|Rose's life settled into a predictable, comfortable rhythm,
though she still awakened many a night from a fitful sleep, heart pounding and sheets
soaked, haunted by specters she couldnt escape.God, help me deal with the memories, Rose
would plead, tears flowing freely. I can handle the obstacles in my life if only you
will keep me from remembering
Work was pleasant, as even Mrs.
Souster, who had regained strength enough to come check her erstwhile kingdom, was pleased
with Rose's books. In her time away from work, Rose and Cora had become such constant
weekend companions that neighbors and shopkeepers were convinced they must be sisters.
Cora kept Rose's mind occupied and her time filled, for the most part. That was a blessing
But on those Sundays that Rose's
mind slipped back into a fit of despair or melancholy; when the thread linking her past to
her future had frayed and broken under the strain; she would excuse herself from the world
and walk the few blocks to the Hudson. There, sitting alone at a café overlooking the
piers, she would watch the great ships sailing into port, disgorging their cargo of
wide-eyed immigrants, or steaming out into the open sea with passengers burning to embrace
Rose would bow her head, silently
recite her prayers of redemption and hope, and then return to the life that awaited her
far from the ocean that stretched forever eastward.
As summer closed in on the city
her nightmares began to fade.
After a few weeks as bookkeeper,
Rose felt bold enough to make a few small recommendations to Mr. Souster about factory
procedures. In particular, she suggested that they could forgo the lunchtime garment
count, as the information gathered wasn't really needed. Mr. Souster considered her
argument and agreed that one count in the late afternoon would be sufficient. This
decision freed him to do maintenance on the fickle machines during lunch break, while they
were idled, making the job that much easier.
As a bonus for Rose, this enabled
her to resume taking lunch with the other girls rather than eating alone after the
noontime count was completed. Though she and Gina always talked a bit before and after
work, she missed their leisurely conversations over the midday meal.
Gina had continued to miss days of
work in bunches, enough so that Mr. Souster had spoken to her about her absences. Rose was
concerned, too, as Gina's explanations were often transparent fabrications.
It'll be good for us to talk
more, Rose thought.
On Friday in mid-June, she and
Gina retreated to the lunchroom after the noon whistle. It wasn't truly a lunchroom as
much as an oversized storage-room just off the main factory floor. The women used it when
the weather threatened, and a light drizzle had been misting the city for several days.
The room was musty and lacked ventilation, the windows having been nailed shut. A small
fan was positioned at the only doorway, gamely trying to circulate the heavy air.
The workers sat in small clusters,
their conversations hushed, and Rose and Gina settled at a makeshift table near the door.
Gina was subdued during their meal but Rose attributed it to the damping effects that the
rainy weather seemed to have on everyone's spirits.
"Do you think it will rain
this weekend?" Gina asked.
"I'm not sure. Why do you
"Anthony and I are planning
to go to Coney Island on Sunday if the weather clears."
As she spoke, Gina's eyes followed
the serpentine path of a raindrop winding its way down the dingy windowpane.
"That sounds like fun,"
"Yes, as long as his whole
family doesn't go along."
"You don't like them?"
Gina broke apart a piece of pound
cake and offered half to Rose. She declined it with a wave of her hand.
"Oh, I like them just fine,
but when they all come along it seems that, in Anthony's eyes, I just disappear."
Gina always avoided elaborating on
her relationship. Even after the events on the night of the suffrage parade Gina had had
little to say about what had transpired after they left Rose at the El station.
Still, Rose could feel her heart
going out to Gina and she decided to press her just a bit.
"Have you told him how you
stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, you wouldn't understand."
'Try me', Rose wanted to
say, but kept her peace. Gina suddenly brightened.
turned me down, oh, how many weekends in a row?"
"Four, by my count,"
Rose answered with a laugh.
"Okay, well, I'm nothing if
not persistent. Stubborn, some might even say." She looked at Rose out of the corner
of her eye as if laughingly daring her to agree. "Would you like to come with us to
the saloon tomorrow night?"
Rose had answered so quickly that
it took a few seconds for her response to register with Gina.
