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By Any Other Name

I never knew my mother. They say she died of consumption – a coughing and spitting of blood. She probably caught it workin' night shift in the freezin’ cold mill. My dad, a mean son-of-a-bitch who cuffed me regular, thought beatings were like daily vitamins: I got one whether I needed it or not. I got my last cuffing the day the dead truck come to pick him up, and it was a bad 'un leavin' me with a split lip and a shiner 'round my eye. They say the influenza got him, but I say it was meanness what killed him. Meanness and my prayers. So now I am an orphan and better off now than when I wasn't. They call that ironic, don't they?

 

My name is Bea, which is short for Beatrice. It means “she who brings happiness.” My dad named me that 'cuz he won a five dollar gold piece at his favorite gin mill when I was a baby. He also said I happily rid him of his good-for-nothin’ wife, that's my mom, by weakening her with my birthin' so that the consumption caught her and killed 'er. He said he was over in India durin' some war or other, and Bea was the name of a girl at some flea bitten gamblin' den he frequented. I've since learned different.

 

My mom was weak in the head, so Pa put me to work beggin' in my nappies in the arms of some wench or another. My curls and big eyes, he says, really pulled in the coin and kept the drink in good supply. When I got too big for profitable beggin', my fine dad taught me how to pick pockets. The hardest part of my new job was takin’ a cold bath every week so's the marks wouldn't smell me 'fore I got close enough to pick 'em. But then most every one in the Quad, that’s a huge slum out side a Boston, Massachusetts, didn’t smell too nice.

 

You may be wonderin' how I got enough education to do this here writin'. I'll tell ya. I was nabbed pickin' a pocket and the mark was a fancy fellow in a top hat and drivin' one of those big Fulton Road Ramblers, all shiny and black and puffin’ steam. To be honest, he’da never caught me if it weren't that I was sick with a fever and the chills all at once. My dad drank up the last of our money before he took sick. I had to tend him, so I wasn't workin'.

 

Anyway, this fancy fellow, Mr. Sinjin Wheatley grabbed me by the scruff of the neck-like and flung me into the back of his fancy steam-carriage. Imagine my stupidifaction when he dragged me, not to the police station like you was probably thinkin', but to a big, fancy house all brick and white pillars on Beacon Hill. He then handed me over to a woman sayin' all bossy-like, “This filthy urchin tried to rob me. Here's your chance to do some real charity work. See what you can do with him.”

 

Clearly, Mr. Sinjin Wheatley was lacking in powers of observation since I ain't no “him” – or it coulda been I was an inch thick in dirt and dressed in equal filthy britches.

 

To make a long story short, Miss Eleanor did clean me up and adopt me as her newest project which included teaching me my letters and numbers, feeding me regular, and making me take baths, which ain't so bad when the water is warm and the soap don't burn the devil outta your skin. She is also trying to teach me to be lady-like which means not floppin' myself on the furniture, not eatin' like it's my last meal, not scratchin' when I itch, and the like. The list gets longer every day.

 

But the worst is the shoes, sometimes I think I'd rather be pickin' pockets somewhere than havin' my feet stuffed into shoes. Other times, I think wearin' shoes is a small price to pay for a warm bed, good food, and a real shortage of beatings. What do you think?

The Four Most Dreaded Words in the English Language

Miss Wheatley and I had a right serious talk today – the two year anniversary of livin' here. Here's how it went, so try to imagine you was there.

 

But first, I want to tell you about the house where I live. Like I said, we live in Boston in a place called Beacon Hill. This house is all buttery yellow and white on the outside and creamy pastel on the inside. The front of the house has a big porch with wicker arm chairs and lots of ferns and plants in the summer. The front door is painted black and there is an sand ashtray for Mr. Sinjin to leave his cigars. Miss Eleanor don’t allow smokin’ in the house.

 

The front door opens to a big entryway painted sky blue with a white staircase coming down on two sides. There are some door under the stairs that lead off to the kitchen, but I ain’t supposed to go there. The front parlor, dining room and Miss Eleanor’s study are to the right off the entryway and the men’s parlor, billiards room and library are to the left. Everything is fixed up right nice ‘specially compared to where I was ‘fore I got here.

