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!