Through the Thorns
LillianThe sun had long since gone down, leaving the world covered in a veil of darkness. Two birds chirped back and forth in a small pine on the edge of the river. Suddenly, they flew away, chirping angrily. A young woman stepped out of the shadows, carrying a carpetbag and wearing a long heavy coat. A branch snapped and the girl started. “Jon, is that you?” A tall man walked softly out of the woods. “Yes, it’s me.” The girl’s frame visibly relaxed. “Is everything ready Jon?” The tall man nodded. “Good, I can’t stay in this house for another minute! Let’s go Jon!” The man took the girl’s satchel, and they walked to the road on the other side of the river. A minute passed, and then the sound of an automobile engine sounded through the air. As soon as the sound vanished, the inhabitants of nature went back to their everyday life as though nothing had happened.
Chaos reigned in the small clap board house on the edge of town. A young girl was busy trying to cook breakfast, clean dishes, and get three younger children ready for school. The oatmeal on the stove was boiling over, pieces of dishes were on the floor, and the cries of children caused all, but one lady, walking outside to shake their heads and walk faster. As this woman passed by the house, she tipped her head to listen, and then ever so slightly shook her head. Briskly, she moved up the uneven stone path and rapped on the door. One of the youngest girls answered. “Hello Pat!” Said the older woman, “Is your sister here?” The younger girl only nodded and walked away, leaving the door open, giving Mrs. Walsh a good view of what was inside. She stepped inside and immediately looked around for someone in charge of this chaos. The only example of authority Mrs. Walsh could find was the oldest girl, Lillian. “This isn’t right, taking away a childhood.” She thought. “Lillian?” The girl turned, fixing her dark blue eyes on Mrs. Walsh. Relief flooded her face as she registered the fact that someone was here that knew how to multi-task. “Oh! Mrs. Walsh, you don’t know how happy I am to see you! I’m having , well, problems.” Mrs. Walsh inwardly shed a tear at the youngster’s spirit. As far as she knew, Lillian had been taking care of her five siblings since the age of twelve. “Here, let me cook and do dishes, dear, you help the younger ones.” Lillian nodded, glad for the reprieve, and rounded up the kids that were to make the trip to school. “Now,” She began. “Wash your hands, face and the back of your neck and ears. I will not let you go to school looking like hooligans. Hear me?” They all nodded and raced for the wash basin in the far corner. Lillian looked around and then sat at the small, rickety kitchen table. She leaned her head against the back of the chair, her dark black hair hanging over the back. “Not even old enough to put her hair up and taking care of five little ones and a house!” Mrs. Walsh washed dishes silently, and just as quickly, made scrambled eggs and bacon from the provisions in the icebox. She couldn’t help noticing how few there were. Lillian suddenly opened her eyes and stood up. She glanced at the clock and her face went white. “You have to leave.” She gasped. “Now!” Mrs. Walsh stared at her. “Lillian, what are you talking about? You obviously need someone here!” Lillian only shook her head, her red lips pressed tightly together. “You have to leave. Pa ’ll be coming in soon.” Mrs. Walsh could not understand. “Why, Lillian, I would love to meet your father!” “No, you don’t understand! You have to go! Now!” The young girl was near to a panic attack. Mrs. Walsh was puzzled, as well as concerned, for all of the children. She would gladly have stayed, but Lillian was basically pushing her out of the door. Mrs. Walsh could only pick up her coat and handbag, and walk away. She puzzled over the child’s strange behavior as she walked to the general store. Coming to the conclusion that the girl wanted her pa to believe she could be an adult. Mrs. Walsh shook her head and forgot all about it as she looked over the new bolts of fabric.
