Sunday Stories: Rose – Part Two
So it’s absolutely fitting that we’re reading a story about an Irish orphan on today, of all days. (Because it’s St. Pattie’s Day–duh!) I personally could care less about it being March 17th and all that, but it was kind of cool when I woke up to the sound of my dad blasting our old “Irish Tenors” cd and all I could think about out was how many times I played that on repeat when writing this novella. Kind of cool…
Anyway, if you need a refresher on the first chapter, you can find it here. Enjoy!
Ellis Island. “Isle of Tears.” I glanced at the Statue of Liberty curiously.
“Jenny!” I suddenly shouted as the tidal wave of people pushed me away from her. She grabbed Pattie and Annie with one hand, and with the other she reached out and clutched my threadbare coat. I turned and fought through the crowd to get back to them, holding my hat on with my spare hand. I’m beginning to think this is more dangerous than the boat.
“ORDERLY LINES!” someone bellowed.
Annie gave an uneasy laugh. “Jenny, the ocean has come on shore with us and is knocking us around.”
Jenny chuckled and glanced at me. “Aye.” She sweated nervously. “We all have to stick together.”
We? The word sent thrills down my back. I was part of a “we”. I nodded eagerly.
“Rose,” Jenny continued, “You make sure that nothing happens to Pattie. I’ll take care of Annie. Whatever happens, just stay right behind me and try not to get separated. If we do…”
A jab from somebody sent Jenny and Annie forward, leaving me and Pattie behind. I grabbed his hand and elbowed my way forward.
“I don’t need you to look after me!” Pattie shouted over the loud noise, trying to jerk free.
“Do you want to get left behind, taken away, and locked up in an orphanage all alone in a strange land?” I shouted back, rolling my eyes. I felt him squeeze my hand a little.
The noontime sun shone high, its heat pounding down on my back. I squirmed, my hair sticking to my neck.
We were shoved into a large brick building. I looked around and gawked. All around me were hundreds, maybe thousands, of immigrants, all arriving on different boats and speaking different languages.
The Americans pushed us into line and passed out letters to put on our coats and bags. Then we entered a massive room with dozens of lines of people. At the front of the line, men in white coats probed the immigrants and looked them over. Children screamed while mothers whispered frantically in strange languages. The two families in front of us were babbling away in what sounded like Polish and German. I leaned forward and tried to guess what they were saying. What a lovely trip, John. Yes, beautiful country, Mary. Such smart white coats these doctors wear here. Yes, Mary, they’re not terrifying at all.
Pattie gave my hand a little squeeze. I looked down at his dark hair and smiled.
After a few hours, the men in white coats finally got to us. “Name!” the sweaty doctor yelled, shining a bright light in my open mouth.
“Rothalyn Keegan.” The words were difficult to say with cold steel on your tongue.
I flinched as he poked and prodded my body. “Where are you from? Can you read? Where are you going? Where’s your family? Have you ever been in jail?”
I nodded or shook my head after each question, holding my breath and praying for it to be over soon.
Finally he gave the four of us one last look-over before shoving us on. “Next!”
I heard a lady scream as her daughter was led away with an X on her coat.
Annie shivered. “I didn’t like him, Jenny.” She grabbed Jenny’s arm and clung to it. “His voice was mean.”
“Shhh. I know.”
Pattie’s mischievous smile upturned half of his mouth. “I came awfully close to telling him that if I wasn’t already insane he sure was going to make me,” he whispered.
I gave a surprised laugh. “Aye, Pattie. But be careful,” I whispered back, “Even little pigs have big ears.” I wiggled my eyebrows.
He smirked and I dared to ruffle his hair. I think that being with this family is the start of a great adventure.
We grabbed our bags and pushed open the door that lead to New York. My adventure was just beginning.
Jenny brushed the dirt off her skirt and grabbed Annie’s hand as she stepped off the ferry. “Be careful, Annie. There are a lot of careless people here.” She glared at a man who had nearly run her over.
“I’ll say. Did you see that rude girl?” I asked. “She knocked me right off the ground and didn’t even apologize about it.” My blood boiled.
Jenny raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t have thought that you of all people would be concerned about being knocked over. You seem to be in the practice of it yourself.”
I held my hands out sheepishly. “Will you ever let me free of that one little incident? It was a mistake.”
Jenny smiled forgivingly. “Besides, maybe she was in a hurry. We don’t know what her reason could be.”
I shrugged. She didn’t seem very sorry about it.
“Besides,” Jenny continued, “Why worry about what’s already happened?” She turned to Pattie. “Pattie, would you….” He was in complete awe. Jenny tapped him teasingly. “Patrick, what is it?”
“Look at it all,” he whispered.
It was so big. The buildings seemed to extend forever, nearly touching the sky. A smelly, black fog covered the air with a thick blanket. People bustled everywhere, bumping into each other and talking loudly. Dirty children ran barefoot down the alleys, and pale men sat on the corners.
