The voice was female, and was heavy with a southern drawl. Beatrix noticed at once that her perspective on her surroundings was lower than usual; she was clearly a child this time. She glanced down to see a red skirt with white socks pulled up above her ankles.
“Sorry Mom,” she said, as she reached up to grab a white jacket that hung like a limp flag on the rail.
She was aware of the clock ticking loudly, and as the door opened on to the front lawn, she squinted into a bright, sunlit day.
Good, she thought, the rain has stopped, he will appreciate our city more in the sunshine, and with a sudden laugh, the girl in the red skirt skipped out of the hallway and into the waiting car, where her mother was busy putting the finishing touches to her lipstick in the vanity mirror.
Beatrix watched the houses speed by from the window, large spacious homes, complete with picket fences and large powerful looking motor cars on the driveways. For the first time she was able to take a good look at her surroundings. One of the most disturbing aspects of the time hopping was that she was never sure where she would be next, or for how long. The historian in her led her to try and determine the time and place as soon as she could, although this was not always possible.
From what she could see as the car slowed down at intersections was a large, prosperous city, the shops complete with vast window displays. Everything seemed to be busy. The pavements were thronged with people, the women in wide and colourful skirts, and the men in suits, or casual shirts, each wearing the obligatory hat. Beatrix made a snap decision that this was the 1950’s or 60’s, but being more specific would take a bit more detective work.
In the front bench seat of the car, her mother and a female friend chatted animatedly between cigarettes. Clearly something was exciting them.
“She always looks so, so...cool!” her mother exclaimed.
“Oh yeah, almost a European style, and what I wouldn’t give for a few hours with either of the boys,” replied her friend with a wink.
“Oh Flora-Mae, you are too awful, you really are,” said her mother, smiling.
The car finally pulled up opposite a structure that bore the words “U.S Post Office Building”, and when Beatrix looked around, she realised she was standing in the shadow of what looked like a huge railway overpass. By this time other cars were pulling up, and she could see that many of the occupants were as animated as her mother had been, and the general feeling she got was one of anticipation and excitement.
A short walk along the grass that ran alongside the roadway gave Beatrix time to cast about in search of a few more clues to her whereabouts. The area around her was a curved triangle of land, bounded by roads that were edged with gathering crowds; a few tall stone buildings overlooked this ‘Plaza’, and to the left and right of the main roadways stood a pair of covered walkways, raised from the surroundings by a grassy mound. Things were starting to fall into place, and Beatrix had a very strong feeling that she had seen the red skirt and white coat she was wearing before.
Finally, they reached a tight corner where the crowds were thickest.
“This will have to do, honey,” said her mother smiling down at her, “the motorcade will come down Houston and turn right about here, we should be able to wave and cheer at the car as it slows.”
Beatrix at once knew the name of the large red brick building that stood across the road from her, and raising her eyes heavenwards she saw the Hertz Rental sign and the digital clock, counting down to 12.30. The name of the building was picked out in bold letters, “The Texas School Book Depository”.
The cheers of the crowd grew, and Beatrix was aware of people craning necks to catch a glimpse of the open topped limousine that carried the 35th President and his wife around the turn into Elm Street. She tried to focus on the windows of the Book Depository, but she was simply an observer here, and the girl in the red skirt jumped up and down with excitement. As the limousine slowed to make its turn, Beatrix began to skip and run alongside the vehicle as it slowly progressed along the street.
The sound was distinct but not immediately recognisable—a backfire from a car, a crack from a bull whip or, most likely, a shot from a gun. Beatrix felt the girl stop and turn to see where the noise had originated from. Most of the crowd seemed to miss the sound, but she noticed that the President stopped waving.
What occurred next unfolded in slow motion. The girl in the red jacket skipped alongside the road for a few more metres, and she could hear her mother call on her not to go too far. Shots rang out around her… gasps from the onlookers… the limousine began to speed up… a man standing on a plinth recording the events on a small ‘Super8’ camera… a woman dressed in bright pink had climbed out of the car onto the boot desperately trying to retrieve something… a cop on a motorbike… a man with a black umbrella… the grim sight of a faint cloud of red exploding above the head of the President…
It was over so quickly, Beatrix desperately wanted to run over to the grassed area that lay to the right of the President’s car, but she was not in control of this body, and all she felt was not horror, but confusion, and as her mother ran over and bundled the girl up in her arms, she became aware of tears streaming down her mother’s cheeks.