Sunday Stories: Rose – Part One
So this new addition of Sunday Stories is really dear to me. It’s the first ever novella I wrote, way back when I was about twelve or thirteen, I think? I’m pretty sure it dates back to 2008 but I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, I used to have a really affection for Irish culture for some reason, and I thought nothing was more beautiful and romantic than an utterly clichéd story about a red-headed Irish orphan. *cringe* Hey, at least I can laugh about it now!
Anyway, I’ll post a chapter a week every Sunday until it’s all finished! And then you all can decide if this is a good story, or a cute attempt of a thirteen-year-old girl to write something sentimental and sweet. I love hearing your comments, so comment away!
My heart raced as I leaned against the cold, brick wall. I crept down the stairs, carpetbag in hand, hugging the wall. Creak. An old, worn step groaned. I held my breath. Did anyone hear?
A few seconds confirmed that no one had. Silently, I tiptoed down the hall and paused at the door. Should I go through with it?
I could feel my heart pounding as I pulled the key I’d swiped from Mrs. Brown out of my apron pocket and unlocked the door. Noiselessly, I snuck out and ran down the road to the rickety gate. I pushed it open and ventured out into the realm of freedom.
My steps left footprints in the dusty road; each step leading a little closer to the dream of being free. I closed my eyes and savored the feel of the moonlit autumn breeze.
I turned and looked at the old orphanage one last time. The iron gates closed with a loud creak. I tossed my dark red hair and stamped my foot, sending up a cloud of sand from the Irish path. Who’s laughing now? “Ha! Ha! Ha! Me!” I grabbed my bag and ran. I skipped down the road, swinging my bag and giggling hysterically. I’d never felt so carefree and happy.
I knew the way down the road in the dark, climbing over the short stone wall and brushing dust off my cotton dress.
I needed to escape. I’d lived in the orphanage for as long as I could remember. Years of sorrow, pain, and forgotten memories surrounded me.
I paused at the bend and reached into my skirt pocket. Eighteen years didn’t amount to much, but the money was enough to get me out.
That was the only thought that had been resounding in my head for the past three weeks. Ever since I snuck out during Easter service to barter for my passport.
I continued to make my way in the moonlight, the dew dampening my dress.
Finally free, I reached the dirt road and pranced down it to the boating dock.
The dock was unusually crowded the next morning. “Um, excuse me,” I clutched my bag close to my chest, “Can anyone help me?” A bump in the shoulder was all I got in response. More than a little upset, I glared at the offender’s back. “Excuse me!” Silence. Frustrated, I stomped my foot in an angry huff.
“You there!” A man with a thick red beard suddenly grabbed my arm. “Let me see your passport.” My arm ached but I managed to grab my passport and show it to him.
“Here.” My heart pounded. I placed a hand on my chest, willing it to slow down.
He snatched the passport and examined it quickly. “You’re good to go.” He ripped the money out of my hand and shoved a ticket in its place. I was pushed onto the boat, in the midst of hundreds of anxious people.
“Watch it!” A lady shouted, shoving me out of her way.
I stuck my tongue out at her back. Childish, Rose, I chided myself instantly, straightening my back and trying to politely push through the crowd.
I’m not quite sure how, but I ended up on the south deck, facing Ireland’s rolling green hills. Before I knew it, the boat was pushing off at an alarming rate. I gripped the railing and turned away. I might never see it again. The thought echoed through my mind.
I looked around the deck and paused, trying to sort through my thoughts amid the buzz. There were so many—young and old, some rich and most poor.
Just as I was observing the lack of other redheads on deck, someone shoved me violently from the side, sending me off balance. I stumbled into a young lady standing by the side of the ship. “Oof!” My weight pushed the girl onto the ground, and I landed ungracefully on top of her.
“Oh, my!” The young lady whispered under her breath, trying to lift her head. “Am I under attack?”
I frowned at her, quite alarmed. She seemed about my age, with long dark hair and milky white skin. Humor twinkled in her big brown eyes.
The girl was very calm and collected, even after being knocked to the ground.
The very opposite of me: a tall, skinny girl with dark red curls and bright green eyes. She looked composed and unruffled; I was wild and fiery.
I scrambled to my feet, and then helped the girl regain her posture. I took a quick glance around. The sight of two young ladies in a heap on deck had drawn a great deal of attention.
“I’m very sorry,” the young lady began.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry,” I interrupted, “That was very, very clumsy of me. I hope you’ll forgive me.” Oh, I must be a sight. I touched my disheveled hair and placed my bag on the ground.
The girl raised an eyebrow. “It’s no problem, miss.” With a final amused grin, she turned back into the crowd, grabbing the hands of a young boy and girl.