"That's great!" Gina
"Do you really think it's
proper for me to go by myself?"
The idea of frequenting a saloon
unescorted sounded a bit unseemly to Rose.
"Sure, anyway you'll be with
us. Rose, you spend all your free time with Cora or by yourself. No offense to Cora, but
it's time for you to mingle with grownups for a change. I'll be working tonight but
tomorrow I'm free to spend the whole evening with you."
Gina folded her lunch bag.
"What made you change your
mind?" she asked Rose.
"I guess I'm tired of losing
to Cora at hopscotch," Rose replied with a smile. "Actually, it IS time I lived
life among adults again, as you say. And it's sort of a birthday present to myself."
"It's your birthday?"
"Just passed, actually."
"This DOES call for a
celebration! It's a cinch Anthony and I will be treating. Just one question, Rose."
Gina leaned towards Rose as if
seeking state secrets from her.
"How does it feel to be
The two laughed a bit too loudly
for the small room, and then covered their mouths in embarrassment at the looks they
received from their co-workers.
"DAMN piece of junk!"
Rose and Gina looked at one
another in surprise. The loud expletive originated out on the quiet factory floor.
Rose walked to the doorway and
leaned out to look over the workroom. No one was visible, but she could hear the sound of
a hammer ringing off metal beneath a nearby sewing machine.
"Mr. Souster, is everything
The owner's head popped up from
behind the machine's treadle guard.
"Oh, you heard me, did you?
Excuse my language, Miss Dawson. It's just that these old machines
Rose chuckled to herself at his
apologizing over such a mild oath. Mr. Souster stood up, wiped his hands with an old rag
and leaned back against the table to rest.
"Miss Dawson, I'd like to ask
"In looking over my books, do
you think we can afford to purchase a few new sewing machines?"
Rose was startled to have him ask
her opinion on such a matter.
I sound like a parrot, Rose
"My wife says your figures
are impeccable, so I trust your abilities. Look over our balance sheet and tell me if you
think we could afford a few new ones. The old machines break down so often, they're a
nuisance and a constant waste of my valuable time."
"Yes, sir. I'll look them
over and report back to you right away."
"Next week will be quite all
right, Miss Dawson."
The afternoon whistle sounded and
the noisy hubbub of a factory at work returned. Rose walked to her office and sat before
her unopened ledger, a novel feeling coursing through her body.
Ever since I started here as a
seamstress this has always been just a job, she thought, a way to go on with my
life. I never really looked at it as much more than that, though I always tried to do my
best. Now, maybe for the first time in my entire life, I feel
proud, I guess
proud of what I'm doing, of myself. Mr. Souster asked MY opinion, and not because he felt
some obligation to humor me but because he values it!
Rose arrived a few minutes early
on Saturday night. The rain had finally stopped, leaving the cracks in the sidewalks and
cobblestone streets filled with a liquid silver that crazily reflected the constellation
of city lights.
Gina had given her directions to
the saloon, but they were hardly necessary - it was straight up Sixth Avenue about ten
blocks from Rose's own street. Rose had passed the establishment numerous times without
ever noticing it, and with good reason.
The saloon had no enticing lights
in its windows, no advertisements for this ale or that beer adorning its front. Over the
entrance was a wooden sign that read, simply:
As Rose waited couples arrived and
hurried inside, as did several groups of gentlemen, but she saw no women enter alone. Rose
began to feel uncomfortable; she had hardly ever frequented saloons and she certainly had
never gone into one unescorted. Resisting the impulse to flee back to the haven of her
flat, she lassoed her nervous energy and took to strolling up and down the sidewalk,
hoping to give the impression of a late-night window-shopper.
She stared blankly at a display of
women's shoes, her mind's eye considering the coming evening: being around Anthony, the
very social atmosphere of the saloon, and all the single gentlemen that would surely be
inside. She took a deep breath to settle her flock of butterflies.
A call from the up the avenue cut
into her thoughts.
"Rose! There you are!"
