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REQUIEM IN C-SHARP MINOR

Published March 19, 2020 by rochellewisoff

This month I’m taking part in Writer’s Unite! WRITE THE STORY. Click the link to see how to add your story for March’s prompt. 

At almost 2,000 words this is not a flash fiction, but a subject near and dear to my heart. As the survivors are aging and dying off, we who remain must keep the message alive! 

REQUIEM IN C-SHARP MINOR

            “Tonight, we play ‘Hungarian Dance Number 5’.” Shifra Mendleson poised her bow over her violin and winked at her great grandson. “You’re ready to join me?”

            Twelve-year-old Aaron wrinkled his nose and tucked his violin under his chin. “I don’t know it very well.”

            “Then you must practice.”

            “I don’t want to be a concert violinist like you, Savta. I’d rather play soccer.”

            Shifra shrugged. “Eh. Soccer. Shmoccer. Your violin could save your life, you know.”

            He stared at his grandmother. Had she lost her mind? She was, after all, past ninety. Her faded brown eyes twinkled.

She set her instrument on her lap and stroked its pockmarked neck. “My dear old friend. You are mature enough, Aaron I think, for me to tell you my story.”

“I already know about the camps and the Nazis, Savta. It’s Israel. We learned about the Holocaust in school.”

“Your great-grandparents lived it. So, I’m gonna tell you what the history book don’t tell you. What your parents and teachers don’t tell you.”

Glad for a reprieve from painful practice, Aaron laid his violin in his lap.

Savta’s gaze went past him, to some far-off place as it often did.

 “I ran all the way home from school. I couldn’t wait to tell Mama Karl Schmidt, the banker’s son, had invited me to his twelfth birthday party. Karl came from one of the wealthiest families in Heidelberg. They lived in a fine mansion not too far from our modest bungalow.

            “Mama met me at the door with a hug and a kiss. ‘Go change into your play clothes, Shifra.’

            “I stamped my foot. ‘Are you listening, Mama?’

“‘Yes. Yes. You’re invited to the Schmidt house. Hang up your dress. I don’t want to find it on the floor like yesterday.’

“‘All right, Mama.’ I chattered excitedly. ‘There will be pastries and chocolates.’ I hugged my books. ‘Karl says I’m the prettiest girl in class, even if I am a Jew.’

“Mama frowned. ‘How bighearted of him.’

“‘Are you angry with me, Mama?’

“She caressed my cheek. ‘No, of course not.’ 

“I breathed in the scents of fresh-baked bread and chicken soup emanating from her clothes. My mouth watered in anticipation of our evening meal. Mama made the best soup in Heidelberg. Probably in the whole world. ‘What time will Papa be home?’ I asked.

“‘Not until 6:30. He has a tutoring job.’

“Oy. My disappointed stomach growled and I whined. ‘That’s two whole hours.’

“‘Good, you can tell time. Nu? Ample time for you to practice.’

“I groaned.”

“See?” Aaron chuckled. “You didn’t like to practice either.”

 Tilting her head, Savta sighed. “It’s part of being a child, I suppose. Anyway, I drug my heels to my room. I hated it when Papa was late. He taught music at University. He’d taken on extra students to help pay my brother’s medical bills.”

“Was he sick?”  

“Born healthy and strong, my big brother Aaron was at the top of his medical class. One day, on his way home from school, a gang of vigilantes attacked him screaming, ‘Jüden! Dirty Jüden’ He spent weeks in hospital but never recovered.”

Shifra’s grandson shifted positions in his chair. “I’m named after Uncle Aaron, right Savta?”  

“A good Yiddisher kopf on your shoulders.” She poked his forehead with a gentle finger. “It used to make me angry when he teased me and call me das brag. The brat. Now I would give anything to hear him say it again.”

“Did you practice then?’”

“Of course. Make no mistake. I was a good girl. Of course, I kvetched and complained. ‘What if I’m not good enough to be a concert violinist?’ I asked.

“Mama gave me a potch en tukhus. ‘You have a gift,’ she said. ‘Mark my words. Some day people will come from miles around to hear you play.’

“Rolling my eyes, I went to my room. After I changed out of my school uniform, I took my violin from its case. This very violin you see before you today. It was in better condition then.

