They sat next to the window and facing each other. An old rickety table separating them, their heads down, eyes scanning their books, lips pursed in an attempt not to erupt in uncontrolled mirth. The woman next to Laura had her head on Laura’s shoulder, and her mouth was wide open.
Clouds tinged with red and yellow sped past, and the train clattered relentlessly over jumbled piles of back garden. Clothes pinned with wooden pegs hanging like ghosts before their window for a split second before being whisked away by relativity. Time twisted and changed and distorted things. A man walking forward appeared to be rewinding himself backwards as they shot by. Like a pair of bullets from a pistol.
Each time the train lurched to the right or left, the woman sleeping soundly on Laura’s shoulder gave a little shuddering snore.
Laura glanced out of the window, then at Mary. Her friend’s dark eyes still scanned her book, not seeing any words, and Laura goaded her with a glare she knew Mary could see. When she finally looked up, both girls erupted, their books falling from their hands. The sleeping woman jerked into consciousness, and rubbed her cheek crossly. She drew her shawl over her shoulder and sniffed. Other passengers looked curiously at the two girls. One woman across the aisle tutted loudly. Another man began to smile, as though he were in on the joke.
The train drew to a stop. Both girls got up, legs shaking, and still giggling they stepped onto the platform.
‘Aunt Martha said she would be here,’ Laura said, taking her friend’s hand and tucking it neatly in the crease of her arm, clearing her throat and blinking the tears from her eyes.
‘She said nothing of the sort to me,’ Mary retorted, but allowed Laura to lead her off the platform and into the wide station. They both glanced about, suddenly looking quite small under the colossal ceilings.
‘She wrote last week. She said she would be here.’ Laura was firm. She tapped her foot.
‘Oh Laura. That woman. She was drooling on you!’
Laura began to laugh again. ‘Don’t!’ she pleaded, ‘I don’t want to laugh like this in front of Aunt Martha. She will think me most improper.’
‘You are improper! The way you carried on in that train. Very unladylike.’
‘Anyway,’ a toss of her curls, ‘Laughter is befitting a young woman. It’s vitality. I hope I shall always laugh, snooty aunts or not.’
‘Speaking of snooty aunts…’ Mary cautioned with a whisper, and then began to wave heartily at a little lady who was tottering towards them at a pace which defied her height and stature. Behind her, a tall figure hurried to catch up with this small, round fast-moving woman.
‘Snooty aunts and your brother!’ Laura whispered back, and she waved also, a bright smile suddenly transforming her features.
‘What are you smiling about?!’ snapped Aunt Martha, who, upon reaching the two girls deemed it appropriate to straighten Laura’s bonnet and tighten Mary’s collar ribbons. She inspected them both shrewdly, sharp brown eyes passing up and down their bodies with such vigour that it took all of Laura’s willpower not to burst into frightful giggles again.
Mary nudged her roughly, and beamed at her brother, who stood behind Aunt Martha, and cautioned the girls with wide eyes and wriggling eyebrows – this did not help Laura’s state, and she was mightily relieved when her aunt took hold of Mary’s arm and instructed Tom, aspiring doctor, to escort Miss Smith outside, and to follow sharp on her heels lest someone think something they oughtn’t to.