Gina and Anthony stood at the
entrance to the saloon, waiting for her. Rose had never seen Gina in anything but work
clothes and she was amazed how radiant her friend became when dressed for a night out. It
wasn't that Gina's clothes were fancy in any way; she was wearing a simple yellow dress
and a small matching hat adorned with a tiny bird peeking from between the ribbons. Just
the act of letting her hair down and applying some simple makeup had intensified the
ever-present sparkle in her friend's eyes into a brilliant fire. As Rose neared the two
she felt a twinge of jealousy at Gina's appearance.
"You look so pretty
tonight!" Gina exclaimed, appraising Rose in return.
Rose realized that Gina was seeing
her in that very same new light. Rose had chosen a pale pink outfit; not the fanciest she
had ever owned by far, but nice enough. She thought she must have made a good impression
as well, as Anthony was beaming between she and Gina like the cat that caught the canary.
A middle-aged couple arrived on
the scene and the wife recognized Gina from a previous visit. As Gina engaged them in
small talk, Anthony pulled Rose aside. She looked up at him warily.
"Rose, I want to apologize
for my behavior when we last met. I was under family pressures and really needed Gina with
me. I ask your understanding, but I don't tell you this as an excuse for my rudeness. I
just hope you will forgive me, and that we can start over."
Rose was taken aback, too
flabbergasted to muster a response. Anthony took her silence as tacit acceptance and he
bowed slightly, a shy smile on his face.
"Anthony Casena, at your
Gina rejoined them, and she
flashed Rose a questioning look. Rose shrugged slightly.
"Should we go in?" Gina
Anthony moved swiftly to hold the
door for the women, and they entered the semi-darkness of the saloon.
It was in many ways like the other
saloons that Rose had been in, but in several striking aspects it was quite different. To
the right a mahogany bar stretched most of the length of the room, ending a few feet short
of a raised platform that Rose took to be a stage of some sort. In the shadows at the far
end of the platform sat a piano, and the stage was separated from the remainder of the
room by an empty space about four feet wide that seemed to be a shallow trough, though
Rose couldn't fathom its purpose.
The rest of the room was filled
with terraced semi-circles, each tier a few feet higher than its inner companion, and all
curved around the stage. The layered platforms were crammed with tables set facing the
stage, and waiters and barmaids were scurrying about like ants on a hill, servicing the
seated patrons. Rose noted that the tables were filling up quickly.
A barmaid approached them and Rose
realized she knew the woman.
"Gina, Anthony, how are you?
Rose, it's nice to see you again. Gina said you might be visiting us tonight."
"Nice to see you again, too,
Amanda," Rose replied with a smile.
Amanda led them to an empty table
in the center of the top tier.
"Best table in the house for
your birthday, Rose," Amanda said. Rose looked at Gina who smiled widely, happily
accepting the blame for spreading the news.
"By the way, how's your
arm?" Amanda asked Rose.
Amanda just laughed.
"Beers around?" she
The others looked to Rose.
"Great!" she answered,
and Amanda set off to get their drinks.
As Rose's eyes adjusted to the
dimness of the room she took a closer look at her surroundings. On the ends of each table,
like bookends, sat what Rose supposed where meant to be busts, like those of ancient Greek
and Roman artisans, but these were strangely grotesque, as though they had been exposed to
some blistering inferno and had partially melted. In the spaces between the tables sat
sculptures that a generous critic would call 'interesting' but that truly deserved the
label 'atrocious'. Proportions wrong, angles skewed; Rose thought she had seen more
aesthetic scarecrows. And on the walls behind the tables hung various paintings,
interpretations of works ranging from classical to modern, and all seemingly done by five
And during a tantrum, at that,
Rose thought, staring incredulously at one.
Anthony noticed the direction of
"What do you think?" he
paused, at a loss for the right words, and suddenly understanding struck like a
the worst I've ever
seen!" she finished, and she burst out laughing.
Anthony and Gina joined in,
delighting in the reactions of a first-time patron.
The only objects that seemed out
of place in the room, given the theme, were the shiny bowls full of tempting fruit that
sat at the center of each table. A cluster of grapes enticed Rose and she reached to pluck
one, only to have her hand stayed by Anthony's.