 

As I was sayin’ I was in the school room readin' this book called The Little Princess by Mrs. Burnett. I was worrin' about Sarah's loss of fortune when Sadie, the inside day maid, interrupted me, “Miss Bea, the mistress would like to see you in the library.”

 

Sadie’s fourteen, that's two years older'n me. She works at the house a couple of days a week. We sorta pal around sometimes. Last week after her shift, we snuck out into the topiary garden and smoked a cigar. The cigar was a stub that Mr. Sinjin, oh, I forgot: the proper way to say his name is Mr. St. John. Any way, he snuffed the cigar out when he arrived. I nipped it and hid it in the flower urn in the hallway 'til I could talk Sadie into tryin' it with me. I have to admit the conception of the thing was much better than the realness of the thing. We both turned green and near to vomited after two measly puffs. Once again, I had to wonder about Mr. Saint John's mental constitution, if you know what I mean.

 

I know on which side my bread is buttered and hurried down to the sittin’ room checkin' in the mirror to make sure I didn't look like too much of a mess. My hair was wild as usual, but overall I was mostly tidy, and I had my shoes on.

 

I stopped in the wide doorway to catch my breath and to compose myself. Miss Eleanor, shimmering with beauty and elegance, was dressed in a peach silk, floor length dress with ivory lace at the throat and cuffs. Her honey blonde hair was smoothy twisted into a swept style that is all the rage now called the Parisian twist. She looked like a mirage. “Miss Eleanor, you wanted to see me?” I asked all demure and lady-like.

 

“Yes, Bea. Please have a seat.” She said with a slight Bostonian accent as she gestured to a small brocade side chair with carved roses on the back. I made a good effort not to flop into it. “I have been thinking,” she announced as she floated down on a pastel sofa. The four most dreaded words in the English language since they always involved her improvement project — me. “I've been thinking that you have made remarkable progress in your lessons with Mrs. Johansen and that perhaps it is time for you to go to school.”

 

I was suddenly feeling like I did the day I arrived here two years ago: all hot and shivery at once.

 

School. “Ssssscccchool,” I stuttered.

 

“Why, yes. You could meet other girls your own age and make some friends.” She noticed my white knuckles and clammy complexion, “What's wrong Bea? Are you ill?”

 

I could have lied and said I was sick, but I made a vow never ever to lie to my savior, Miss Eleanor. “I like learnin' here. I don't need no friends . . .”

 

“Learning with a “g,” Bea, and it's ‘any friends. I don't need any friends. ‘” she corrected. “You must be upset to use Gutter Speech. Does the idea of going to school upset you? Believe me, we all worry about our first day of school.”

 

“But I'm old for my first day of school. I'm twelve years old and others starting school will be about five or six, won't they?” I protested.

 

“Oh, I assure you, you will be placed with the girls your own age. You are a very smart girl, Bea. You've learned everything very quickly and you have a gift for the sciences. Miss Nunnely, the headmistress of a fine school for young ladies is coming by this afternoon for tea and to discuss your education. I'd like you to be present. Think over your concerns. Go through your recent writing and select one you think is your best to give her. Change into tea attire and come down at four to join us, please.” She turned back to her writing, and I knew I had been dismissed.

 

 

 

Desiring to please Miss Wheatley yet dreadin' the tea party, I did my best to be presentable. Sadie came in to help me get my wild curls in order with brushin' and ironin'. By the time she was finished I had to admit that I looked almost normal. Unless you got a good look at my eyes. You see, I have one golden and one green, which is odd 'round here. When I was a pick pocket, my Pa made me wear shades to hide my queer eyes and to blend in. I still wear eye-gear with tinted lenses.

