Virginia had a tight grip on Evelyn’s hand as they marched down the sidewalk. That menel of a husband! He’d taken the money she’d earned yesterday doing laundry. She turned left on Grand Boulevard. Ford double T’s and Runabouts were still plentiful, but the slick new double A’s were replacing them. There were a few autos in the traffic, but at lunch time, most of the traffic was trucks delivering to the auto companies. She could see the flatbeds whizzing along carrying weird motors, stacks of steel, or crates of tools.
Lynnie took her first two fingers out of her mouth. “Ice cream?”
“Later, sweet thing. We’re going to see daddy.”
“Yes. Do you love daddy?”
She nodded. Her fingers were back in her mouth. She stretched her arm wide and said, “vis much!”
“And I love you this much!” Virginia said, stretching out her arms. They stopped at the corner of Joseph Campau and waited for the traffic cop to signal to them to cross. While they waited they compared the distance between their arms.
“Your iv bigger,” Lynnie said.
Virginia rubbed her nose against Lynnie’s and picked her up as the traffic cop signaled to them. She carried Lynnie across the street and set her down on the sidewalk. The steel working factory streamed smoke into the sky and filled the air with the acrid scent of burnt oil. He could have gotten a job here, almost across the street from home. But no, he had to work with his buddies, such upstanding men. To think she’d swooned over him once.
They walked past the aluminum foundry. Gertrude on the corner, her husband worked here. Gert said they paid almost as good as the big auto companies. It’s just as well that he didn’t work there. That would just be more money she never saw. But not this week. That slippery eel wasn’t going to make off with all of the money this time!
“Momma, wherv Hen an Gee?”
“Helen and Georgie are in school.”
“Park vool. I go voon.”
“Yes you go soon. Show me how to count.” Helen and Georgie had taught Lynnie to count and the ABCs. Virginia couldn’t read or write. She was thrilled her children could.
Virginia counted along silently. Yes, count to ten so I’m not angry. Last time I came, his buddies told him I was waiting and he lit out the back door.
And the time before that, he cut out of work early to avoid me.
“… veven, eight…”
This was week three. As long as they’d been married, he’d never kept a job more than four weeks. He blamed it on this horrendous depression, but he couldn’t keep a job long before 1929. She must get this week’s pay.
“That’s amazing! Now, the alphabet.”
The bags were packed and so was Mr. Zielinski’s Model T. Left turn here.
“Ice cream!” Lynnie shouted and pointed at the parlor across the street.
She tugged at Virginia’s hand and was seconds away from a tantrum.
“Where did the ABC’s go?” Virginia gently opened Evelyn’s mouth. “In there?”
Lynnie giggled. She reached up to Virginia, and Virginia bent down. Lynnie roughly pried Virginia’s mouth open and yelled into it. “You in dare?”
“Nobody in here but us teeth! Tell me the ABC’s”
Whew, that was close. She must get to the auto parts shop before lunch. It was a long walk for little Lynnie. She could have asked Gert to watch her. She chose to bring Lynnie with her in the hopes Joe would feel bad not feeding his own children.
“C, D, E…”
The last few weeks she had been able to get some cleaning jobs with the fancy people in the heart of Detroit. She’d been able to get at least one meal a day on the table most of the days. And then the bum found her stash in the coffee grounds. When had he started making his own coffee? Matka miała rację! Bradziaga!
She’d waited for him to turn swell, but Helen and Georgie just got thinner. Gert called it ‘pie-in-the-sky’. “Well, this dame sure wishes she could eat that pie,” Virginia said looking at Lynnie.
“No pie. ICE CREAM!”
“Yes, sweet baby mine.”
Had Joe kept any one of his jobs, by now they could have moved away from the factories and wouldn’t have to live on this side of the railroad tracks. That man did not love her. It was disappointing, but she survived. What she could not stand was watching her children starve. Joe’s favorite saying was, “Just you wait and see. Help is just around the corner. It’ll all work out.”
The only one working was her. And the only helping hand anyone had was at the end of their own arm! She and Lynnie walked past the hotel. Who stayed in a hotel in the middle of a neighborhood in the factory district? She would stay in a hotel someplace amazing. She’d seen a picture of Arabia once in a magazine Gert had. That’s where she’d go. Arabia. The word was exotic and she imagined living with Valentino in the desert. Oh, he was handsome! He was so romantic and loving, he would never leave his wife alone for days at a time!
“Lemon pee!” Lynnie yelled gleefully.
Virginia shook her head. Her anger had made her forget Lynnie was reciting the alphabet. “No, you know the right way to say it.”
Virginia looked for the alley that went behind the shop. Ah, here.
“Mmph.” Lynnie grunted.