I gawked up at New York City. This is America, the beautiful?
“What does it look like?” Annie asked.
“Um, it’s very crowded,” Patrick stammered, looking at us for guidance.
“I can hear that. But what does it look like?”
My head was racing. “Well, I’ve certainly seen things more…attractive,” I offered pitifully.
“It’s sort of dirty,” Jenny bit her lip. “There are a lot of children running through the streets, and, well, poor men sitting on the corners with tin cans in their laps.” She took a deep breath. “There’s a giant building in the distance and it’s making smoke as dark as death. It’s not as lovely as Ireland, Annie.”
Annie bent her head.
“Don’t worry, Annie,” I said brightly, “Nothing can be as pretty as Ireland! You know that.” I tousled her hair.
Jenny smiled at me gratefully. “Aye,” she continued, “And no use crying over something we can’t change. We might as well find Aunt Catherine and Uncle Gerald.” She turned and laughed. “Why, there’s Aunt Catherine now!” She waved at her aunt and grabbed Annie’s arm.
Patrick frowned. “What’s wrong with her?” he muttered.
Their Aunt Catherine stood about twenty yards from us. She wrung her hands and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. She wasn’t very beautiful; but she was certainly grand; with a sort of motherly look about her. Her hair was turning gray and her green eyes had begun to fade. Her body bulged here and there, and a few wrinkles graced her face.
She must have been very pretty when she was younger. I looked her over carefully as we rushed across the streets. Now she looks more like the aunt that parents warn their children about: Don’t eat too many sweets, be sure to go to bed on time, wash your hands whenever you’re done playing outside; and above all: Don’t listen to your aunt when she tells you otherwise. I chuckled a little under my breath.
“Children,” Aunt Catherine cried in a strange accent when they were closer. “Oh, children, come give your Aunt Catherine a hug!” She spread out her arms and enveloped the children in an embrace, crying freely. “Oh, you’ve all gotten so big! I haven’t seen you, Jenny, since you were six years old. You’ve grown into such a beautiful young lady!” She wiped her eyes and hugged Jenny again. “It’s so wonderful to see you again, Lady.” Lady?
“Aunt Catherine’s from the South,” Jenny whispered to me once she was free. “Uncle Gerald is from Ireland.”
That explained the funny accent.
Aunt Catherine turned and faced Pattie. “And is this handsome young man our little baby Patrick?” she drawled. He shrugged his shoulders, dodging her glance. “Well, sugar, aren’t you going to give your Aunt Catherine a hug?” She held out her arms expectantly.
“No,” he replied. Jenny kicked him in the shins, but he remained sullen.
“Oh.” A shadow crossed Aunt Catherine’s face, but she quickly turned to Annie. “And who is this pretty young thing? This couldn’t be Annie, the beautiful little girl I heard about?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Annie curtsied in the direction of Aunt Catherine’s voice.
“Why she’s just a little doll now, isn’t she?” Aunt Catherine gave Annie a little squeeze. “I believe that you and I are going to become very good friends, sweet pea.”
“Aunt Catherine loves nicknames,” Jenny whispered again. I hid my smile.
Aunt Catherine turned away. “Come along, children. I suppose I’ll take you to my home—if you could call it that. When I grew up, in the South, a house was a home…” They began to walk away from me chattering.
I longingly watched them take a few steps before sighing to myself. Well, I suppose I’ll have to find someplace to start anew. I turned and looked around.
Suddenly, Jenny was at my side. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I completely forgot about you.” She grabbed my elbow and pulled me to her aunt. “I want you to meet Aunt Catherine.” She presented me and smiled widely.
Aunt Catherine straightened and peered down at me. “Who is this?”
“Rose Keegan, miss.” I curtsied.
“We met her on the boat,” Jenny explained. “And I figured her curls complimented my brown hair quite well, so, for vain reasons, I decided to keep her around.” She smiled at me teasingly.
Aunt Catherine looked me up and down. “Well, she is very beautiful. I’m not sure about that red hair, though. Have you got a terribly feisty temper, dear?” She paused and raised an eyebrow at me. My skin flushed. She smiled, satisfied, and gave me a hug as well. “Well, that pretty blush just gives it all away. I do believe that you and I will get along together quite well, honey.”
I smiled at Jenny. I like her already.
“So where are you going to stay, honey?” Aunt Catherine pulled away and beamed at me.
“I…I don’t know. I ran away from the orphanage in Ireland.”
Aunt Catherine’s eyes softened and she took my hand. “I was an orphan, too, honey. But I never did run away, though. Guess I never got the courage. Never was a gutsy girl; though you wouldn’t know it now.” She winked cheekily. “So what made you do it?”
I froze. “I…I just decided that I needed to leave.” Why do all these people ask so many questions?