 

We, that's Miss Wheatley and I, decided that perhaps we ought to downplay the eye queerness, since I was already an oddity in the neighborhood: reformed pickpocket, daughter of a pinch-penny drunk, and murderess of the English language. Only a few of us knew that truth though, most of the neighbors thought I was the orphaned offspring of a cousin of Miss Wheatley's.

 

I choose lavender specks to match my lavender dress. It had a big white collar like those the ocean sailors have on their uniforms, with what they call a drop waist, and pleated skirt to my knees. My tights were lavender and my boots a dark shade of purple. Sadie had my hair braided up nice with a big lavender and white striped bow. Even Artful, my mecho-dog, had on a matching sailor collar.

 

We didn't always have mecho-dogs, or so they say. Dogs were once alive, but some kind of distemper killed them off years ago. Artful is all shiny brass and leather with pointy ears and a stubby little tail that wags in the cutest way. He is very sturdy but small enough to slip into my day-bag when I want to bring him where there's a crowd. Miss Eleanor bought him for me about eight months ago. Artful is a powerful computer and is programed to bark when my speech slips from Standard East Coast English, which I call Nice Talk, to Gutter Tongue, my native speech. He has lots of other programs like an encyclopedia, and atlas, and games. I have taught Artful to speak which saves the time of opening his screen and reading the display. It makes him more alive, if you know what I mean.

 

I’ve learned how to disable the speech program but leave it on because I want to speak correctly to please Miss Eleanor.

 

“You need some color,” Sadie remarked. “You look all pale as a frog's belly. How bad can going to school be? I go every day and I ain’t dead. You’re lucky is what you are!”

 

“Blast it! If it's so great, you go in my place!” I snapped. Instantly regretting my foul temper, I explained, “Sadie, I am afraid. Don't you see? I’m not the daughter of a fancy house; I'm a street girl dressed up in fancy clothes. I am like a turd in wrapped in fancy paper, and they'll smell me out soon enough.” Artful's frantic barking eventual pierced my distraught brain as Sadie stopped my whining with a quick hug.

 

“You aren't a turd, though you do have some nice wrappers. If Miss Wheatley says you are ready, then you have to trust that she knows best. You . . .”

 

I interrupted, “I don't know if I can pretend all day long. I am afraid I'll slip up and switch from nice-speech into gutter-tongue.”

 

“And what's the worst that can happen? Your dog will bark? They'll laugh at you? You won't have any friends? Is that any worse than facing starvation and drunken beatings every day?” Sadie argued.

 

“You are right. I am acting like a crybaby! Come on, Artful, let's go show the school mistress what Miss Bea Griffith is made of,” I called as I screwed my courage to the sticking place and set off to meet my fate.

Artfully Arranged

Artful bounded down the stairs ahead of me barking encouragement. I paused and checked my appearance, pinched my cheeks, adjusted my collar, and took a deep breath to calm my shaking. You are a young lady now in the care of a fine woman, not a raggedy pickpocket. Your name means happiness — be happy! Go Bea! I repeated in my mind as I entered the drawing room. I did not notice the fine wool carpets, the peach colored silk wall-coverings, the scent of fresh flowers, or the soft conversation between Miss Wheatley and her guest, Headmistress Nunnely.

 

Rather than the fire-breathing dragon I had been expecting, I found a diminutive woman in a black serge dress sipping tea from a china cup and conversing softly. Artful, a skilled social coordinator, trotted over and sat gazing at the tea sandwiches, begging despite his lack of a digestive system.

 

“Ah, here she is. Come Bea and meet Headmistress Nunnely,” requested Miss Eleanor when she noticed me standing in the doorway. “Headmistress Nunnely, may I present my charge Bea Griffith.”

 

I took the soft hand Miss Nunnely offered and was surprised by the firmness of her clasp. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma'am,” I said as I met her frank gaze. “I hope I have not kept you waiting.”

 

“Not at all,” she replied, “we have been looking at some of your work and discussing an appropriate placement for you at Vansittart Academy for Innovative Young Women. You have demonstrated a gift for working with your mecho-dog, I am told.”