“‘Hello, Aaron. It’s me.’ I said and plucked the strings. ‘Das Brag. What would you like to hear?’”

            “What did he say?”

“Say?” Savta shut her eyes. “He just sat in his wheelchair and stared out the window like I wasn’t even there. His gnarled hands lay in his lap like herrings on a plate. I kissed his cheek and whispered. ‘That’s my favorite one, too.’”

“But he didn’t say anything.”

“Who’s telling this story, you or me?”

“Was it really Uncle Aaron’s favorite music?”

“Like I should lie? I always hoped if I played it well enough, it would bring him out of his fog. Alas it never did.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes. I am playing Hungarian Dance Number Five. For all my protesting, I loved to play it. Once I started, the music would transport me distant lands. So caught up on the wings of the notes I never heard my Papa—your great-great-grandfather—come in.

“He applauded and cried, ‘Brava!’  

“I jumped this high into the air.” Savta held her hand over her head. “Then I leaped into my father’s arms. ‘You’re home early.’

“He laughed and the sound of it was like a—a cleansing rain in the springtime. ‘My darling virtuoso,’ he said. ‘It’s almost 7:30.’

“Burying my face in his shoulder I clung to his neck. ‘What did you bring me?’ Such a spoiled brat I was.

“‘I brought you me.’ He set me on my feet. ‘Let’s see what Mama’s made to delight us for supper.’

“That night as he spread schmaltz on his bread, Papa looked from Mama, to me, to Aaron’s empty eyes. ‘The university fired me today.’”

“Mama clapped her hand over her heart. ‘Why?’

“‘Why do you think? I fear it won’t be long before—’ He raised his face to the ceiling.

“Never had I seen such fear in my father’s eyes. ‘Before what, Papa?’

“The telephone rang before he could answer me. I leaped up and rushed to answer it. 

“‘Hallo. Shifra?’ My heart thumped. It was Karl. He said, ‘I’m so sorry. Mother says you cannot come to my party.’

“Soon after that, I said goodbye to my classmates I’d known since we were babies. The authorities said I was no longer welcome in their school. Things got worse and worse for us Jews.

“Three years later, the unthinkable happened.

“Someone banged on our door. ‘Jüden! Open! Schnell!’

“Papa’s hands shook as he turned the knob. How frail he’d grown. He opened the door. There stood Karl, decked out in a Wehrmacht uniform.

“Putting his finger to his lips, he looked over his left and then his right shoulder. ‘Gather what belongings you can and come with me. Please there’s no time to explain. I beg you to trust me.’

“Trust him? The boy who shunned me and broke my heart? He stands before me in the devil’s raiment and has the audacity to ask us to trust him?

“Papa squeezed my arm. ‘What choice do we have? Come, Shifra. Time to meet our fate.’

“Clutching my violin in its case, I steeled myself as my parents and I marched ahead of my ex-boyfriend turned Nazi. He held us at gunpoint and barked orders. My pulse thudded against my temples in dread as we made our way through the crowded street.

Those who refused to comply were gunned down on the spot. I saw it with my own eyes. A soldier shot a baby in his mother’s arms, then shot her for crying. They plucked out the beards of old men. A man in a wheelchair plummeted to his death from a two-story window.  A part of me rejoiced that Aaron had passed away peacefully in his sleep the night before.

 “To our shock, Karl guided our path away from the trains to his father’s mansion. Herr Schmidt met us at the door. ‘Wilkommen’ He embraced Papa. ‘Oscar, forgive me. I never dreamt it would come to this.’

“He led us to a hidden apartment at the back of his house. ‘It’s cramped, but safe.’

“For a time, life was good in our three-room hideaway. Mama insisted I practice my violin for an hour every day. Papa would join me with his clarinet. Karl came to visit when he could.

“‘You shouldn’t be so chummy with that boy,’ Mama would say. ‘He’s a Nazi and you are…’ She pointed to the yellow star on my sweater.

“Two years passed. We celebrated New Year’s Eve 1942 with the Schmidts in our quarters. Papa and I played ‘Auld Lange Syne’ and ‘Havah Nagila.’ We laughed and danced. Herr Schmidt assured us, there was so much celebration in the town no one would hear us.

