The Gritty Ones: 1877

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve done a writing post, which is silly, since I’ve been trying to work on editing and wrapping up my novel. It also brought to my attention that I haven’t posted any pieces of the story. So here’s a bit of a preview. At this point of the story, Mary Morton is living as a maid in the Dubois household. It is 1877 and Mrs. Dubois is dying of tuberculosis. And while she doesn’t yet know it, Mrs. Dubois death will be a turning point in Mary’s young life. But will that point lead to happiness or pain? Enjoy!

It was dark when I awoke to a horrid, hacking sound. I laid still as I tried to pinpoint what the noise was and where it was coming from. When I realized it came from Mrs. Dubois’ room, I tried rousing Anna. “Anna,” I whispered as I shook her shoulders. But she had been up the past two nights nursing Mrs. Dubois, and she shoved away my arm, mumbling words I couldn’t understand. As the coughing grew louder and more forced, I heaved a sigh and scooted to the end of the bed, climbing carefully over Anna’s sprawled legs. The floorboards creaked beneath my bare feet as I made my way to the door that opened on Mrs. Dubois’ bedroom.

The stench I encountered when I twisted the knob and gently pushed inward made me gag. I lifted the top of my nightgown and covered my mouth with the thin fabric as I moved forward. The air was thick, stale, the coppery scent of blood heavy, and the buzz of flies was deafening. On the dresser and tables were jars of dried flowers and herbs, an attempt, I assumed, to cover the strong scent of death. As I crept closer to the bedside, I was transported to my childhood. Just a small girl again stepping cautiously to her mother’s bedside, with the thin woman’s haggard, wheezing breaths strong in my ear.

For time unknown, I stood over her, looking down at her wide-eyed gasps. “Wa-water,” Mrs. Dubois breathed. Her eyes dropped to the table beside her and I followed her gaze. Beside the glass lay a wrinkled lace handkerchief, varying shades of pink and brown stained it’s once pure whiteness, and I reached for it and dipped it in the water jar before I set the dampened corner upon her lips. Her eyes closed as the water trickled and soothed, her throat working. I wet the cloth twice more before I heard Anna’s feet shuffle to stand beside me. “Here,” she held out her hand. “Give me that.” I handed her the jar and cloth and took two steps back. She talked in a soft tone as she placed the hankie to the poor woman’s lips, and brushed the damp hair from Mrs. Dubois brow. I could do no more to help, so I returned to our shared room and tried my best to sleep. My mind was full of dark thoughts: Mrs. Dubois twisting with the memories of my mother, and I rested uneasily. I awoke when Anna returned. Long minutes later I heard her softly say, “Thank you”.

We lay shoulder to shoulder there in the dark. I reached over and took her hand in mine, our fingers interlacing and I squeezed her sweating palm. I was reminded of nights so many years ago it seemed then, when I would hold Amelia’s tiny hand within my own whenever she awoke from bad dreams. I felt Anna rest her head against my shoulder, her breathing slowed and deepened and I knew she had fallen asleep. That night, my opinion of Anna changed, and I realized that we were more alike than I had ever believed. She wasn’t a hard, blunt woman by nature. No, it was her life, our life, that made her the way she was. A hardened shell surrounded her to protect her from feeling pain, hurt, loss and I understood that well. I closed my eyes, and fell asleep.


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