophisticated” Times, which relished scandal. “Traffic on Orange Street was disrupted yesterday by the unfortunate accident of a Miss Gayla Harper, who somehow stumbled into a manure cart and required rescue.” I snorted. “Required rescue” was an overstatement, but there had certainly be no lack of willing hands attached to snickering and curious faces. And at least one face that seemed distinctly troubled, no doubt unable to put together how I had managed to “stumble” into the cart. Or maybe why I was already soaked (from a thunder storm) when the weather here was perfectly dry, and the manure hardly less so.

In actuality, of course, I had appeared in it—falling, it felt, as if from a distance of a few feet… But to any eyes that had been truly watching in the moment, I’d have appeared out of nowhere. I was particularly grateful for a young man attached to one of the helpful hands, who interviewed me as to my name and circumstances. I knew I needed that clue to make its way into the paper if I were going to find it and get myself to that street that morning. I garnered far more stares at that end than I did even in the manure cart, dressed as I was for a different century, and pacing nervously on the block of Baxter (formerly Orange) that I’d staked out for myself. It was the third year in a row that I’d done so on that date, and I didn’t know whether to be discouraged or relieved when nothing had happened the two years previous.

I still have no more idea now than I did then of how this works. I’d researched everything from Einsteinian theories of time to New Age claims about ley lines, and come up with nothing I could consider certain. All I had was the proof that I had Traveled (would Travel), and the reason why I believed I needed to, and the lean collection of clues about when and where.

The reason I needed to. Reasons, really. How can I leave them? But what choice do I have? I don’t know how to stop what’s coming. If I could be sure of safe arrival, I’d take Bethia with me. I wouldn’t be interfering with any genealogy, and it has crossed my mind that perhaps that’s why she doesn’t appear in later records. I wish again that I’d been able to unearth Obadiah’s journals; the Ship’s Log doesn’t even mention the kids being aboard, so I have no clues there.

But I don’t dare take her. Instead of landing in a safe manure cart tonight, I expect to splash into the frigid Atlantic, with no more hope of rescue than an eight-year-old Coast Guard rescue beacon hidden in a hairbrush handle. Still, I wish I could give her a future. Give her the future. I wish I dared try it.

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