 

“I do enjoy working with his programing and keeping his moving parts in good order. I am not sure if it is a gift. I do consider my stewardship of Artful a gift and am constantly learning from him,” I replied. Artful barked in agreement.

 

“Artful, would you give us a recap of Miss Bea's work. In English, if you please,” commanded Miss Nunnely. I watched in delight as Artful's jaw gears rapidly moved his lower jaw in time to his rapid list of my skills in programing and mechanics. Artful doesn’t really need to move his jaws to speak, but I thought it was a nice touch. His programing allows him to behave like a simple mecho-dog pet with an array of canine behaviors, yet his enhanced programing make him a very special combination of art, personality, and machine. Miss Nunnery listened carefully interrupting only occasionally to ask for clarification or details as I looked on twisting my bracelet with anxiety.

 

Listening to Artful recounting what I had accomplished in two years made me realize that I had come a long way from an illiterate street urchin. It made me realize that I wanted more. That I was hungry for more education. In only a few moments my anxiety over attending school turned to anxiety over not being admitted.

 

Artful finished. Both women sat all shimmery in the soft afternoon sun, making me wonder about the light in this room making people seem to glow. Miss Nunnery sipped her tea, appraising me over the rim of her cup. I waited in agony as she slowly placed her cup on the saucer and placed it daintily on the nearby table. She extended her hand toward me saying, “I believe that you will find Vansittart will suit your interests and talents; we will expect to see you, and Artful, of course, in three weeks when the next session begins.”

 

“Thank you Miss, you won't be sorry. I promise!” I exclaimed as Artful danced around my legs barking in excitement. We dashed out of the room and out into the garden before I lapsed into gutter speech and embarrassed myself. School! Two weeks! Woowee!

 

 

 

My goal for the next two weeks has been to refrain from slipping into gutter talk. Zero. None. I knew it would be a stiff challenge, but class anxiety – how's that for fancy talk? – is a stern taskmaster. Now that I have a safe life, I never want to go back to a life like my former one of poverty, filth, sickness and death. I also practiced my posture while eating, walking and sitting. I practiced sitting in every skirt and dress I owned until my legs ached. I drank hundreds of cups of tea practicing balancing a teacup on my knee while seated on the edge of a chair, while standing, while seated comfortably on a sofa, at a desk. I felt I would drown myself in tea.

 

This morning, Miss Eleanor and I combed through my clothing looking for stains, for splits and tears, and for a proper fit. We sorted my clothes into a pile for the orphanage, a pile for the laundry, a pile for me to practice my stitching on, and a pile for the seamstress who was scheduled for tomorrow. This afternoon we are going to Market Street to update my wardrobe. At least my dresses won't give away my gutter origins. I hope my speech will not either.

 

I have grown accustomed to the luxuries of the life I now live, but occasionally I do have twinges of guilt. On the way to the shops on the street trolley, I saw a gaunt, young girl, not much older than me, dressed in little better than rags begging on a street corner with a tiny baby. That could be me. The universe really did do me a favor the day it threw me into the path of Saint John Wheatley and Miss Eleanor. But why me?Why was I saved and not that girl?

 

My own thoughts surprised me. I was becoming downright reflective. I didn't find an answer in any of the faces I saw through my faintly tinted green specks. I turned my attention to the task at hand and smiled wryly at Miss Eleanor who was observing me. She reached over an gave my hand a quick squeeze telling me, without words, that she understood.

 

The doors of the trolley opened in a pneumatic whoosh to a cacophony of sounds: cries of vendors, honking horns, the hiss of steam from the trolley, and the whirr of the thousand machines needed for commerce. We made our way from the trolley to our first stop, the glover's. We examined several pairs made from the softest of kid skin and selected a pair in a soft grey and a pair in soft brown to wear on my walk to school. We also selected a black bag to carry my books with an umbrella to match.

