"It all turned on a dime," she said, shaking her head as if still trying to come to grips with it, fourteen years later. "One minute, we were living high on the hog. I had more dresses than I could count at age five, and it seemed my hair was never without a ribbon. Mother and Father belonged to the country club, and they had martinis every night with Mr. and Mrs. Loy from across the street. The next minute, Father was gone, having jumped to his death from the roof of the Stock Exchange, and Mother had transformed into a monster. I was too young to understand much of it, of course, but I was told that something called a depression was on, and that it was the cause of Father's suicide, and that it was the reason for our moving from Manhattan to a tiny, smelly apartment in Queens."
"That's all well and good, ma'am, but like I said, you're gonna have to clear out of here," the policeman repeated, his patience straining. "There's still a war on, and we've got a troop train due to stop here in the next half-hour, and there's a trainload of brand-new tanks coming out of the yard ahead of that."
"I understand," Cecelia Graveside said, careful not to meet the officer's eyes.
"So listen," he continued, "I got a heart, lady. Really, I do. You can come back here tonight, if this campsite is so important to you--"
"It is important," she insisted.
"But the Army don't want a bunch of hoboes hangin' around the tracks, you know? And when the MPs show up, trust me, they ain't gonna be as nice about this as I am. So I'm asking you one last time..."
"I'm going, I'm going," she said, slinging her stick and bindle over a shoulder, and patting the makeshift grave marker of her late hobo husband. "I'll be back dear," she whispered to it. She stepped past the officer and toward the town square, across the tracks. Between her and the square, a couple of dozen newly-enlisted men gathered, worried wives and flag-waving children in tow. Cecelia plotted a route that she hoped would help her avoid the whole scene. She sighed heavily.
"Ma'am?" the cop called after her. She stopped, but did not turn back. "I know it's none of my business and all, but, well..."
"I was just wondering if you've tried signing up for one of those jobs at the factory - you know, like Rosie the Riveter."
"I have not," she said flatly. "That is to say, not at that particular factory."
"Well, I heard they're still at least two dozen hands short - even on the first shift. I heard they're taking everybody. They got free training. They might even have some spots left in the workers' dormitory. I know it's not my place - I'm just tryin' to help..."
Cecelia turned to face the earnest young peace officer, and a tear made a surprise exit from her eye and onto her cheek, where it was made to feel so profoundly unwelcome that it leapt off, fell to the ground and exploded. "Mister, I know better than to get in line outside that factory. Don't get me wrong - it's a swell idea, and I'm not sore at you for the suggestion. But you see, since I lost my dear husband, I've tried twenty other factories, just like that one - from New York City to Chicago and back again. Every time, I've gone in with a smile on my face, hope in my heart, and a firm handshake. I still have my handshake, but that's about it. I can't take another rejection. Mother used to say that hope springs eternal, but I can tell you, it doesn't."
"I understand," the policeman said. "I don't blame you." A loud, throaty steam whistle echoed through the town. "That'll be the tank train. Time to move along. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"I will." Cecelia Graveside made her way around the gathering military conscripts and their loved ones, up Main Street to the town square.
She stopped. Hope hung in tatters above her.
Her dreams, she had often said, were the stray dogs that ran around the rail yard, and sometimes followed her. She looked to her right, at the road that led to the next town. She turned to her left, where the smokestacks of the factory peeked above the low skyline. She sighed, looked up at the sun, shook her head slowly, and started walking.
|...eternal. Photo by [Maris].|
This one springs forth from yet another STUDIO 30 PLUS writing prompt. This time, the goal was to use "hung in tatters above her," a phrase lifted from fellow blogger Tara at THIN SPIRAL NOTEBOOK.