“After everyone had gone to bed, Karl woke me. Sitting on my bed, he bent to kiss me. He slipped a ring on my finger. ‘My dearest. I’ve gotten orders to go to the Russian front. Promise you will wait for me.’ How could I refuse?”

Aaron pointed to the oval-shaped diamond on her hand. “Is that the ring, Savta?”

“Yes.” She flourished her hand so the gem sparkled in the lamplight. “He had a good eye for jewelry, didn’t he?”

“Did you get married?”

Savta wagged her head. “A month later, Frau Schmidt barged into our living room, a telegram clutched in her fist. She waved it under my nose. ‘My son is dead! You’ll pay for this you Jüden whore.’”

“How was it your fault, Savta?”

“Grief makes people say horrible things. Do horrible things. Anyway, I had little time to mourn my beloved Karl. The next few days are a blur in my addled memory, yet so clear it’s like it happened yesterday. Herr Schmidt committed suicide. Blew his brains out in his office right before the SS stormed our safe haven.

“Papa, whose health had declined, couldn’t fight them off although he tried and was rewarded for his efforts with, not one, but three bullets. So much blood. The soldiers herded Mama and me to the trains.  

“Amid stench and tears, Mama and I were greeted at Auschwitz by more uniforms. Our clothes ripped from us, our heads shaved and our arms tattooed. You can imagine my surprise when I was allowed to keep my violin.”

“Why?”

“Because, of all things, those sadistic animals loved music.” Savta tucked her violin under her chin and played a lullaby. “Can you imagine? They gathered all the musicians in the camp and forced us to formed an orchestra.”

Aaron recognized the song for his grandmother had played it for him many times. A sweet smile spread her lips and tears oozed from under her closed eyelids. Her white hair glowed under the lamp.

“I met your great-grandfather in that vermin-infested place. He played the cello, you know.”

“I don’t remember Saba Yosef.”

“Of course not. He died before you were born. Your brother Yosi is named for him. We survived hell together. We married a few months after the liberation—with Karl’s ring.”

“Didn’t it bother Saba that another man gave it to you? How come the guards didn’t confiscate it?”

“Oy, so many questions. We had no money for jewelry. Saba said the ring was a survivor like us. A gift from God by way of Karl.” Savta stopped playing and pointed to the violin’s f-holes. “No one ever thought to search inside.” She lifted the battered instrument and played a few more notes.

“So, you see, Aaron, my humble fiddle saved my life and Mama’s prophecy came true. People came from miles around to hear my music. It was the last thing they heard on their way to the gas chambers.”

1942

Published January 3, 2020 by rochellewisoff

The following story is written for the following photo prompt provided by Writers Unite!  for their Write the Story  short story challenge. All photos used by WU are public domain and require to attribution. However the story is © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 😉

1942

             When Sylvia uttered, “Hail Mary full of Grace…,” she saw Sister Honorina. With her white veil, blue eyes and round face, she resembled the paintings of the Blessed Virgin with Baby Jesus hanging on the wall of the dormitory Sylvia shared with seven other girls.   

            After praying the Rosary with Sylvia in her gentle Viennese-accented voice, Sister Honorina added the shema. “I promised to your father never to let you forget the words of your ancestors. We say them together now.”

             Sylvia recited the prayer in unison with Sister Honorina both in Hebrew and English exactly the way Papa did. “‘Shema yis’ra’el, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai echad. Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.’”

            “Sehr gut. Your Papa, he would be so proud.”

            “When are he and Momma coming back for me?”

            Tears welled up in the nun’s eyes. She dabbed them with her sleeve. “We must leave it in God’s hands.” Tucking Sylvia’s Teddy bear in beside her, Sister Honorina kissed the child’s forehead. “Sleep now, kleine schvester.

            Sylvia curled up on her side, hugging her bear. Frost formed intricate patterns on the window. The way the streetlight outside the convent illuminated them fascinated the eight-year-old. She remembered Papa’s stories about frost-faeries with icicle paint brushes. Closing her eyes, she heard Momma and Papa.

            Momma sounded angry. “You’re filling her head with stuff and nonsense. How’s this equipping her to face a world filled with discord and oppression, Aaron? How?”

            “Esther, she’s only six.”