 

Our next stop was the draper's where we selected some black serge skirts. We looked at the latest style with pleats in the front, but I wanted to avoid the extra weight and bulk and chose some that fell gracefully from the waist to mid-calf. I was glad that I could still wear shorter skirts as I looked at all of the heavy fabrics and full styles. I selected several blouses in the latest style with lace ruffles down the front and puffy sleeves. Miss Eleanor insisted that I select a new street coat, so we looked at about ten different styles before selecting a coat in the style called a trench, with pockets, a belt and a split back for easy walking. The material was light and weatherproof in the rain.

 

As we were leaving the draper's a high pitch voice called out, “Eleanor, my dear! I do say, what a surprise to find you here today!” Eleanor grabbed my arm and we spun around to face a very round and red-faced woman.

 

The woman was staring at me so hard that I wondered if I had grown a wart on the end of my nose. I couldn't help but stare back, and what I saw was a wonder indeed. She was as big around as a sugar barrel and dressed in layers of petticoats that added another several inches to her girth. Her hair was a kinky orangey-red snarled up into a bun on top of which was a bunch of feathers in red and blue. I came to my senses with a poke from Miss Eleanor's elbow, and curtsied after being introduced to Mrs. Mabel McGee, widow of Col. McGee formerly of the Balloon Corps.

 

“Well, I am happy to finally make your acquaintance, Miss Bea. We were beginning to wonder if you were a figment of Miss Eleanor's imagination,” Mrs. McGee announced in a high pitched nasal voice as we moved to a less busy corner of the store. “You will be attending Vansittart Academy next term, won't you?” I nodded yes to her question as she rattled on. “My daughter Hedidia attends Vansi and is your age. I am sure you will be fast friends. In fact, I insist that she walk with you to school each day since we are such close neighbors. Don't you agree, Eleanor? It's settled then. Heddy will call at eight am on Monday in three weeks, and you shall go to school together. Ah . . . there is my man, I must run. See you at the luncheon Tuesday, Eleanor!” Whew, what a whirlwind.

A Little Thinking is a Dangerous Thing

We left the store and crossed the street to visit a tea shop. As Mrs Eleanor and I settled down for a hot cup of tea, she brought the conversation back to Mrs. McGee, “What did you think of Mrs. McGee?” I took a sip of the hot tea to give myself a moment to think.

 

“I founder her . . .” I selected my words carefully “surprising. Her appearance suggests indolence and carelessness, but her movements and speech are very energetic and determined. I find myself at odds about what to think.”

 

“Your years on the street have given you wisdom. Often others perceive Mrs. McGee as a flighty, busy-body. It is a role she plays well, for, if one is dismissed as a foolish creature, one often hears things best kept secret. She also is not a threat to vain women who think beauty is the sole defining attribute of womanhood. Beneath the facade of flightiness is a woman as strong a steel,” Miss Eleanor explained.

 

“So you are saying that sometimes we have to play a role in order to fit in and accomplish our goals?” I asked.

 

“Exactly. Beneath the veneer of reality is a morass of falsehoods, assumptions and innuendo. The mysterious and wild lies beneath the placid and controlled order of this society we have constructed. Many people are motivated solely by selfish desires that hurt others. But you know that all too well, don't you, my dear Bea?”

 

We finished our tea in thoughtful silence. Miss Eleanor's words gnawed at my thoughts as I contemplated the bleak picture she painted of humanity. The world of the stews, the dark streets of thieves, drunks and whores are dangerous, but so are the drawing rooms and salons of the fine ladies and gentlemen of society. One has to tread carefully as if on the surface of a freshly frozen pond to avoid plunging beneath the surface where the ice is to too thin.

A soak in a nice hot tub is just what I need and just what I am getting. When I looked in the mirror this afternoon, it looked like I was back with my dear old Pa with the darkness under my eyes like double-bam shiners. To honest with you, I am worried about fitting in at this new school, being out in public, under scrutiny. I may be out of the stinking mess that is the Quad but I am not sure if I am ready and polished enough to pass in real society.