Lillian made sure all the kids had washed up and dressed for school, then dished out quickly the breakfast Mrs. Walsh had made. The kids had just set out for school, when Lillian’s pa came in. Breathing heavily and bleary eyed, Lillian’s only question was which bar he had spent the night at, if only one. “Where’sh my breakfasht girl?” He slurred. Lillian swallowed and stood straight. “Pa, why don’t you go lie down while I get breakfast ready? I’ll wake you when I’m done.” Her pa stood looking at her, swaying slightly, as if not knowing what to do. “It’s all right Pa. Just go on in to the bedroom and lie down.” Lillian took her pa’s arm and guided him to his bed. “Here Pa, look, the covers are all pulled down, and I washed the mattress yesterday. Just rest a little while I cook something. Okay?” Her pa had nearly passed out already, and all she had to do was let go of his arm, and he collapsed onto his bed, snoring heavily. Lillian tip-toed out of the room and closed the door behind her. She leaned against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness it wasn’t a violent drunk!” She thought. Lillian’s pa had come home quite a few times, just drunk enough to be angry at everyone and everything. He had wrecked the house multiple times, and he had hit Lillian more times than she could count. Lillian’s older sisters, Louise and Bethany, had only gone through small amounts of their father’s temper. Louise had gotten married not long after the girl’s mother had passed away. The doctor’s said it was heart failure, but Bethany had always said that it was from being too tired. The O’Reilly family had always been poor, but never more so than after the crash of the 1920’s. All the extra money the family might have had was spent on food and clothing. The sudden lack of funds had sent Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly into a panic. Mr. O’Reilly worked three jobs; he was a grocer in the morning, a barber in the afternoon, and a butler for a well-to-do family in the evening, and for most of the night. Mrs. O’Reilly couldn’t get work outside of the home, no one in the rural Appalachian town the O’Reilly’s lived in wanted to hire a woman, especially one with four kids and another on the way. So Mrs. O’Reilly began to do housework for other women, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. She hated the housework, but appreciated the fact that she was bringing some money home each night. After around two years of constant working, Mrs. O’Reilly just sort of gave up. The stress of working almost 24 hours a day, plus the pregnancies over the years, had taken their toll. With eight kids at home, two still in diapers, work was needed even more. Mr. O’Reilly had begun to look continually panicked, and jobs were getting scarcer than ever before. The kids had been wearing the same shoes for a year and a half, Louise, the eldest, was going barefoot because she had outgrown her pair. All of this was too much for Mrs. O’Reilly, and Lillian found her lying on the side of a road on day late in August, just as the trees were beginning to wear their fall colors. All Mrs. O’Reilly could manage was “Be a good girl, and help take care of the family, the family is important Lil.” And then she went still in Lillian’s arms. Lillian had blindly walked home, finding her pa at the door, looking concerned. “Have you seen your ma girl?” He asked. Girl, that’s what he called all of his female children. The boys, Luke and Thomas, were always Luke and Thomas but “Girl” was all the girls could expect from their father. Lillian had only stared at their father and nod. “Well, where is she?” Lillian swallowed. “Heaven.” Was all she said. Mr. O’Reilly’s eyes got large and he had grabbed Lillian by her wrists and shaken her. Louise and Bethany ran to their pa’s side and grabbed his arms, yelling at him to stop. “Where is she girl?” “She’s down by the Thomas’ orchard just up the way!” Lillian sobbed. “Ma’s gone! Ma isn’t here! What am I going to do?” Was all that Lillian could think. Mr. O’Reilly dropped Lillian and ran towards the orchard. Louise hugged Lillian to her while the younger girl sobbed. “Ma’s dead Lou! She’s dead! I saw her, she’s dead!” Louise had tears of her own running down her face. “Hush Lil! Look, you’re going to have to be a big girl now. Pa will need us more than ever. Do you understand?” Lillian nodded, trying to stifle her sobs and ending up adding hiccups to her list of reactions. Bethany had gone to sit on their mother’s small sofa; the one Mrs. O’Reilly