Aunt Catherine looked a bit confused, but she brightened quickly. “Well then, honey, I guess you’ll have to stay with us. If Lady trusts your character, than so do I.” She held my hand and Annie’s and gazed at us all tenderly.
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll just rent out a place somewhere. I don’t know how long I’ll be staying in New York, anyway.”
“Nonsense,” Aunt Catherine shook her head. “You must stay with us. I insist on it.”
It was no use arguing with her. I tried to smile happily.
“How old are you?” Aunt Catherine continued.
“Ah, Lady’s age! It will be good for her, having someone else her age to talk with.” She stroked Jenny’s hair affectionately. “I know, when I was a girl—”
Jenny rolled her eyes at me. “Well, Aunt Catherine,” she teased, “When will Uncle Gerald be coming to see us?”
Aunt Catherine suddenly burst into tears. “Oh, Gerald!” she sobbed, holding her hand to her mouth.
Oh, no. What’s wrong now? Pattie and I shared a questioning glance. I shrugged. I don’t know.
“Aunt Catherine, what’s wrong?” Jenny asked gently.
Her aunt’s shoulders shook. “Gerald died last week,” she whispered, “I…I meant not to tell you. To let you be happy for the first few moments of your new life. But then you said his name and…” She let out a snivel and wiped her eyes, throwing back her head dramatically. “I’m afraid…he…he went to the factory to work and….and,” She broke into sobs again. We stared at her silently.
“Aunt Catherine, you must be joking.” Jenny said; but she wrapped her arms around her aunt.
“It’s no joke, Lady!” Aunt Catherine bawled, “There was a terrible accident at the factory and he didn’t survive. Everything’s gone wrong since then. Some awful men came to my house yesterday and said that if I didn’t give them all the money that Gerald owed them by next week, they’d kick me out and sell my house!”
Somewhere, from a distant ally, I heard screams. I frowned. What is this terrible country?
Pattie and Annie glanced at me, confused.
“Oh, Lady, it was so much money!” Aunt Catherine continued dramatically. “I’d planned not to tell you just yet. I wanted you to enjoy at least one day in America happily. I don’t even know why God brought you from Ireland, only to kill you here!”
“We’re all going to die,” Jenny whispered, and wrapped herself up in Aunt Catherine’s arms. Annie’s eyes began to water, and even Pattie rubbed his face on his shirt.
Suddenly, the bubble burst and all four of them burst out in tears.
A gust of smog filled the air, and I began to cough. Oh, for heavens sakes! Can’t anyone here think logically instead of bawling their eyes out? “Listen here!” I shouted, surprised to hear my voice sounding so cross and firm. I shook my head to clear it and continued, “Look at you! This is ridiculous! This is America, Jenny! America, Pattie! Have you no pride? No vision? The land of opportunity!” I took a deep breath. “Surely it can’t be so hard to find a job for Jenny and me, Miss Catherine.”
Aunt Catherine sniffed. “Jobs?” she whimpered.
“Oh, for the love of Pete!” I rolled my eyes.
“Jobs!” Aunt Catherine grew excited. “That’s it! Children, I have come up with the perfect answer! Lady,” She took Jenny by the shoulders and beamed, “You and Rose will get jobs in a factory!” She glanced at me. “Oh, and call me ‘Aunt Catherine’, honey.”
“So this is your house?” I looked around the small apartment. The walls were bare, and there was no furniture except for a small table, chair, and a bed. Jenny had a frozen smile on her face. I couldn’t blame her; the orphanage was looking luxurious.
“Yes,” Aunt Catherine lit a lamp sheepishly. “There are two beds upstairs, though. I think maybe one of you should sleep with me, one should bunk with Sweet Pea, and my Sugar will sleep alone.”
“Stop calling me ‘Sugar’,” Patrick mumbled, glaring and dodging her touch. I almost choked on the laugh I was trying to hold in. Why was everything so funny all of the sudden?
“Pattie,” Jenny whispered. There was fire in her eyes.
If one more person talks I solemnly believe the floodgates will burst and I’ll end up laughing hysterically and shaming myself to the ends of the country.
“Well, you know the old proverb: a cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle. I’ll sleep with Annie upstairs.” My voice squeaked slightly. I smiled and pushed a stand of red hair behind my ear.
“I knew you’d agree, Honey.” Aunt Catherine said pleasantly.
Jenny frowned. “Do you think that those men you were referring to will give us a little extra time to make that money?”
“I don’t know, Lady,” Aunt Catherine shrugged. “Maybe you and Honey should go down there tomorrow and see.”
“Is that okay with you, Rose?”
“Aye,” I tossed my head carelessly. “Who could say no to me?”
Jenny giggled and nudged me playfully. We climbed up the stairwell, laughing.
“Sweet pea,” I heard Aunt Catherine say to Annie, “Those two are going to become the best of friends.”
To be continued…