 

As you can tell, my talk with Miss Eleanor has been weighing on my mind. That's one reason I am so tired. I keep looking, you see, trying to see beneath the thin ice coat of politeness and civility as Miss Eleanor calls it. I try to use my Pa to exercise my thoughts, chewin’ and worryin’ the past like a piece of taffy. Was Pa being a sorry dad the real Pa or the glaze over something even more wild? Was the woman-hatin’ and child beatin’ drunk the real Pa or was that the tired-of-playing-the-role-game Pa?

 

I hope you don't mind too much me using a little gutter-speech here. I'm just too tired and no one's here but you an' me, right?

 

So how does it happen that a little fellow, like my Pa musta been – all innocent and new, turn into a mean-hearted fellah who'd consider sellin’ his only daughter for a few coins? Was his childhood as bleak as he made mine? Why did he hate my mother? When did he start drinkin' and why? Do all men drink? Do all men beat up on women folk? Miss Eleanor says not all men do, but what's she know, her unmarried and all? Do folks take to drinkin' and meanness because of the the wildness or the society-ness?

 

Then I got to thinkin' about Sadie and the other staff here. Is their polite servitude the glazin' over the wildness? What's their life like when they are not here? Maybe here is the wildness? Or maybe the civilized and the wildness exists in both work and at home. It's a puzzle, to be sure.

 

If my Pa couldn't control his wildness and it made him a mean, hateful drunk, will I be unable to control my wildness? Maybe my mother controlled his wildness. How? When I remember my mother, I see a worn old, old-before-her-time, beaten down woman with no fight in her. I'm thinkin' she brought out the wildness.

 

Then I think about my queer eyes. Are they my wildness trying to get out? How did I come by one golden eye and one green eye?

 

So, you can see, my mind is very busy tryin' to figure things out. The thing weighin' heaviest on my heart and mind is the thought of needin' to go back, back to the stews and find out what I can about my mother and my Pa and there wildness. I need to do this so I can figure out my own wildness.

 

The idea of going back is frightening, but my thoughts keep going back to the idea. How can I find out who I really am without going back?

 

I am afraid.

 

I went to bed in a fever of worryin' and woke up with a fever of the skin and a stuffed-up head. Maybe all that crazy thinkin' about wildness and going to find out about my pa and mother was a result of a sickness comin' on. Probably so.

 

I stayed in my room and played some games with Artful. The day was drizzly wet and the wind rattled the windows as it whipped by. Even though it was late August it was a bit chilly, but he thick velvet drapes kept the draft out an muffled the sound of the storm. The hiss of steam from the radiator competed with moan of the wind as Artful and I sat on the sofa playing gin rummy. I was losing and thinking about studying but was too tired to even hold to my Proper Speech for too long.

 

I decided to look in the city hall records on the date of my birth. The data files were easily accessible with Artful's help, and I skimmed the records lookin' for Luther, that's my Pa, and Abigail Griffith, my mother, with a birth record. Nothin'. Then I looked the month before. Nothin'. The month after. Nothin'. No Bea Griffith born to Luther and Elaine Griffith in June, July or August 1900. Not the answer I was lookin' for – just more questions. When was I born? Where was I born?

 

Tired and frazzled, I decided to catch forty-winks – you know, take a nap. I plugged Artful in and shut him down for a charge, snuggled under my favorite quilt, and slipped off to sleep real quick-like. After what seemed like only a few minutes, I woke from a bad dream with my heart a racin' like crazy. I was dreamin' of a rainy night with thunder and lightening cracking. I dreamed of a woman sobbin' and a baby cryin' and a dark shadowy figure slamming a door. But it weren't a house door then there was a crack-like but not thunder. The sound of the woman's sobbing became real quiet, but the baby kept on screaming and crying . . . mommy . . .mommy . . . mommy. My eyes were wet with tears.

 

I shiver just rememberin' . . . the fever caused the bad dream, I figured. That and my search for my own birth records comin' up empty and all. It was such a sad and lonely dream, too. I hope it doesn't come back. I dread the dreams that already haunt me. Strange dreams in strange places with people I never saw. Some day, I'll tell you more, but my heart ain't in it today. I hope you understand.