had fought to keep from being sold for money, and curled into a little ball. Bethany’s face was dry, however. She was sad that her mother was gone, but as far as Bethany was concerned, her personal ball and chain was gone. She could leave; surely Pa couldn’t keep all of them in this place! He hardly had enough money for coal! Let alone eight kids! Bethany dreamed while lying on that sofa, grieving in her own way. The loss of a mother that had been her closest confidant for fifteen years saddened her immensely, but the thought of all that the world held for her gave her light. The sound of her father’s step outside made Bethany stand quickly and run to the main room of the small house, the room that held the table and kitchen appliances. Mr. O’Reilly was carrying Mrs. O’Reilly and he sat her down on the table. He turned to Luke. “Go get the Doc, Luke! Hurry!” Luke gave a nod and was gone. Mr. O’Reilly sat in one of the chairs surrounding the table. “Rachel? Rachel, come back! I love you! Don’t you know that? I need you! Rachel?” Lillian began crying even louder, she was only eight, but she knew what her father was saying. Mr. O’Reilly suddenly glared at her. “Don’t you be crying girl! It’s because of you she’s gone! All of you caused it! She worked herself to the bone and all you did was want! You don’t deserve to be crying!” His eyes had turned into cold fire, dead but burning. Lillian sobbed even harder and Louise stepped in front of her. “Pa, listen to yourself! Fancy that, blaming a ten year old for something that was probably a medical condition!” The fire in Mr. O’Reilly’s eyes had gone out as he looked at his seventeen year old daughter, seeing her for the first time as the woman she was. Mr. O’Reilly nodded and sat down again. As their pa continued to talk to his dead wife, the children sat quietly in one corner. Louise made coffee, thinking, correctly, that the doctor might want some when he arrived. Not long after Luke left, he was back saying that the doctor had been setting an arm and he would be there when he was done. Bethany crept back into her mother’s small parlor and lay back onto the sofa. Seeing her ma so white and still had frightened Bethany. It dawned on her for the first time that she would never speak to her mother again on this earth. Still Bethany could not cry. She was torn now, her pa would need them all, she saw that now, and being fifteen she could get a job, but the world still called. Bethany wanted to see the places her mother had told her of. Foreign places with strange names. France, Italy, her parent’s home country Ireland, England, Egypt. Bethany yearned for a better life. She had decided years ago that poverty was not her cup of tea. As Bethany sat pondering all of the emotions running through her, the doctor arrived. Doctor Addison had replaced old Doctor Jones the year before when the older man had retired. The “New Doc” as people called him, was not a very handsome man, but he was smart, and he knew what he was doing. As he walked into the small house, he gave a sort of sideways glance at Louise and smiled, she smiled back. Mr. O’Reilly didn’t see, but Lillian did, and it made her uneasy. Doctor Addison examined Mrs. O’Reilly quickly, then looked up at Mr. O’Reilly sorrowfully. “I’m sorry sir, she’s gone.” Mr. O’Reilly nodded and looked at the floor. “It was her heart, sir, it failed.” Mr. O’Reilly lifted his head only long enough to look at the doctor with a bewildered expression in his eyes. “But, she was only forty three!” The doctor nodded. “Yes, it happens that way, it was probably a condition passed down through the family.” A few minutes passed in silence before Louise brought the coffee around. She poured her pa a cup, and then moved on to the doctor. As Doctor Addison took a long drink from his cup, he looked at Louise and smiled. “Miss O’Reilly, that’s the best cup of coffee I’ve had in ages!” Louise only blushed and hurried back to the kitchen. Mr. O’Reilly then saw what was going on. “Son, if you have an interest in this house, I would prefer to know about it firsthand.” Doctor Addison nodded and looked into his cup. “I would like your permission to see Louise, sir” Mr. O’Reilly only nodded. Doctor Addison looked relieved. “Sir, I think you should know that my name is Patrick Addison, and I hail from Pennsylvania.” Mr. O’Reilly waved his hand. “ Patrick, all I need to know is that you’ll take good care of my girl.” Patrick nodded. “Oh yes sir! Thank you sir!” The doctor stood and went to the kitchen to tell the good news.