Watching them leave, I felt little bit of my initial excitement deflate. Nonetheless, I held my chin up and looked around for help. An important-looking man leisurely leaned against the wall on the far side of the deck. I made my way to him. “Excuse me, sir. Do you know where I’m supposed to sleep?”
The man briefly tipped up his hat to look at me before putting it back in place and closing his eyes.“In the cabin with all the other women and children, I suppose.” He grunted and folded his arms, obviously intent upon sleeping.
I waited for him to continue, rocking back and forth on my heels. Realizing he’d dozed off again, I said loudly, “Um, would you please tell me where that is?” I gave him my most dazzling smile, but he didn’t seem to notice. This is awkward. I resisted the urge to lean in close and tilt up his hat to see if he was even awake. After a few moments, I cleared my throat and repeated the question.
He sighed and looked at his wristwatch. “Really, sometimes I haven’t the slightest idea what you Irish people are saying. Could you please repeat the sentence?” He folded his arms and settled back against the wall. But at least this time he was watching me.
I took a deep breath and slowly repeated, through gritted teeth, “Would you please tell me where that is?”
“Where what is?”
I groaned. “The cabin!”
He sighed. “Here we go again,” he muttered.
“Ugh!” I stamped my foot. I strangled down the urge to stand on tip-toe and shout the question into his ear.
“I think she’s asking where the sleeping quarters are.” A voice with only a slight Irish accent spoke out from behind me. I turned to find the dark haired lady smiling at me.
The man nodded briskly. “Just to your right, down those stairs.” He licked his lips and returned to his nap.
I made a face at him, childish or not, before turning to thank the girl. “How could…” To my horror, she was already walking away.
At the sound of my voice, though, she turned to me expectantly.
What now? “I, uh, didn’t introduce myself back there. I’m Rosalyn Keegan, but you can call me Rose.” I smiled and extended my hand, hoping the introduction was enough to start a conversation.
Slowly she shook it, her dark eyes glancing over me curiously. “I’m Jenny Moore, and these are my siblings, Annie and Patrick. But you can call Patrick ‘Pattie’.” She motioned to the children standing to her right. The young boy looked about fourteen or fifteen and reasonably healthy, but the girl was hardly more than a breath of air. She clutched Jenny’s hand and smiled over my head.
I frowned before realization hit me. Oh, she’s blind. I straightened and tried to grin. “Well, now that we’re acquainted I’m sure we’ll all be good friends.” The boy named Patrick was glaring at me. I cleared my throat nervously. “Once again, I’m very sorry about my careless blunder. This ship is something, I tell you! People everywhere, not looking where they’re going or what they’re doing. Someone’s going to get hurt!” I said in a rush. “Well, I mean, you almost got hurt, but…” Almost immediately, I felt my face flush. Oh, I did it again!
“Aye,” Jenny said quietly.
Did she agree that someone would get hurt, or that she was nearly harmed? I wrung my hands in despair.
Unsure whether or not she desired my company, I lingered a little longer, saying a few commonplace things and feeling like a fool. When will I learn to be graceful and quiet? “Well,” I finally said, picking my bag back up, “I suppose I should go and see the cabins.”
“We’ll come along.” Jenny grabbed her siblings’ hands and led the way.
I felt my heart racing as I fell in step behind them. Does she want to be friends? I bit my lip to suppress the large smile spreading across my face.
The cabin had the worst stench ever. Even after being on the ship for two days I couldn’t get used to the smell.
“Ugh,” I rolled over on the bunk and looked at Jenny lying next to me. She stared up at the ceiling silently, holding her own stomach. “Can we go get some air?” My voice came out as a squeak. I made a face at her pleadingly.
“Aye, we need it! Annie, Pattie, come on.” Jenny sat up and climbed down the ground.
I shook the dirt off my dress and grabbed Annie’s hand. “Come on.” She smiled in my direction and I felt my heart flutter.
We pushed past the passengers crowding the deck and made our way to the railing.
The breeze felt so wonderful. I clutched at the rail and closed my eyes, feeling almost all my nausea vaporize. I took a deep breath. The wind danced around me, teasing my hair and tickling my skin. Rose, it seemed to whisper. Slowly, I opened my eyes, the vast blue ocean surrounding me coming into focus.
The sea seemed to stretch on forever and ever; the most wonderful, majestic thing created, swallowing us up in its greatness. I felt so small and unimportant beside it.
I sighed and closed my eyes again, suddenly feeling lonely and unprotected.
“So,” Jenny asked, “What makes you wish to travel to America?”
I started at her voice, blushing yet again. I’d forgotten anyone else was there. I tried to smile. “Um, well…” I twisted a fat curl, turning back to the scenery. “I ran away.” Did she notice the squeak in my voice?
