Short Story inspired by an album by a friend and musician, written based on a contest she ran for a ‘back story’ to accompany the album
Succeed where I failed
The swell of Molly’s belly was a blessing and a curse. She failed to protect her younger brother Thomas and had since stopped trying to find him. It was just a simple argument that got out of hand and he ran away, she tried to keep up with him, but he was too fast. For months she searched for him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
It was a moment of foolishness that got her into this state; listening to the soppy blathering of a young man whose steely blue eyes and smile had sucked her in. She listened to his tales of making an honest woman of her and with a few compliments and shower of affection, she laid down and let him have her. What a fool she was, all he had left her with was the growth in her stomach.
As a child she had watched her mums belly grow when she carried the twins and back then she found it fascinating, but right now she was terrified. Her mother knew what was happening to her and had the support of families and neighbours, Molly lived with a bunch of women she worked with and whilst they were friendly enough, she worried what they would do when they found out. She feared the worst, she feared they would kick her out. The house she shared with several others was small and cramped, the toilet they all shared was rancid. It was already overcrowded, she couldn’t imagine a baby being allowed
In the city she had to work hard to survive and having a child was not ideal, but there was something in her that fought against the feelings of ending it. A knife to the belly would end it for both of them, but after dwelling on it for so long, it was a solitary kick that caught her attention. Suddenly it wasn’t just a swollen belly she had. Now she had made a connection. She soon realised how selfish it would be to end it all, none of this was the babies fault.
It got tougher as her belly grew, she tried to hide it as best she could, fearful she’d be out of what work she could get if they knew.
Molly, who had started to bond with the child in her belly became increasingly fearful for her health, but with a lack of money and no-one to depend on she was unable to move away. Most in the house kept to themselves, but Sissy a girl she worked with was chatty, she always had been. It seemed that despite the situation they faced she seemed to find the good in everything, little did she know that it was her brother John, who had gotten Molly into this state, but what good would it do to tell her. John was long gone, he’d taken to the seas and he’d made it clear before he set sail that he was just after a bit of fun.
Sissy was the first to notice Molly’s pregnancy, she never questioned who the father was. Molly didn’t have chance to stop her before she ran around the house telling the others. Molly was fearful, assuming this is when she would be thrown out, but instead Molly was suddenly popular in the cramped house. They all rallied around her, helped her to cover up, took on some of her duties to help her out and she was given hand me downs for the baby.
For the first time since being in this city, she felt like she belonged somewhere, felt like she had a family again.
The birth was traumatic, she was sure that the baby was going to split her in two, she’d never known pain like it, After many hours of pain and pushing, surrounded by several others, she heard the ear splitting scream of a child, her child!
Just like that, Molly was no longer ‘just Molly’ she was a mother, as she looked into her daughters eyes she wept. Surrounded by the grime of the city, the cramped living conditions and the unfair hands that life had dealt her so far, she held in her arms a glimmer of hope.
Most of the others had left the room, but Sissy stayed close by.
“What will you call her?” Sissy asked tenderly.
Molly studied her daughter for a few moments before responding.
Sissy’s lips turned up at the side and she gave a timid smile.
“That’s a pretty name, I’ve not heard that one before, what does it mean?”
“It’s a welsh name and it means Fair or Pure, She looks so clean and new and unbroken, it’s the only name that fits her perfectly.”
* * *
Molly never did reveal who Wynne’s dad was, even when John returned from the ships and visited, she kept away from him and he never acknowledged Wynne. She long suspected that Sissy knew more than she let on, but neither of them seemed prepared to discuss it.
Molly vowed to save Wynne from the life she had, with the agreement of the others they worked hard together to watch her whilst they worked. Taking it in turns to raise the baby, they found various things to entertain the child. Some of them who worked in the mill brought back handmade raggedy dolls, made from offshoots of materials that they stole.
Molly’s body had never fully recovered from the childbirth and she soon found work in a match factory, due to her weak and frail state and her youthful looks they put her to work amongst some children, dipping matches in phosphorus. It was easy work labour wise, but the chemicals were harsh and Molly developed a ragged cough.
For years she worked tirelessly to save Wynne from the life she had, but Wynne’s life was far from luxury, whilst she was saved from a life in the factories with her mum, she worked hard all day to keep the house they lived in as clean and sanitary as possible.
Wynne was 16 before she started to go out and work. The city was much bigger than she realised and at first she was scared, but she knew how much they all needed money to survive and she insisted she was old enough to contribute now. Her mother protested, but soon realised that her daughter was just as stubborn as she was.
She found work at a cotton mill and despite the cuts to her fingertips as she worked, she was good at it and if truth be told quite enjoyed it, the mill was a nicer environment than the home she shared with her mum and the others.
Her mum was still working at the match factory, despite several pleas to stop. Most of her teeth were rotted and she was often out of breath, but she insisted that it was the only work she was any good for. By the age of 18 Wynne developed into a pretty girl, but she was so very quiet and timid and was able to blend into the background easily, she liked to be invisible. She’d had no real education as such, but she was very streetwise and hard working and on the odd occasion she came out of her shell she charmed whoever she spoke to.
Albert, the owner of the mill she worked had two sons, Richard and Arthur, who often managed the shop floor. Richard was a very stern man and Wynne didn’t like him one bit, but Arthur was more withdrawn and fair, he always rewarded Molly with a smile whenever he came to inspect her work.
After Molly became too sick to work in the match factory any longer, Wynne managed to get her a job at the cotton mill. It was Molly who spotted it first, she could see the way that Arthur looked at Wynne, but her daughter refused to believe that anyone like that could see anything in her.