 

I lay there for an eternity starin’ up at the white canopy over my bed. I tossed and turned the sheets feeling like sand paper. Finally, I could hear the crow of a cock in the distance and got up.

 

I felt mighty lonely, so I went downstairs to see about some hot chocolate and cookies – and some company.

Once More into the Breach

A couple of days saw me better, and the first day of school was racing toward me. I had to take some action now while I had the time. I made a plan with Sadie to go into the Quad. She brought me some clothes from Ladies Aid Society Shop: some boy's britches and a jacket. I felt safer going into the Quad in character rather than as myself – or any female for that matter. In my experience, the Quad is not a safe place for anyone, not to mention females.

 

The brown plaid woolen britches were itchy after wearing fine cotton and silk. I had to take them off and put some tights on to stop the itching. I used one of my old shirts that missed the sorting a few days ago, braided my hair and stuffed it under a newsboy's hat that I had Sadie get for me. I did my best to make it look less new. I just could not bear the thought of putting some dirty hat on my head – me who once was crawling with vermin. Ironic, isn't it?

 

I put Artful in an old satchel with a few coins and some apples. I stuck a silver piece in each shoe for insurance and set off down the back stairs. Sadie was waiting for me at the corner and whistled, “You'll pass for an urchin, I guess. C'mon, the trolley is due any sec.”

 

We bolted sown the street just in time to swing up onto the trolley as it pulled away from the stop. Laughing between huff and puffs, we were eager to begin our adventure. “So, what's your plan, Bea?”

 

“I want to go back to my old neighbor to see if I can find old Zeeka. He was a neighbor who watched out for me when he could. I want to see if he remembers me being born or my father and mother coming home with a baby,” I sighed.

 

“You may want to switch out of Proper Speech for the day,” Sadie pointed out. “I know you been working hard at it, but . . .”

 

“Dang! I forgot! Anyway, I'm a hopin' to see old Zeeke – one of the old fellas who was nice to me. See if he knows anythin' useful. I hope I can trust 'im,” I rubbed my hands agains my britches admiring the faux filth I had applied using a special mix of mud, ink and caster oil.

 

“We gotta watch for slavers,” Sadie warned. “Heard there's been kids taken and never heard from 'gain. And women . . .” she shivered and we both understood that the women would be sold as sex workers somewhere far away. Suddenly, our adventure didn't seem like such a great idea, but I do have a stubborn streak and need to find out who I am..

 

We switched trolleys twice before we reached the end of the line. Trolleys didn't go into the Quad. Maybe we should have taken that as a warning.

 

As we climbed down from the trolley at the last stop, I felt a bit like Dorothy – knowing I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The narrow streets were filthy with garbage lined gutters. Bits of paper chased each other with the blast from the pneumatic door until they settled once more onto the caked mud street. The buildings were as dingy as the street with years of grime muting colors and smearing windows.

 

In unison Sadie and I shivered and said, “Let's get goin'!” We pulled up the collars of our jackets, more against the chill of fear than against any cold, and headed down the dim street toward the Quad. The reason this part of town is called the Quad is 'cause it is made up of four rival neighborhoods: Delhi-town where most of the poor and illegal workers from India live; Creole-town where mostly illegal African workers live; Gyspy-town, where refugees from the reoccupation of Arab lands after the last war live; and Trash-town, where I grew up, the home of every sort of riffraff. The neighborhoods fought over turf, jobs, and bragging rights as the toughest bunch of all.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I am a retired teacher living in Florida. I have long been a writer and avid reader. I have a memoir in the process of publication and enjoy writing several hours every day.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
My favorite books are John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. I love the quirky characters and dysfunctional families.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I had just finished re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and thought I would do a bit of fan fiction. I wanted a female protagonist who was spunky and struggled with the same identity and social issues as Huck.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I love and need to write every day. I was very worried about time hanging heavy on my hands in retirement, but time flies when I am writing.

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Can Magnolia run away from her fate?
Cinderfella
What if the shoe was on the other foot?