            “You don’t hear the news? Six-year-olds are being slaughtered in their beds. Babies murdered in their mothers’ arms. No synagogue is safe. No Jewish market. Just like my grandparents in Poland. How long before they throw rocks through our windows?”

            “We’re an enlightened society, Esther. Consider our technological advances. Never again. The pogroms aren’t going to happen here.”

            “My Aaron, the scientist. My Prince Charming who still believes in fairytales. I love you, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong.”

            Sylvia shivered and pulled the covers over her head. It happened a year ago. A year after her parents’ argument. Momma’s frightening predictions came true. Sylvia saw their beloved cantor beaten to death—right in the shul, the words of the Kaddish Shalem on his lips. She could still smell the sulfur odor that hung in the air—hear the screams and moans of the dying.

            By some miracle, Sylvia and her parents escaped that Shabbos day, the day the Shoah began in earnest. Many of their neighbors had already gone into hiding. Momma and Papa decided it would be safer for Sylvia to place her with Christians. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she might escape being pegged as a Jew.

            Papa carried her in his strong arms. He smelled of aftershave and chocolate. His heart thumped against her chest. “You will do what the sisters tell you, Silver Girl, do you understand? Even when you think it’s strange.”

            “We will take good care of her, Mr. and Mrs. Green.” Sister Honorina reached for Sylvia. “We’ll allow no harm to come to her.”

            “How can you say that?” Momma stroked Sylvia’s hair. “How can anyone in this godforsaken country make such a promise?”

            Tears streamed down Papa’s stubbled cheek. “Never forget who you are, my daughter.” He placed her in Sister Honorina’s arms. “We’ll be back soon, sweetheart.”

            Momma covered her mouth with her gloved hand. “Oh Aaron.”

            Sylvia reached for Papa. “Pinkie swear?”

            His lips trembled. He engulfed her pinkie finger in his. “As the frost-faeries are my witness.”

            March wind swooshed outside the convent. In the beds across the aisle Elizabeth Nusbaum and Naomi Resnick who were both twelve spoke in stage whispers.

            “Naomi, do you think they took our parents to the death camps?”

            “Probably.” 

            “Girls, shh.” Sister Honorina shone her flashlight on them. “This is not the time to speak of such things.”

            “Seriously? When do we talk about it? After another six million have perished?” Elizabeth bolted upright. “It’s 1942 all over again. I saw it on CNN. There are camps in Colorado and Arizona and more being constructed in New Mexico.”     

  

                

FIXING A WHOLE

Published December 19, 2019 by rochellewisoff

The following story is written for the photo prompt below and is part of the Writers Unite! challenge Write the Story

Twenty-three years ago, I fought the final round with Annie—Annie Wrecks Ya. At present I’m working on a novel based on my experience. Thus far the working title is Last Dance with Annie, but I’m not married to it.

FIXING A WHOLE

          The flashbacks started somewhere in my late thirties, upending my memories of a happy childhood. How could I have blocked out such things? Nothing made sense. I loathed the body that had betrayed me. My life spun out of control.

           It’s all about control, you know.

           Annie gave me control. No one, not my husband or even my doctor, could tell me what I could or couldn’t put in my mouth. I controlled my eating—until I didn’t. Annie did.

           Annie controlled my daily frenetic exercise. At the same time I fantasized about onion rings and fried chicken. Of course Annie would never allow me to eat them. She constantly reminded me numbers mattered. One hundred calories per meal. Twenty pink pills to purge it. The scale hovered between eighty-five and eighty-four. 

  “You like my new jeans?” I asked my friend and coworker Linda. “I can’t believe they fit.”

            “What size?” Her ice-blue gaze met mine. 

            “Zero.”

            “You’ll look nice in your child-size coffin.”

            Her comment almost became prophecy when my “dieting” caught up to me. After collapsing in a store, I was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with an eating disorder unit.

            After two months of treatment and medical leave, I returned to work.

            My size 0 jeans no longer zipped and they’d become tight around the hips and thighs. In fact, I’d outgrown my size 2’s as well.

            “You look so much better,” said Linda. “There’s color in them thar cheeks.”

            That’s a good thing, right?

            Recovery was more difficult than I’d expected. Although Annie’s grip loosened, she continued to haunt me. When someone complimented me on my weight gain Annie translated it to, “My you’re getting fat.”  