"Save those till later, Rose.
I'm going to the kitchen to fetch us something. Anything special I can bring for
"No, whatever you choose is
Anthony descended the stairs and
left through a door adjacent to the bar. Gina moved over to sit in his vacated center
"What do you think,
Rose?" she asked.
for certain. Some of these paintings
" Rose rolled her eyes and Gina giggled.
"Anthony seems in a fine mood
tonight," Rose offered.
"Yes, it's been a great
weekend so far, and it looks like the rain has finally stopped."
"Oh, yes, Coney Island, I
forgot. Maybe you'll get lucky."
Gina waved a greeting to a waiter
servicing the lowest level of tables.
"How long have you been
working here?" Rose asked.
"About a year, working mostly
just Fridays, though I've filled in other nights on occasion. Anthony has worked for the
owner about three years now, starting over at a tavern on the East Side."
"Anthony works here
"Yes. I thought I told you
Rose's reply was interrupted by
the arrival of Amanda with their order, and just behind her Anthony returned and sat back
"Louis is drunk again; he
didn't make it in," Anthony said, addressing Gina. "Nicky wants me to keep an
eye on the floor."
"Can't you be off duty for
just one night - I mean completely off - in honor of our guest?"
Anthony started to reply but cut
himself short, obviously re-thinking his response.
"Maybe it'll be quiet,"
A tall, raw-boned blonde gentleman
approached their table.
"Casena, are you trying to
corner the market? How come all the beautiful women are seated at your table?"
"A bit thick, as usual,
Richard," Anthony replied.
Rose felt her defenses rise
unbidden as the man spoke, and she slid back slightly in her chair, as though retreating
into a shell. Anthony read the man's obvious unspoken request and introduced him to Rose.
"Miss Dawson, my pleasure,
I'm sure," Richard said. "You haven't been here before or I would surely have
noticed. Are you a friend of Gina's?"
"You work together?"
Rose avoided his gaze. Everything
was suddenly wrong, improper, flat, and she felt it had been a mistake to come in the
first place. Gina noticed her discomfort and interceded.
"Richard, the show is about
to begin. Why don't you join us later."
Rose smiled weakly at Richard's
goodbye and noted the frown in his eyes as he returned to his table. She took a sip of her
beer, the body of the drink giving her system a welcome shock.
"Rose, are you all
right?" Gina asked, perplexed.
"Yes, fine. It's
Gina leaned close.
"Old scars again?"
"Yes," Rose answered
softly. She was surprised at the power of the emotions that a man's simple advance had
brought out in her.
I'm obviously not ready for
this, Rose thought. It doesn't feel right....Still, I know I need to try to be
stronger, to enjoy this night, enjoy the company. It's time.
Rose started to explain further
but Gina shushed her and pointed to the stage.
The lights began to dim further
and a nattily attired gentleman, dressed in midnight from the points of his shoes to the
top of his hat, moved to the front and center of the stage.
"Ladies and gentleman,
welcome to the Worst Saloon! I am the one, the only, the infamous
Warm applause ensued, which the
man quickly waved down as he continued.
"We have for your
consideration tonight several brand new acts never before seen at any venue in this city!
Our first act is a singer of unique talents. Before I introduce her, though, I would like
to bring out our accompanist. Please give your very Worst welcome to
Rose's spirits had brightened some
at Mr. Black's appearance, and now she even chuckled along with the rest of the crowd at
the name of the pianist. She was startled when, to spirited applause, Mr. Keyes strode
proudly on stage, bowed, and moved to his instrument
dressed in a long raincoat and
oversized rain hat!
whispered to Gina, but her friend just shook her head and put a finger to her lips,
The announcer resumed his
More clapping, some cat calls.
Mr. Black moved quickly off the
platform and a spotlight flared, highlighting the center of the pleated drapery behind the
stage. The curtains parted slightly to reveal a primly dressed woman perhaps thirty years
old. Her hair was drawn back into a screamingly tight bun, her clothes had nary a frill,
and Rose thought she looked more like a schoolteacher than any schoolteacher she had ever
The woman walked meekly forward to
the cheering of the crowd and nodded almost imperceptibly to Mr. Keyes. Rose noticed the
audience members move forward in their seats, as though to get a better look.
