An Irish Girl in Chicago, July, 1919

(From, The Reason for Time, from Allium Press of Chicago, April, 2016)

      "I could tell Margaret he’d stood me up—she didn’t have to know who—and, feeling sorry for me, she’d ply me with something, as our mammy used to do. Let me cook you an egg, she’d say, for we had eggs for comfort more than anything else. A nice soft-boiled egg with the skin clinging to the rounded knob at the end I’d pop in my mouth while she salted the rest, scooped it into a cup. Two mouthfuls and gone. Something so delicious coming out of that button-eyed hen clucked at the back stoop and wouldn’t lay in a proper nest, but wherever she felt like it, so some went wasted even though we thought we knew all her hidey places.

"Thinking of home, more than eight years after I squeaked open the wicket gate and crossed into the single room housed us all. Even though I could buy myself eggs and eat them every day, they never tasted savory as that surprise Mammy would find for one of us. To think she might find only one, too, while there in the shops along Halsted were dozens displayed, creamy white, fawn, brown, and speckled.

"I crossed the street, right past the policeman winked at me as I went, must a been he’d decided me an honest woman. I tried to look up and admire the buildings and thought I might even stroll into the Palmer House a few blocks away, as once I’d done, venturing past the liveried boys, onto the marble walkway, up the stairs into the grand lobby with the ceiling painted like a cathedral, angels and cherubs and gold leaf. The same year we arrived in Chicago, me just turned sixteen, and one of them in livery thinking me there to pick up the laundry or polish the silver. The gilt, the marvelous designs in the plaster, the chandeliers with lights Bridey never would have believed, bright, yet spreading gently onto the seating area as if breathed down from the ceiling by one of them broad-winged angels. The liveried one took my arm and tried steering me over to the housekeeping department, thinking I wanted a job.

"But my bold words saved me, me who doesn’t talk much, something made me different from the start at home where, if talk were money, we’d all a given Potter Palmer and his kind a run for theirs. I lifted my chin and said, 'No, I am not here for work, but to meet my father.' Did he believe me, the bell captain? If not, he pretended to and escorted me to a straight chair, velvet, in my favorite blue, color of twilight. I rested from the outside bustle, imagining my da limping up them marble stairs in his cap and his black jacket going orange with age, collarless shirt, stubble on his cheek, the way he’d come through the door at home some days, smiling, smiling, like he’d a secret when he was only imagining something and how he would be reaching for his book to describe every thought."