            “Body image takes time to change.” My dietitian assured me during my weekly visits. “All I can do is provide the tools. It’s up to you to use them.”

            Tools? What tools?

            One of those so-called tools offered by Dr. Wilson, my psychiatrist, was Risperdal, a drug prescribed to treat such conditions as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental health experts hoped the antipsychotic might calm the obsessive thoughts of anorexics and bulimics.

            I detested the way it made me feel. Strange. Out of touch with the rest of the world. Afraid of what I didn’t know.

            Dr. Wilson decided Risperdal alone wasn’t doing what it should. Diagnosing me as “mildly bipolar” and being “slightly” ADD, she added Lithium to my daily pill-age.

            My appetite dwindled and my anxiety level skyrocketed. I began to lose weight again, but took little pleasure in it. I barely functioned at work. How I stayed on the payroll is beyond me.

            “I’ve never seen such a severe reaction,” said Dr. Wilson. “Clearly you’re allergic.”

             My nightmare was far from over. The drugs’ half-lives of a week or two stretched into over a month. The debilitating side effects continued to take their toll, not only on me, but on my frazzled husband as well.

             One night it all came to a head.

            “I don’t know what to do for you anymore.” He fumed when I broke down. “Crying won’t help.”

            I sniffed and choked back sobs. “Stop trying to fix me!”

           With a sigh, he sank into his recliner and gathered me onto his lap. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Maybe you need to go back into the hospital.”

            I snuggled against him. His admission of helplessness comforted me. My true recovery began that very night when, together, we learned crying is sometimes the best of all tools.

***

*Note: The story is non-fiction, save the doctor’s name. (I can’t remember it 😉 ) I’m not sharing this to garner sympathy or shock anyone. Eating disorders strike any age, any ethnicity and any gender. Recovery isn’t as easy as ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘just eat something.’ The reasons are as varied as the individuals. Thank you for understanding.        

WITH THIS RING

Published June 11, 2019 by rochellewisoff

The following story is a change of pace from my usual flash fiction. I wrote it for the photo prompt below. It’s part of the Writers Unite! Monthly Write the Story. To find out how to participate CLICK HERE. 

Genre: Historical Fiction

WITH THIS RING

       Laura Gwynn cradled her month-old son in her arms. Lulled by the steady rhythm of the train taking her from familiar Pennsylvania to unknown Missouri, she shut her eyes. How had it come to this?

       She longed to confide in Mama or cry on Papa’s shoulder. This was never to be. Mama died of consumption and Papa couldn’t live with his broken heart. Laura had no siblings. Left alone at fifteen with nothing but a rundown farmhouse and a barren field, she sold the property and moved to the city. When she went to deposit the money from the sales at the bank the teller’s deep brown eyes and dazzling smile captivated her. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with Thomas Gwynn.

      Not long afterward, she accepted his proposal making her a bride at sixteen.

      Thomas had a bright future with the bank.  He promised her jewels and servants. Instead, he managed to get himself arrested for cheating at cards. The night before his scheduled trial, the men he had cheated lynched him, leaving Laura a widow at seventeen.

      Filled with pity for her, Mr. Willoughby, the bank president, loaned her the money to cover Thomas’ gambling debts. He provided her with room and board and a position as a maid to pay off the loan.

      Afraid she would lose her job, she kept her condition a secret. However, her small build and short stature made it impossible to hide for very long.

      Mary and Charles Willoughby, who desperately wanted children, offered to adopt Laura’s baby.

      “He’ll be heir to the Willoughby fortune. Surely, you see the wisdom in this.” Charles, an imposing presence with bushy white eyebrows and balding pate handed her a contract. “If you sign this, the child will never have to work a day in his life.”

      Laura pressed her palms against her belly. The baby kicked against them. She remembered Thomas’ words when they wed. “You are now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

      The child moved again. Laura refused to sign and uttered a feeble whisper. “I—I can’t.”

      “You can,” Charles thundered and waved the paper under her nose, “and you will!”

      “Oh my dear, consider your little one.” Mary grasped Laura’s hands, her faded eyes awash with longing. “Why you’re a wee child yourself.”

