The last thing Lucy wanted this morning to do was go to work. The days off were supposed to refresh her so she was fully perked up and ready to go again. The work was physical and today, just the thought of what lay ahead of her made her legs ache. She lay with her head on the pillow and could feel the sharp points from the feathers poking through the cotton pillowcase.
She knew Lucio relied on her – even if just for now – and she had no intention of letting him down. The effort of pulling on her overalls, bending to tie the laces of her boots, each movement seemed to draw a groan or a breath far louder than should have been necessary. She reckoned she sounded like an old man, then wondered if the quiet of the morning only served to magnify her struggles.
She walked into the kitchen, sculled a glass of water, but decided to skip breakfast., She was already running behind.
The gate swung hard shut. Her boots scuffed crankily up the path. By the time she got to the main road, the No 67 tram had just left her stop. She sat and tried to think of something to lift her spirits. But she could only see the snarling faces of her father’s work colleagues. And an empty room, where she’d once visualised her mother.
“Morning missy.” A man wearing a suit and tie sat next to her.
“Good morning,” she replied without any enthusiasm.
“Keep on your toes while you’re out and about, young lady.”
Lucy nodded only out of respect, and wished she remembered to bring a book to hide behind. Instead, she looked away, up the street wishing the next tram to arrive and wondering what on earth sparked the man’s comment.
“No good can come of this. Mark my words. I don’t know what’s got into those blessed Coppers. Think they are above their station.”
Lucy held her gaze but could hear the man flapping at his broadsheet to turn and fold the next page over. Her curiosity got the better of her.
“I am sorry Sir. I am unaware of the events you speak.” Her voice squeaked higher than she’d liked at the end of the sentence and she coughed a little to mask her slip. “I’ve not read the paper yet today,” she added as though it was something she did, which was never the case.
“Bunch of our own policemen have turned their backs on us, the public. Eyes only on their wallets. Saying they are wanting the spooks removed – those Special Constables – and a host of other things. But everyone knows – it always comes down to money. Everyone has a price, my dear.” He paused and Lucy found herself caught by the look in the man’s eyes, almost accusing. He seemed to realise the impact of what he’d said and quickly brought it back to where he’d started. “I’d just keep your wits about you. If the law goes to ground, the lawless will be quick to come out of the shadows. You mark my words.”
The approaching tram sounded its bell, and Lucy stood, steadying herself on the handrail as the ring sounded more like a warning than a greeting.
The market was usually a space full of fresh energy and liveliness. Stallholders lining the wide aisles, hollering their best price, or spruiking their freshest produce. Faces of customers as varied as the items they could buy – eyes full of curiosity and delight at the rich colours of the market – especially this time in late spring when the greens and reds and oranges of the fresh-picked vegetables shone. Mouths stretched with wide smiles sparked by the vendors’ banter. Catching attention with raised hands, shouting an order or querying a price.
But not today.
Lucy felt it as soon as she arrived. So too, clearly did Lucio, who barely spoke through the morning. Instead, he kept his head in a large crate of cabbages, cutting stalks and stripping the thick outer leaves. The stench, which Lucy had barely noticed previously, hung bitter over the stall.
Any of the customers who did show spoke more quietly, to match the general hush over the market. Lucy handled the coins like they were china, staving off any chance of loud rattling in the cash register. She left the drawer ajar to avoid having to push hard on the sale lever which always let out the sound of a chirping bell as the drawer reopened, a sound that would have been out of place this day.
The minutes passed slowly. Lucy tried to busy herself with small tasks, but her mind wandered, first to her father. The strikers were calling for the dismissal of the special constables. She felt like the calls could rise to something far worse. She’d seen the hatred, the bitter resentment first hand at the station days earlier.
“I think you should not work here tomorrow, my dear. I fear it might be best if you stay home. There is talk of trouble, not just amongst the police force. A shop was set alight this morning in St Kilda.”
“Don’t be silly Lucio,” Lucy said looking more at his feet than his face and then feeling a little awkward having spoken to her boss as she might have a school friend. “I wouldn’t let you hold the fort on a Friday. It’s always busy.”
“I doubt tomorrow will be much of a day.” The last of his words hung in the air, only to be overcome by a rising sound from the street. It started as a muffled bass-drum, but soon found its way clear of its mumble and into a rhythmic chant. Lucy pushed the till drawer shut, and the two of them moved to the front of the stall. Out on the main street, a large mob was moving like a spilling river. Chanting, fists raised.
“What are they saying?” Lucy asked.
“I think the words are less important than the actions,” Lucio said, his gaze fixed on the seething crowd. “I don’t know what they are for, but no doubt they are against almost everything.”
A large plate glass window shattered. The sound split the air like a razor. The crowd chant stopped momentarily, then roared louder, and soon Lucy’s ears were full of noise – angry voices, splintering windows, the collective rush of footsteps. A woman screamed. Whistles blew. Horns honked from the trucks that lined the market and Lucy wondered if they protested or applauded. The aisle and alleyways between stalls were suddenly a mass of movement with stallholders packing and stacking. Trolleys clattered pushed by men with white faces. Metal shutters clattered down, keys rattling at their locks.
“I won’t leave my produce. I will stay with my stall. These wreckers will not sully my world. I would prefer to face the wrath of these animals than succumb to the scent of fear.”
“Lucio. You should go home. It is only produce. You can always regrow it. There will be better days. I am sure this thing will pass, whatever we are seeing?”
Lucio didn’t respond. Instead, he slowly moved to the front of the stall and began packing the remaining produce. “I will not see my racks broken, my display cabinets shattered. I built these with my own hands. They are more precious than you know.”
“Then I’ll stay with you too,” Lucy said.
Lucio looked at her for what seemed an age. “Let’s finish stowing this on the truck,” he said as the sound of the mob slid off down the road and into the heart of the city.
The only sound now was the hammering of timber, the clang of corrugated iron as shopkeepers up and down the street outside the market boarded up their windows and doorways.
- : Historical Fiction