Du ushered us through a door under a ladder-stair. She took her thumb out of her mouth long enough to say, “This way into the kitchen.”
Jack frowned my smile at Du’s self-importance from my face. “This is the forward ladder to the forward deck,” he said, maybe to make up.
Plugged up again, Du silently pointed out the sink, stove and fridge all in a row along the left.
I gazed over the long narrow window over the top, covered with a strip of yellow fabric. Small door in the nose of the boat. At the right, a U shaped bench around a table. Yellow tea-towel cloth serving as tablecloth lay diagonally across the tabletop. A single decorative object in the middle. A matching tea towel curtained window.
The sink was deep. The stove was enclosed in a cage presumably so that pots and pans couldn’t fall off when the boat was moving. A fridge next to that. I laughed inside because Hen had described her house to me, without me knowing, in a story. I puzzled about the curtains here and in the front room. Hen hated shutting out the sky.
Oh yes. The boat was tied up along the plank-way. “The curtains are so people can’t see in?”
“I reckon,” Jack said. “What we’re going to do now is … um … have some supper. You two sit at the table and I’ll see if I remember everything. You tell me if I don’t, Du.”
I slid onto the bench. This kitchen was how I knew it was Hen’s place. She loved plain and everything in its place. One decorative object to meditate on, in this case a bit of grainy wood in the middle of the table. I blinked and blinked. I couldn’t cry, I had found her again when she wasn’t mine anymore.
Then I thought, silly me. I remembered one of Hen’s mottos. I let the rest of my tears slide down inside me, down my throat. People belong to themselves first and foremost. Hen belongs to herself. Something she would be telling Du before long.
Du climbed up beside me. “First the placemats,” she said.
“You find them,” Jack said. “Three places.”
“We’re eating alone?” I said.
“We’re together,” he said with a look toward Du counting out placemats from a purpose-made slot in the bench-back. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Later alligator,” Du said, sitting back down and sliding the placemats in place. “Spoons? For soup?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Jack said. “Boat is lying still,” he explained. He found a jar of soup in the refrigerator. Was there always soup, I wondered? He poured it into a pot on the stove. Lit a place underneath the pot with a real flame.
“A blue flame! I never saw fire except for a yellow candle flame,” I said. “What’s it burning?”
“Some kind of gas, in a really really strong steel bottle kept under the stove.”
Du dug in my ribs with a pointy finger. “Soup bowls,” she said.
“Soup bowls, in the seat back. Show you?” she offered.
I kneeled up on the seat. Du was there before me, walking on the seat. She put her finger in a hole in the panelling and lifted it. A deep purpose-made box held the bowls. I handed her three, one by one. Slotted the panel back. The whole back of the seat held compartments. Each panel had on it an image of the thing it contained.
Jack poured luke-warm soup into our bowls. He shrugged, glancing at Du. It couldn’t be too hot, he meant. I was so hungry I didn’t care. Only that it had real baby carrots in it. “Where …?”
Jack shook his head.
Probably he thought I was going to ask where Hen was. “Where does Hen get these carrots from?” I said.
“From the boat market,” Du said. “The boats come from a long long way where they grow things. And where the ducks are.” Her mouth trembled.
I nodded. Guilty as charged. I’d have to try harder to be a nice big sister. “What about a drink?” I said. “Are there cups for water in this seat?”
Du brightened. She leapt up and handed me cups, one by one, as she got them from a further slot.
Washing up was more of the same with Du putting everything back, one by one. Jack took us to the bathroom. “You’re sisters. Get yourself ready for bed.”
“Shower-baths are not in my routine,” Du said primly.
Hen-and-Du already had a routine? The envy-animal in me licked its lips with a green tongue. How many days since Hen found her? I pressed the envy-animal down.
“What about you show me your routine?” I helped her wash her face and hands the way Hen used to help me. Washed my own. Borrowed Du’s toothbrush.
Jack had the bunkroom door open. “I’m thinking it would be better for anyone coming in late, like Zee and Rokha, if we all slept on the top bunks. Du near the wall of the boat, you in front of her. It’s quite wide, that bunk. I’ll go at right angles to you. Near your head. To talk,” he mouthed at the end.
Du stopped complaining when Jack said of course no undressing, and guided her up the ladder. I followed her up and arranged her pillow. Jack went to the bathroom. I made myself comfortable to wait.