      So certain Laura would relent, Mary put a full layette together. She made sure Laura ate well and didn’t do any heavy lifting. While Laura didn’t mind being pampered she had no doubt as soon as Mary Willoughby had the baby in her clutches, she would cast Laura out on the street.

      During her seventh month Laura noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for mail order brides. Pictures of potential husbands accompanied mailing addresses. Laura scanned the blurry photographs.

      A young man with a pleasant face caught her attention. Alfred Cromwell. He listed himself as a truck farmer in Harrisonville, Missouri. She winced. More than she hated farm life, she hated being servant to a pair of vultures with designs on her child—bone of her bone, flesh of Thomas’ flesh.

      She had a photograph taken and enclosed it in a letter.

      A month later Mr. Cromwell replied in scrawling longhand.

                                                “5 May 1890

        “Dear Mrs. Gwynn,

       “I’d be right proud if you’d be my bride. I ain’t got much to offer but I got a sturdy cabin that could use a lady’s gentle touch. I promise to do my best to make you happy. If you  accept, I’ll be sending you a train ticket.”

             “Yours truly,

                  “Alfred C. Cromwell”

      How could she refuse? The baby would be here any day.

      The promised ticket arrived a week after Jason’s birth. One night, as soon as she felt strong enough, Laura packed her suitcase with her few belongings and Mary’s layette. She swaddled the baby, tucked him into a large wicker basket and laid a light blanket over it. Without so much as a note of explanation, Laura stepped out into the night and made her way to the depot.

      By now, the Willoughby’s had discovered her treachery. Did they send someone after her? The countryside zipped by. Jason opened his brown eyes and squinted at the early morning sunlight. Laura’s heart thudded against her ribs. She hadn’t told Alfred about the baby. What would he say—or do?

***

      Clutching a bouquet of roses, Alfred studied Laura’s photograph. “She claims she’s almost eighteen and widow woman, but she don’t look much older than fourteen, does she, Bert?”

      “That’s a fact, Alf.” His brother Bert let out a long slow whistle. “Didja happen to tell her you’re nigh onto thirty-seven? You was a might younger when that picture you put in the paper was took.”

      Alfred’s face warmed. “I mighta forgot to mention it.”

      Bert’s wife Ginny adjusted Alfred’s necktie. “Don’t you worry none. You’re still a fine specimen. Any gal would be proud to have you. As for her being a widow, it don’t matter how old a woman is. If her husband dies, she’s a widow. Plain and simple.”

      The train pulled up to the platform, its whistle heralding its arrival. Alfred tightened his grip on the flowers. He surveyed the passengers exiting the train. “She says she’s not very tall.”

      Ginny shielded her eyes with her hand and craned her neck. She pointed. “Wonder if she could be that little girl with the big basket slung over her arm.”

      Alfred inched closer for a better look. The girl in question was clad in black from her bonnet to her shoes. She stood on tiptoe as if she were searching for someone.

      “Mrs. Gwynn?” He stepped toward her. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall, if that. “Laura?”

      She raised her head to reveal surprised blue eyes and freckled cheeks framed by sleek amber locks. “Mr. Cromwell? I thought—”

      “—I’d be younger?” He took her suitcase and handed her the bouquet. “I can explain that.”

      A tear made a trail through her freckles. His heart sank. He reached for the basket. “Lemme carry that for you.”

      “No.” She blushed and shrank back. “I’ll carry—it.”

      She laid the bouquet on top of the basket and slipped her hand through the crook of his offered arm.

      “I hope the ring I bought ain’t too big.” He pointed to Bert and Ginny who waited in the carriage. “There’s our best man and maid of honor.”

      “You mean…?”

      “I figured we’d go straight to the courthouse while we’re in town.”

      Laura bit her lip.

      “Unless you’re a-changing your mind. I’ll understand. On account I lied about my age and all.”

      She flashed a quivering smile. “No. I gave you my word. My mama used to say it’s bad luck to get married in black.”

      “Hogwash!” He helped her into the carriage’s back seat and climbed in beside her. “Let’s get ourselves hitched.”

      A noise came from Laura’s basket. “That ain’t what I think it is, is it?” He leaned over and pushed the blanket aside. “You never said nothing about no baby.

      Ginny turned in her seat, her gray eyes sparkling. “Now ain’t that something, Alfie? I guess you ain’t the only one keeping secrets.”

