It was true. Some women just weren’t meant to be mothers. Enid saw it on the preoccupied faces of the women sitting around her. She knew they were all the wives of boatmen. They had that look about them—eyes like two emptied glasses of vodka. A lingering smell of sadness. She also knew that they were in the bus station awaiting the arrivals of their husbands from the river. She knew these things because, up until today, she had been one of them.

A woman dressed in purple sat next to Enid. The woman had been staring at the Arrivals board and sucking air between her teeth for the better part of an hour. Her plum hat bobbed with every intake of breath. When her giggling children ran back to her, she shushed them before they could explain that the station clerk had neighed at them like a horse. Enid felt the woman’s mood pull at her and repeated the words her pastor had told her to comfort her sensitivities: Happiness is a distasteful emotion to those still awaiting its arrival.

Enid was determined not to wait for happiness any longer. She was on her way to family. She took a swig from the flask in her coat. She looked from the iron-clad clock hanging from the ceiling to the Departure board to her children sitting on the other side of her. Adam gently swung his legs and Delia whispered something kind to baby Laurie lying in her lap. They could tell something was different. Their father had only been gone a week and they were already back at the bus station.

Berl, Enid’s husband, worked on a Mississippi steamboat shoveling coal into its coffers. He did this day in day out from St. Louis all the way to New Orleans and back again. Not an easy job, but steadier than most. It’s the job that kept them in the disintegrating Missouri town away from family. Seemed like every week Enid heard about another family packing up and moving north to the factories. She’d noticed the dwindling of the merchant’s stock over the past few months. No more lace for dresses, no more flowers for Sunday supper. Slowly and steadily, she witnessed the people of her town march away like ants in a rainstorm. The newspapers called it a depression.

A few weeks ago, Enid had confronted Berl about how bad things were getting at the house. His leaving her with the kids for months at a time was wearing on her. Friends no longer visited; they’d either moved away or were busy with kids and extra washing. She had cried all the way through her practiced speech. She knew she sounded unreasonable, but she needed to tell him that the life he gave her was not one she wanted. He yelled and condescended: Things are the way they are till they’re not, he had fumed. If I can work the ovens 16 hours a day, you can certainly wash a few diapers and make a few dinners. It burned her up even more that his reaction was exactly what she expected.

A meaningful cough from another woman nearby brought Enid back from the argument. Adam was kicking the bench across from him. She grabbed his leg and began singing. My Country, ‘Tis of Thee then I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket, Delia’s favorite. In between verses Enid nipped more at her flask. She was just beginning Pennies From Heaven when the clerk’s voice announced that it was time to board the bus. She stood and gathered her things.

“Adam, I need you to be in charge until someone picks you up. Stay put, it shouldn’t be long. Mama’s going away for a little bit; she just needs a break is all. Tell Gamma I’ll be back when I find my peace.” She stepped onto the bus knowing more than her kids’ eyes had followed her out the door. She sat down in a seat just behind the driver—the side opposite the station and finished off her flask.


This is new fiction inspired by the prompt “Where have all the flowers gone?” See other answers to the prompt by clicking on the badge above!

23 Replies to “Erosion”

    1. Thank you, Karuna. Writing about Enid is hard because I hate her a little, but I am fascinated by her. So, I want her to get captured as she’s leaving the bus station, but I also want to know what would happen if she started over in another town.

  1. I need to read more of this and see how it ends. You created such a real scene–I actually felt like Enid. Do you do this professionally?
    I imagine that you wrote a first draft and then went back and adjusted it ‘just so’ to perfection. Like brush strokes on a painting to capture what you saw. Lovely, sad and authentic. Bravo 🙂

    1. Thanks for all the praise, MMT. I am a professional editor; I occasionally have to write as well, but when I do it’s for kids school books. So this kind of writing is out of my element. Enid is based very loosely on a family member; so what is truth in the story is based on hearsay. Good to know I wrote it out realistically. Thanks again for the support!

  2. You are truly a fantastic writer! Week after week, I’m blown away. Really, this was amazing. I love the characters, the details about the flowers, the clock, the work on the river. Like everyone else, I’d read more about Enid.

  3. I think this needs to be expanded into a novel. The imagery was captivating and I was immediately hooked with your intro about not all women being meant for motherhood. Well done!

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words. I am considering building upon this story with much owed to you and the others that said they wanted to read more about poor lost Enid.

  4. This has fantastic imagery. I’ve never read any of your posts before and it’s always dangerous to compare writing to anyone else, but the tone reminded me of some of William Vollmann’s “The Atlas.”

    I’m going back and reading more!

  5. Wow this was really good! I love this, “eyes like two emptied glasses of vodka” that line really says a ton about what’s going on here. Have you considered expanding this? I’d like to know more about the situation!

  6. You got all this out of “where have all the flowers gone?” Gosh, Nate.
    I loved these lines, the juxtaposition is brilliant: “eyes like two emptied glasses of vodka. A lingering smell of sadness.” And how you grabbed my sympathies for Enid and pulled me all the way through until I learned what was really meant by “Some women just weren’t meant to be mothers.” Really, really nice.

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