“We are going to surprise Daddy. Can you surprise him?”
“How are you going to do that?”
The end of the alley and the back of the shop were visible. There was a flat bed double T parked near the back of the shop. Virginia stopped behind it and stayed out of site.
“First we must be quiet…”
“He can’t know we’re here yet, right?”
“When he looks at you what do you say?”
“I love you daddy.”
“We’re quiet now, but when you say that, you shout so he can hear you, right?”
She knew Joe would come out for a smoke at lunch. He talked about doing that for every job he’d had. She stood behind the truck and peeked through the windows. Some women gathered behind the shop. Their skirts were too short and their heels were too high. Good Lord! Chippies during the day?
She went over her plan as Lynnie played with her fingers. Don’t get distracted by the men. They insulted her last time, they’ll do it again. And don’t let Joe escape into the shop. No one would let her in there. Don’t command him, be meek.
The men came out the back door of the shop. Two of them went straight to the women and spoke with them quietly. Another looked down the street. She stepped to the side so the truck blocked his view of her. She peeked through the windows again and his back was toward her. Joe stood next to him, also with his back to her.
She walked around the truck, and tapped her thumb gently on Lynnie’s little hand. Don’t yell at him. Be meek.
“Now?” Lynnie whispered.
“Not yet,” Virginia whispered back and picked her up.
One of the men was putting his hands on one of the women and he happened to look in Virginia’s direction. She sped up and put herself between Joe and the shop door and the guy said, “Joe,” and nodded at her.
Joe turned and Virginia whispered, “Now.”
“Daddy! I love you!” Virginia put Lynnie down and she ran to Joe and hugged his knees.
“Vir?” he said. “Georgie and Helen all right?” He said picking up Lynnie.
“Why are you here? You can’t bother a macher at work!” He handed Lynnie to her.
“I need to speak with you for a moment.”
He held his hands out expectantly.
“Honey, I have to go grocery shopping today.” She knew he wouldn’t have any cash. Only God knew what he spent it all on.
“Sweetie, I don’t have anything…”
“Yes, but since it’s pay day…”
“Hah Joe!” one of his buddies teased. “What kinda broad comes round her husband’s job?”
“The disrespectful kind,” Joe said with a scowl.
Virginia pursed her lips. That man was going to cost her the paycheck! Her stomach muscles clenched and she squeezed Lynnie. Meek. She had to reply gently, womanly. She looked at the ground and said,“Honey, I’ll get groceries and the rest of the paycheck will be waiting for you at home.”
“Oh, Joey,” one of the red-lipped women said leaning toward him. Her plunging neck-line plunged even more and Virginia looked away. None of the men did.
“Joey, honey, give the dear the money. Look at that scrawny kid!”
Virginia put Lynnie down. “That’s big talk from a woman with small boobs.”
“Chrissakes, Vir!” Joe said grabbing her by the elbow and turning her away. “I was planning on stopping at the butcher and the grocer on the way home.”
Virginia’s hands started to shake and she clenched them into fists. Liar, liar, pants on fire. “That’s lovely, honey.” Her voice quavered. Did he notice? “You don’t need to. I will. You can just come home and relax. I bet there’s even enough money to buy you a beer.”
“Wow, a whole beer!” his buddy said.
Her stomach dropped to her feet. Why couldn’t that nit-wit just mind his own business! But wait. She could tell Joe anything she wanted because she wasn’t going to be around when he got home tonight.
Virginia leaned in and whispered into his ear, “I’ll buy you more, if you tell me how many. It’ll be the bees knees!”
Joe grinned at that, reached into his pocket and gave her the check. “Six.”
Virginia exhaled and started shaking.
“You okay, Vir?”
“Just excited to have you home tonight.”
“Gotta drift,” he said, chucking her on the chin.
She took Lynnie’s hand and started home. Her knees felt weak and the world spun around her once or twice. That paycheck was crushed in her hand tighter than Lynnie’s hand.
She could pay Mr. Zielinski to take her to her mother’s farm, where they had food. And a one room schoolhouse.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynthia Praski is a tech writer by day and a fiction writer by… well, any time. In another life she was a research scientist and college professor. She has been writing since the third grade when her teacher introduced the class to writing prompts. As a child growing up in southeastern Michigan, she labeled herself a chain-reader after she learned about chain-smokers. A few years later, she started stealing her mother’s science fiction books and her father’s mystery books. Her younger brother introduced her to the fantasy genre when she stole his set of Lord of the Rings. She sums up her motivations this way: “I can’t not write. I must read. I do science because I can’t stop asking ‘Why?’”. She lives near Baltimore now, with her wonderful husband, amazing children and a boxing bunny, grumpy she-turtle, and the most serene dog in the world.