***

      A week later, Laura cuddled Jason and drank in his sweet scent. Alfred’s snores came from the front room where he slept on a palette on the floor. On their wedding night, he had gathered his blankets and left the bed to her and the baby. “I don’t expect you to be beholding to your wifely duty until you’re ready.”

      Although Alfred couldn’t hold a candle to Thomas when it came to looks, he had nice enough features. She liked his sky-blue eyes and dimpled smile. The honest face of a simple man.

      She held her left hand up to the lamp on the roughhewn night table and studied her new wedding ring. Unlike the cheap band Thomas gave her, Alfred had taken great care to choose one with style. She admired the way the intricate filigree shimmered in the light.

      A hollow sense of desolation and shame flooded her as she reflected on her wedding day.

      The tight-lipped justice of the peace droned the marriage ceremony as it was written in his book. Ginny held Jason who howled from “Dearly beloved” to “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Laura clung to her slightly wilted bouquet to keep her hands from shaking. Alfred promised to “love, honor and cherish.” All the while he glowered at the baby.

***

      Alfred leaned against the doorjamb and watched Laura sleep. Her son curled up in the crook of her arm. Morning sunlight illuminated her flaxen hair which splayed across her pillow. Her long eyelashes fringed her translucent cheeks. He ached with longing, but he’d vowed not to push her.

      She opened her eyes. “Good morning, Mr. Cromwell.”

      A month had passed since the wedding. She still refused to call him by his first name and continued to wear black. Ginny assured him his young bride would warm up to him. She just needed time. How much time? His back hurt from sleeping on the unforgiving floor.

“Good morning, Mrs. Cromwell.”

***

       Laura decided it was high time she repay Bert and Ginny’s kindness with a home cooked meal—fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from the garden.

       The older woman provided good company and made Laura feel welcomed and appreciated. More than that, she made Laura feel like family. 

       While Bert and Alfred worked the fields, Ginny helped Laura put the finishing touches on gingham curtains. As her needle flashed in and out of the cloth, she chattered, regaling Laura with amusing stories about Alfred.

      “He’s always been kind of awkward and tongue-tied around women. I’m the one who suggested he send away for a bride. Honey, you could be exactly what the doctor ordered.”

      Laura put down her sewing. “Could be?”

      Ginny leveled her gaze on Laura. “You ain’t man and wife yet are you?”

      Laura’s cheeks blazed. “I said ‘I do.’”

      “‘I do’ don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’re dressing like a widow and dragging your chin on the ground. Alfie deserves better and so do you.”

      Hours later, fingering the pink polka-dotted fabric of her new dress, Laura grinned. “Ginny’s right.” She dropped the green beans in salted water and stirred them.

      “Why don’t you look purty, Mrs. Cromwell?” Alfred circled his hands around her shoulders. “Smell nice, too.”

      She whipped about and gently poked his shoulder with her spoon. “Please, Mr. Cromwell. Don’t disturb the cook.”

      He dropped open his mouth. “Are you flirting with me, Mrs. Cromwell?”

      The baby in his basket whimpered. Soon the whimper grew into a squall. Laura heaved an exasperated sigh. “He can’t be hungry. Would you mind holding him while I fry the chicken, Mr. Cromwell?”

      Alfred knelt and gathered Jason in his arms. “You shore is growing, son. Come to Papa.”

      Laura’s pulse raced. “What did you say?”

      “I—I know I ain’t his pa. It jest slipped out.” Alfred held the baby tighter. “I ain’t no fool, Laura. You didn’t marry me for love. You married me to get out of a bad situation. Fact is I do love you and this here young’un. Would ya consider allowing me to give him my name?”

      She sank down on his lap and wreathed her arms around his neck. “My darling Alfie. Cromwell is a wonderful name.”

      Jason’s indignant cries rousted Laura from Alfred’s deep and lingering kiss. She looked up to see Ginny and Bert.

      Bert chuckled. “Time for dinner yet?”

      “Come to Aunt Ginny before you suffocate.” Ginny lifted Jason from Alfred’s shoulder. “Looks to me like dinner’s gonna be a bit late tonight. Your ma and pa got some serious business to attend to.”

 

 

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