Annie frowned. “Why?” She reached over and felt for my hand. I took hers and gave it a little squeeze.
“I used to live in an orphanage. You can’t imagine how terrible orphanages are.”
Pattie crossed his arms. “I don’t want to.” He glared at me.
“Pattie!” Jenny exclaimed, boxing his ears lightly. “A good word never broke a tooth,” she whispered to him fiercely. She looked up and gave me an embarrassed smile. “Our father died of cholera years ago, when Annie was only a baby. We moved to England for a few years, before coming back to Ireland to start anew. But the famine hit, and took Lucy, Martha, and Marianne. Our Aunt Catherine, who lives in New York, wrote Mama and sent the money for our passes. By the time the tickets came, Mama was gone, too. I guess we came too close to being in an orphanage for comfort.” She took Annie’s other hand and leaned back on the rail. “How did your parents die?”
I frowned and gazed over the wide sea. Twice I opened my mouth to answer only to shut it. “It’s…It happened so long ago…I’m not sure I remember. I have a terrible memory.” I tried to wave my hand in an offhand way, furiously fighting the tears in my eyes. It hurt too much to tell the truth. What was I supposed to say? “I don’t know how my mother died”?
“Oh,” Jenny blushed this time. “I’m sorry. I wish I hadn’t asked you.”
I waved a hand carelessly, still not trusting myself to look at her without crying. “Do you…” I stopped to gulp and bite my lip, “Do you ever wish that there was a heaven on earth that you could go to whenever you need to get away? Whenever you feel like the whole world is piling on top of you and you just can’t stand it anymore?” I finally glanced her way.
She smiled faintly. “Maybe it’s called America.”
The ship jolted in the rolling storm. I closed my eyes and tried to calm my churning stomach, pinching my nose to wipe out the horrid smell.
Candles had been snuffed for fear of fire, leaving the cabin dark and quiet. Softly moaning mothers and children rolled around gagging.
The storm had been going on for a full day now. I hadn’t had a breath of fresh air since the night before last.
Annie groaned beside me and vomited into a small bucket. I sighed. I had thrown up so much the past few days that I was only dry-heaving by now. Annie lay back down and grabbed my hand. “Jenny,” she whispered, “When will it be over?”
“I—” The ship gave a tremendous jolt. I moaned and reached for the bucket.
“Soon,” Jenny began, “I think—“
Suddenly, the cabin door burst open. A flash of lightning illuminated the sky behind the figure in the doorway. “Man overboard!” The sailor cried. “All stay below deck!” He leaped away from the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
I shot up and ran to the doorway, jumping over the sick children lying on the floor. I stood on the tips of my toes and looked through the peephole.
The deck was filled with water. In the flashes of lightning, I could see seaweed and fish sliding across the floor. Sailors rushed about, sliding and falling on the wet wood, apparently blinded by the stinging wind, as they rushed lug ropes to the railing.
I craned my neck and shouted commentary over my shoulder. “There’s a bit of a mess out there! They’re reaching over the edge of the deck—Oh! They’ve got someone! They’re pulling him up!”
The rude red-headed sailor was being hauled over the edge of the railing by crew-men. Thunder roared behind him as the crew pulled up another person, a young boy, who must have been thrown overboard first. The boy shivered as the crew threw some blankets on him and pushed the two towards the cabins. I saw him smile shyly at the red-headed man. The man looked down gruffly, but gave the boy a friendly little shove.
“They’re all perfectly dandy,” I announced to the cabin, making my way back to my bed in the dark. I climbed in next to Annie and stroked her hair. “Goodnight,” I whispered, “Tomorrow will be a better day.”
“Hurry up,” Jenny giggled, pushing me up the stairs.
“I’m trying,” I snapped back, bounding up them as quickly as I could. We all stopped and stared when we reached the top deck. Pattie was the first to recover, hollering and running to the railing. I laughed and chased after him, grabbing the edge and craning my neck.
America. I could see it before us, a wide streak on the horizon. If I squinted hard enough, I could just make out the buildings and factories in the distance.
“America,” Jenny whispered.
“I’m going to buy myself an American flag and hang it from my window,” I said excitedly.
Pattie jumped up and down. “I’m going to learn how to play baseball!” His eyes sparkled.
Annie wrinkled her nose happily. “I’m going to memorize all the words to Yankee Doodle.”
“And I’m going to knit a red, white, and blue blanket,” Jenny said.
I smiled at her and jumped up to see if I could catch a glance of the Statue of Liberty. “Tomorrow,” I said excitedly, “We’ll be on dry land in America.”
To be continued….