The music began, and was
immediately recognizable to all as the popular piece, "Moonlight Bay."
Miss Mary Smith-Smythe began to
sing ever so softly.
"We were sailing
Her voice, Rose thought, was not
very pleasant. In fact, as her volume increased, her voice became more and more bothersome
until it caused Rose to cringe as she would from the sound of fingernails being scraped
across slate. Some in the audience began to hoot and holler.
God, the poor girl, Rose
thought. What ever possessed her to try to become a singer?
they seemed to
As Miss Smith-Smythe further
boosted her volume to embrace the next verse, Rose became convinced that she had NEVER
heard anyone sing so badly before. She was tempted to cover her ears, especially since the
cries of derision from the crowd were increasing in intensity.
Rose caught sight of a slight
movement immediately in front of the stage. It was difficult to see in the dim light, but
where it crossed the beam of the spotlight Rose thought she saw a very-finely meshed
netting being drawn up in front of the stage. A man seated down one level from Rose
reached into his fruit bowl, hefted a peach, and threw it at the stage where it splatted
against the netting, defied gravity for few seconds, and then plopped into the bottom of
the trough. Soon another peach headed stage-ward, then a plum and a volley of grapes
followed by an overly-ripe apple that smacked in the webbing and stuck like a fly in a
The audience was roaring with
delight at these actions as Miss Smith-Smythe continued onward, seemingly oblivious to the
onslaught except for an occasional slight wiggle to dodge a section of fruit that had
found its way through the mesh.
"Come on, Rose, she's the
pits," Gina yelled, hurling a plum over the crowd and dead-on into the net.
Rose had been stunned at first by
the audience's actions but finally grasped the ultimate meaning of the saloon's name and
almost fainted with laughter at the very idea. She grabbed a handful of cherries and flung
them forward with abandon.
"Nice one, Rose!"
Anthony called from across the table.
Some of the men in the audience
had begun to imitate the exaggerated windup of professional baseball pitchers as they made
their throws, calling out their 'strikes' and 'balls'. A few of the close-up patrons had
taken to heaving fruit with both hands, their aim made quite erratic by their roiling
Finally, Miss Smith-Smythe was
finished with her aria, the music faded, and the bombardment ceased. The screen was
covered in running pulp, Miss Mary had bits of citrus in her hair and on her schoolmarm
clothes, and the channel at the foot of the stage was a sickly mish-mash of fruity colors
As the netting was lowered, Mr.
Keyes joined the singer at center stage. The two joined hands and bowed deeply to an
adoring ovation from their public.
Rose was busy clapping and
laughing hysterically when she noticed a young man two rows down who was turned, back to
the stage, looking up at her with an odd expression. She purposely looked away and cheered
more loudly for the performers, but she couldn't help but look back at him again. He
continued to gaze at her unselfconsciously.
Mr. Black escorted the singer to
the wings and then returned to the stage to announce a pause in the festivities to allow
the cleaning crew an opportunity to do their work.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I
promise the next act is EVEN WORSE!" he declared, and the house erupted once again.
The lights came up, drinks were
refilled and lifted, and conversations were struck around the room as the audience members
discussed the first performance. One voice became distinct over the background, growing
more boisterous by the second.
"You all should let ME sing!
I can sing any old song!"
Anthony's eyes were riveted on the
"Looks as if someone has
already had his fill," he said.
Gina grabbed hold of his jacket
"Let Nicky handle it."
"Gina, dont start in on
Anthony shrugged loose of her grip
and headed down the aisle towards the disturbance. Once there he locked an arm under one
of the man's own and began to drag him towards the door. The drunk put up a stink and
began swinging wildly at Anthony, landing glancing blows. Gina followed them down to the
kitchen entrance, at which point the men disappeared into a hallway that Rose assumed led
to a back alleyway. Gina trailed after them in dismay.
