By Allison O’Leary
She waits for him every evening and his soft words mix with the smoky dusk and the music of the street buskers. 1958 passes in a blur of candlelit laughter, whiskey headaches, and clicking heels.
She sees other women waiting for their lovers on street corners, cigarettes daintily clasped between red lips, leaning up against brick walls with the same pearls, same pinned hair, same anxious, begging eyes. She ain’t like them, she’ll say. Her hands tighten around her copy of Patrick MacDonogh poems he gave her the first night, trembling. He’s a upstanding man, a good Catholic. She’ll wear her rosary on the nights she stands outside and her cleanest dress. Her mother raised her to be a good girl, a fine girl, not the kind of working woman to wait on a Dublin street corner.
He’s got a wife and three children, and no amount of murmured Our Fathers can change that. She thinks of them often and then she remembers his rough hands in her hair, and forgets for a minute. Supposes his wife has the softest hands, the smoothest hair, the quickest mind. When she pictures her, she’s wearing the same dress her mother wore on the farm.
She’s no Mary Immaculate. Berna comes on the train from County Clare, and the two sit in the kitchen, strong tea growing cold on the table, clutching the other’s hands. Her stomach is sick in the mornings and as much as she tries to deny it, the money she makes from her secretary job won’t do, and she won’t be a fraochÚn. A whore.
He gives her money for a process that no saint can forgive. She wraps her sash tighter and tighter around her waist every morning before work and vomits in the ladies’ room. She can see his building from her desk window.
When her daughter comes, the nuns won’t let her hold her. Three months pass and the child won’t stop crying. She doesn’t know how to love it. She doesn’t even know how to feed it. One morning, she wakes and it’s gone to another family. God willing, she’ll never see it again.
Donal O’Leary lives next door. From County Kerry he is, simple and ruddy-faced and kind. His cap is a bit crooked and he hasn’t the slightest bit of money. He’s moving to America soon, to a cold place she’s never heard of. He’ll marry her and take her far, far away.
She thinks of him, with his pressed suits and slicked hair and big-city smile, and she thinks the child’s eyes. She must go soon. It won’t be long before her past pulls her back, back into the convent, back to the streets of Dublin, back to the tiny green field.
She won’t tell Donal that though. She’ll say America is the loveliest place she’s ever been to. She’ll say it again and again and again.
Allison O’Leary has lived in Anchorage, Alaska her whole life, though she loves traveling. She is an Early Honors student with dreams of running her own nonprofit in the future. She loves Bruce Springsteen, cooking, hiking, and poetry. Her family is from Ireland.