Even when she was one.
They destroyed the local color somehow, what with their ball caps and sun-glasses, fanny-packs and sunscreen. The ferry was full of them: generic humans. Why, they could be from anywhere.
At least, thought Mattie, she was from somewhere normal. Normal, Illinois, to be exact. And as a sensible woman (in sensible shoes), she brought a little Normal everywhere she went.
“We’ll be docking soon, please don’t forget your personal items.”
Mattie pulled the knitting bag a little closer. They would be returning by ferry, too, but heaven knew how many other day-trippers to the island might be on and off again by then. Couldn’t be too careful.
When the ferry rocked and rolled to a halt, a little knot of people collected around a sign for “Cave Tour.” Mattie blinked and adjusted her cap, which had gone rather askew on her fluffy white head. The young couple beside her were clutching their flimsy clothed in the breeze. Couldn’t be bothered to check the weather, she supposed; it was always cool by the seaside, but of course you couldn’t tell young people anything.
“A bit late, aren’t they?” Said a large man wearing a shirt much too small. A sweat stain was forming on the back–shaped rather like a duck. “We don’t have all day.”
But of course they did have all day, Mattie corrected silently. That was the point of a day trip. He was old enough to know better, but perhaps he was showing off for his children, a purple-faced boy very likely to out-girth his father and a slouching girl suffering from ennui.
“I don’t know why we have to go to a cave anyhow. It’s just a hole in the ground,” the girl muttered.
“It’s not in the ground at all,” said a slender woman with a rucksack. “It’s right in the side of the granite–and it’s considered one of the most unusual cave formations in North America. In fact, very little is known about how granite caves form, but–“
“It’s about time,” the Big Man interrupted, waving at the bus. The slender woman hovered for a moment, as though she meant to press on. Mattie nodded to her kindly; it was the right thing to do. After all, it was quite clear she was unmarried and, given her age and interests, would probably stay that way.
“Go on, dear,” Mattie said, peering over her horn-rims.
“Oh–Oh, yes,” the woman smiled (desperately, Mattie thought). “It’s just that–well, it’s rare. And this one is almost perfectly round. It’s famous among cavers, sort of a legend.”
“Cool,” said the young hipster to his girlfriend. She didn’t say anything. She was busy trying to climb into his shirt for warmth.
“Hello, there–is this everyone?” Asked the first of two tour guides. He was very tall and impossibly lean. Couldn’t be healthy. Drugs, Mattie thought. His second-in-command was female–probably. She, too, was rather too lean for common decency, and her haircut was just dreadful. (And that was excepting the very obvious nose ring).
“Ahem,” Big Man cleared his throat. “Your late. Do you know what time it is?”
“My name is John. This is Lisa,” John said, not talking to the big man, but to the slender woman-and-rucksack. “Sorry for the delay; we had bus trouble.”
“Great,” moaned the big man’s daughter. “We’ll end up stuck here.”
“All fixed now,” Lisa said, and Mattie noted with extreme distaste that she had a tongue ring too. Made her lisp. “All aboard.”
The seven tourists climbed into the bus, a testament to diesel and paper-tree air freshener. Mattie sat in the back; she didn’t mind. It gave one a better perspective, she thought. She sat alone, too. It was easier to knit that way. But the slender woman and her desperation had followed.
“So–you like caves?” she asked, shoving her rucksack under the seat. Mattie was forced to put the knitting away, but she suppressed even the hint of a sigh. That would not be proper.
“I think they are lovely,”she said. Because that was proper. “I always try to see things of reputation when traveling.”
“Sure–yes, me too! I’m Sue Sandwich, and I know what you’re thinking, but its really a common name. Somewhere.”
“In Kent, dear. In England. The Earl of Sandwich,” Mattie smiled, and thought how very wrong the young woman was. She couldn’t possibly know what Mattie was thinking. If she did, she might have moved her rucksack so she could get on with knitting the stocking-cap for Mr. Burlsworth’s second wife. (Complained of cold, she did, all the time.)
“Really? I never could remember the place. Where are you from?”
“Normal,” said Mattie. “Illinois.”
“Any caves there?” Sue asked, and Mattie wondered if their was a psychological connection between spelunking and longing for matrimony. She didn’t say so.
“This cave has two names. Did you know?” Sue unrolled a tattered bit of paper. “It’s called Granite Cave on the brochures. See here? And here? But that isn’t what they call it around here–“
“Duh,” said the Hipster (because Sue Sandwich was born to be interrupted). “Everybody knows that story.”
“What do you call it, then?” Sue chirped, and the girlfriend emerged from the folds of designer punk.
“Satan’s Bedroom,” she said, but she’d gone a little wrong. The bus-mic crackled to life.
“Not Bedroom,” John, the tour guide corrected. “It’s called Satan’s Foyer.”
Mattie had been busily tucking knitting needles into her oversized, lavender knitting bag, but now she looked up.
“As in front room?” she asked.
John smiled, a flash of teeth from the top of his bean-pole body.
“Something like that,” he said. “As in Hell’s lobby.”
Mattie blinked at him through her spectacles. Her first thought was that it was well passed tea time, and she saw no refreshments forthcoming on this tour.
But her second thought was that hell’s lobby was not a pleasant sounding place–and would be very unlikely to have a concierge service.
(To Be Continued in Part 2–coming soon)