Rose took a few sips of her beer
and, feeling restless, got up to look more closely at the painting hung on the wall
directly behind her.
It was meant to be a parody, and
she was squinting at it, trying to determine the artist whose work was being ridiculed,
when a voice came from close behind her.
It was the man who had been
staring at her just moments before. Rose's eyes searched out Gina, but she had vanished
into the kitchen.
"Hello," she answered,
returning her attention to the artwork.
"Too bad that didn't go down
with the Titanic," he said, nodding at the painting.
Rose staggered back as if she had
been slapped. Her vision dimmed for a second and she leaned against a chair, staring at
"That's an incredibly callous
thing to say!"
The man immediately became
I guess it
I didn't mean anything by it
it's just an expression we use at
"And a horrible one it
is!" Rose retorted.
"No disrespect meant, Rose, I
How does he know my name?
Rose wondered, alarmed.
"Excuse me, sir. I don't
believe we've been introduced. Did Gina tell you my name?"
"Gina? You mean the friend
you're sitting with? No, I don't know her."
"I saw you this morning as
you left your flat, though I didn't have a chance to introduce myself. I was then
astounded at the coincidence of your being here tonight. I'm Thomas, Cora's brother."
"Thomas?" Rose was
confused, her mind spinning.
"Yes. I just arrived home
late last night for year-end break and decided to celebrate here at the saloon with a
group of my classmates, before we all separated for the summer.
"Cora's talked a lot about
you," he added.
His tone of familiarity made Rose
uncomfortable but she recalled that Cora had often spoken fondly of her older brother.
"I understand you're from
Baltimore," Thomas continued.
Obviously, Mrs. O'Reilly has
been bending his ear as well.
"One of my friends here
tonight, Alexander Duggan, is from Baltimore. Perhaps you know him; maybe you went to
"Unlikely. Baltimore is a big
city and, besides, I attended Saint Beatrice's Academy for Women."
"Hmmm. And you're working as
"So? What's wrong with
that?" Rose retorted, her dander rising at his condescending tone. She felt uneasy at
his seeming to know so much about her.
Thomas was taken aback by the
vehemence of her reply.
.," he stammered.
Rose tried to recall anything that
Cora might have mentioned about her brother.
medicine?" she asked, hoping to deflect his questions.
"Yes, I'm enrolled at Harvard
. up in Boston."
Her voice iced over.
"You don't think a seamstress
would know where Harvard is?"
Rose thought Thomas was a quite
full of himself. Her sharp reply seemed to have taken his tongue, and before Thomas could
muster a reply Richard approached, clearing his throat politely to alert them to his
"Hello again, Miss
Rose turned to him.
"Richard, there is someone I
think you should meet. This is Thomas; he's studying at Harvard, in Boston," Rose
said, accenting the school name and town with a sarcastic lilt.
The two men were nonplused, so
they shook hands as would be socially expected. As they did, Rose slipped away and
returned to her seat.
She grabbed her glass and drained
the remaining beer in one long gulp.
Let him see how a seamstress
Rose didn't look back. She fumed,
the edges of her vision gone black.
"Nothing ever changes,"
Gina said from beside her.
Rose hadn't heard her friend's
"Sorry?" she replied.
"Rose, I hate to spoil your
birthday but Anthony has to leave. He says the drunk guy fell in the alleyway and hurt
himself and now he has to bring him to a doctor. He wants me to go along. I'm so sorry,
Rose began, and then thought better of what she was about to say. "It's okay. I was
about ready to leave anyway. It's been a long day."
the rest of the
"We'll come another time,
just you and I."
"Just you and I, yes, that's
a promise," Gina said.
Gina thanked Rose with her eyes
and headed back down and through the kitchen door. Mr. Black had returned to the stage and
was introducing the next performer as Rose wound her way towards the exit. She noticed
Thomas watching her, peering over the circle of his friends, but she didn't acknowledge
It was raining again as Rose
emerged into the night and turned towards her home. As she walked head down, insolated
from the city around her by the crazy quilt of her thoughts, she wondered just how her
first evening out had gone so wrong.