Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH (08/31/17)
TITLE: The Likes of Us
By Ann Grover
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Randall peered at me over his newspaper, consternation wrinkling his brow, when I told him about her.
“The market is a rough place, Lillian. Send Markle.”
The market was chaotic, certainly, and perhaps I had too much leisure time, for I found the bustling streets exuded a vitality I found invigorating and irresistible. I was happy to leave Markle to the household duties while I procured our daily needs. Maybe polishing silver and counting linens weren’t enough to satisfy my restless spirit.
A few days later, I spied her bolting away from the bread seller’s booth. I followed, finding her hunched in an alley, cramming a honey bun into her mouth. Like a fox, she jumped up and started to scurry away.
“Don’t go. Please,” I called. My shoes were no match for the rough ground of the alley, and I had to stop. She hovered at the alley’s end.
“Please. I wish to speak with you.”
Her chin was thrust out belligerently. “Yer from the chapel, ain’t ye?”
“No, I’m not,” I reassured her. “What’s your name?”
“What’s it to ye?”
What was it to me? Was I seeking to make something of her? Or me? Adorning myself with deeds that appeared charitable. When I hesitated, she hung her head and murmured, “Me name’s Mattie, ma’am.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mattie.” I stepped forward and extended my gloved hand, but she thrust her sticky hands behind her. Then her head shot up. “The poorhouse, yer from the poorhouse!”
“No, Mattie.” But I spoke to the damp alley air, for like a will-o’-the-wisp, she was gone.
I didn’t see Mattie again until several weeks later. I spied her, thinner, dirtier, careening through the milling crowd with a meat pie. I followed her to the same alley as before, where she was absorbed in the pie.
“Good morning, Miss Mattie.”
She leaped to her feet, wiping gravy from her face.
“You!” She backed away.
“Don’t go, Mattie. I won’t hurt you.”
“What do ye want?”
“Shall we find a shop? Have tea?”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Yer barmy, ma’am.” But she accompanied me to a small shop where we had tea and scones. Rather, she had scones, six of them, heaped with jam and cream. As she ate, she spoke vaguely of her family, of typhoid and eviction. Of an “uncle” who would ill-treat her and her living catch-as-catch-can in the streets, dodging the law and those with wrongful intent. I understood her reluctance, but not my own inward maelstrom. Did I wish to champion myself for her sake or mine?
Finally, she licked her fingers and looked around at the disapproving patrons, the disgruntled hostess. “They’s mockin’ ye, ma’am, bein’ with the likes o’ me.”
“Pay no mind.” Truly, I cared nothing for their haughty scorn. “Can you sew, Mattie?”
She snickered. “Aye, made me own fancy gown.”
“Aye, been to the university, too.” She sobered then, and a crumb fell from her lips. She whispered, “I can write me name, ma’am. Me mum taught me. Before she ...”
“Oh, Mattie. How would you like to ...?”
“I must go, ma’am. Thank ye for tea and all.” The bell chimed as she departed.
I knew I’d see her again. I thought Randall would believe me mad when I asked if I could bring her home, but if Randall had a fault, it was his patience with me.
Ask her, I did. Her eyes sprung wide, and without a word, she darted away. But a while later, by the vegetable costermonger, she returned, as I hoped she would.
“Could I come for a bit, ma’am? See if it suits me?”
Mattie came, but at first, she’d occasionally slip away for a day or two. I didn’t ask where she went, but the frequency of her disappearances decreased, until finally, she never felt the need to roam again, much as my own ramblings to the market ceased. She became my personal maid, my companion, my friend.
After all, she was but the likes of me, in a filthy frock.
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