Not even when he saved her from the wrath of his brother Richard. Wynne was distracted by her mother, who had a coughing fit. She made a mistake on what she was working on and Richard started to yell at her, she apologised, but he was in a rage, he raised his arm to beat her, but as she cowered down and closed her eyes, the beating never came, as she opened her eyes and looked up, she found Arthur hovering over her.
“I’m so sorry for my brother, he won’t do that again I can assure you, go tend to your mother and then get
back to it.” Arthur said softly.
“Th-Thanks” Wynne stammered and quickly tended to her mother, whose coughing fit had abated enough for her to be muttering under her breath about Richard. Wynne wasn’t used to hearing her mother swearing, but she’d turned the air blue and it took a while to calm her down.
Richard never came near Wynne again, whatever his brother, Arthur, had said or done had worked. After almost two years of timid exchanges and casual glances towards each other, it was Molly who finally brought them both together.
Her health took a nosedive and it was Arthur who lifted her off the ground and carried her frail body to where Wynne and her mother lived. He couldn’t hide his disgust at the squalid conditions and Wynne’s cheeks burned with embarrassment, but Arthur never voiced his opinion. He stayed by her side as she mopped her mothers brow.
Molly was barely conscious. She was overcome with a fever and many times they thought she’d gone, but she seemed to keep on fighting, it was the early hours of the morning when Molly’s eyes flew open and in a moment of lucidity she grabbed at her daughters hand and squeezed. She also grunted at Arthur, who had fallen asleep, slumped against the wall.
“Promise…” she yelled
Arthur woke with a start and hovered over Wynne, who was confused, assuming her mother was just delirious again, but something about the conviction of her voice and the lucid look on her face suggested otherwise.
“Promise me that you’ll succeed where I failed. Don’t accept what life throws at you, make life what you want it to be. Don’t assume that you aren’t good enough for Arthur, sure you are from different backgrounds, but I see the way you look at each other. Stop being fools and just get on with it. Life is too short to waste.”
Arthur’s throat felt dry and he swallowed thickly, Molly was right, he’d been after Wynne for so long, but he allowed himself to worry about what his family would think, but underneath the dirt and grime, she was a beautiful person and he’d never been attracted like this to anyone else.
Wynne was stunned and muted, she did not what to say.
“I promise” Arthur said clearly, with conviction.
Wynne whipped around to face him, she studied the sincerity in his face and felt the wetness against her cheeks as tears escaped her eyes.
She turned back to her mum and was rewarded by a rare sight. A wide smile, her mother had long since stopped smiling when her teeth rotted, but even with the blackened decaying teeth, her smile was beautiful and lit up her face.
As Molly’s eyes closed and her chest rose and fell one last time, she knew that this was the end. As Wynne wept, she felt Arthur’s arms draped around her shoulders. In the days to come, Arthur was her rock, he paid for a proper funeral for her mother. Only a handful of people in attendance, but she was given a good send off.
* * *
Wynne took her mothers words to heart and she and Arthur finally acted on their feelings. He took her out of the world she knew and introduced her to his. He paid for her to have an education and they cared for each other deeply, his family never did truly accept her, but Arthur made it clear that he chose her over them. His dad eventually came around and was pleasant enough, but his mother and brother Richard shunned her and pretended she didn’t exist, but she didn’t need them, they meant nothing to her. They discussed having children, but Wynne was afraid to bring a child into the world that they lived in. To the outside world Arthur was a reticent man, but in private Wynne could read him like a book. When it was just the two of them he opened up and she was able to get a glimpse into his soul and what a fine soul it was.
They survived two world wars and Arthur found religion shortly after world war one, once he found his faith, his outlook on the world had changed, but the Arthur she knew and love never did. Wynne attended church with her husband dutifully, but it took a lot longer for her to find her faith. For so long she was bitter about the life that she and her mother had to endure, but as she became more educated and looked back on her childhood she realised that she was a lucky one. So many born in the circumstances she was had perished.
The sacrifices that her mother had made, sheltered her to some extent, but after a great deal of soul searching she started to believe that someone was looking out for her and when she found her faith alongside her husband, they devoted their life to religion. They went from simply attending church on a Sunday to immersing themselves in the Christian way of life. Wynne became a Sunday school teacher. She’d long since passed the age of being able to have a child of her own and she still didn’t think it right to bring a child into such a cruel world, but she took delight in spending time with the children at the church and sharing her faith with them.
Arthur and Wynne soon found themselves part of a large extended family of Christian fellowship and they lived an outwardly happy life till the end. Though Wynne was still scarred by her history and whilst she loved Arthur dearly she still struggled to meet his eyes, because she was afraid that if she did that he’d be able to see how much turmoil was in there still after all these years. Towards the end she began to feel mended, but her dreams were still haunted by the past.
As ill health began to take hold of Wynne, she was tended to by Arthur. Her last words to Arthur stayed with him till the end of his own life.
“I did it Arthur! I succeeded, where my mother failed. I found love and I kept it and I allowed you to take me out of the world I was born into and into yours. Even though I often felt like I didn’t belong in your world, I knew I belonged with you. However long you have after my passing, promise me you’ll live. Whether it alone or with someone else, live life to the fullest, it’s far too short to do anything else.”
Wynne’s eyes closed, her chest stilled and she was finally free. The room was filled with an eerie silence. After what felt like an eternity, of silence, whilst Arthur struggled to come to terms with his wife’s passing. He let out Two words, which filled the room and hung in the air.