I love Valentine’s Day! And all the accompanying emotions that it evokes. Here is a short story that I wrote a couple of years ago. It is available as a stand-alone ebook and is also contained in my Bridgewater Holidays book. I hope you enjoy it.
My heart to you is given,
Oh, do give yours to me.
We’ll lock them up together,
And throw away the key.
Valentine’s Day 1920
Fiona Delaney was in it up to her elbows. There was no other way to really get clean the mountain of laundry awaiting her attention. Fiona had joined the Bridgewater laundry team after her fifteenth birthday and had been there ever since. Now she was in charge of the laundry room and oversaw three other young women.
Working at an estate as large as Bridgewater meant a never-ending stream of soiled bed linens, tablecloths, napkins, and various sizes of towels. At the moment, though, Fiona was presoaking the delicate underpinnings of the Newkirk ladies. Ellen, Mrs. Newkirk’s maid had dropped off the mistress’s delicates a short while ago. Fiona did not entrust these items to anyone else and treated them with the care she used on her own things – carefully testing the water temperature and using the gentlest and purest soap.
For a while Fiona and the others worked in companionable silence, each going about their separate duties: one doing the washing, another hanging up the wet laundry, and still another hand ironing those garments that required a finishing touch. Fiona helped where needed while tending to the most delicate of tasks. As she attended to Mrs. Newkirk’s camisole she noted that even though the outdoor temperature was well below freezing on this sunny February Day, the laundry room was as steamy as a sauna. By ten o’clock in the morning most of the laundry had been cleaned and was now part way through the various drying modes.
The delicates were slipped onto padded silk hangers, the color of the hanger denoting the owner of the garments thus simplifying the task of matching the garments to their above-stairs owner. By noon the bed linens, tablecloths, napkins, and towels had been hung on wooden drying racks or clotheslines stretched across the length of the laundry room where they would remain until the next day.
A half hour break for a quick lunch and then it was back to work. The afternoon was spent in sorting and folding the dry linens from the previous day’s wash.
“Fiona, are you in there?”
The boldly-voiced question announced the imminent arrival of Hurricane Annie, lady’s maid to Miss Birdie, Mrs. Newkirk’s obnoxious daughter.
Fiona moved to stand by the doorway to the laundry room so that Annie could see her.
“Annie, how are you today?”
Fiona’s calm greeting was a counterpoint to the abrasive voice of the maid.
“This is the dress Miss Birdie is intent on wearing this evening. It’s got a stain on the front, here,” she pointed a bony finger to a stain that looked as though it had been part of the dress for a long time.
Fiona took the garment and peered at it closely.
“It’s a gravy stain,” she observed. “It will take some doing as the stain has been allowed to set, but I think I can get it out.”
“See that you do, missy! You don’t want to feel Miss Birdie’s wrath if she can’t wear that dress.”
And with a flurry of her skirt Annie turned away from the laundry, leaving a vortex of wind behind her.
“No wonder they call her Hurricane Annie,” mumbled Fiona.
Ninety minutes later the other laundresses were putting on their galoshes and overcoats in preparation for their trip home. They paused at the door and looked back.
“Fiona, aren’t you coming? It will be dark soon,” called Ingrid in her lilting Irish voice.
“I won’t be far behind. I just need to finish this one item.”
Fiona smiled and waved as they left, listening to them chatter about their beaux and trying to guess how they would be remembered on this Valentine’s Day. With their departure the laundry room fell silent and Fiona’s thoughts turned to her own beau, Jack Fitzpatrick. She smiled to herself as she recalled how handsome he was with his sandy-colored hair and light green eyes that twinkled when he looked her way.
Two years ago he had asked for her hand and she’d said yes. At the time he’d just begun work at Farrell’s Foundry in Derby) and had little to his name. Though Fiona had assured him she didn’t need an engagement ring he had been adamant. So he’d placed a cigar band on her ring finger as a promise ring and it was this that Fiona wore when she wasn’t at work. She’d been careful not to tear it but after a while it began to fall apart. Now it sat in her tiny jewelry box on the top of her bureau.
All that time, almost two years, Fiona had saved most of her earnings after contributing a portion to her parents whose home she still shared. She knew that Jack was doing the same with a part of his earnings.
It was fully dark when Fiona slipped Miss Birdie’s cocktail dress onto a padded hanger and hung it where Hurricane Annie would be sure to see it. The stain had been a stubborn one but with patience and persistence it was no match for Fiona’s expertise. A glance at the wall clock confirmed that she had enough time to catch the last trolley to The Valley. Normally, Jack would be finishing his shift at the foundry and would wait for her at the trolley station in front of the Polish church, St. Michael’s, and they would ride to Ansonia together.
The mittens that Fiona pulled on snagged the dry and cracked skin of her hands causing her to wince in pain. She made a mental note to add extra hand lotion to her bedtime routine.
‘I’ve always been proud of my smooth hands,’ she thought, ‘but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to work.’
For an unmarried woman of twenty-four years of age the laundress job at Bridgewater was perfect. And for the past nine years she had worked her way up the ladder and was now Senior Laundress. But today she felt like the spinster that she was becoming. As she boarded the trolley she yearned more deeply than ever before to simply be Jack’s wife and mother to his future children.
On the trolley, she took a seat towards the back where she could be alone with her thoughts. Earlier today she had looked forward to seeing Jack on the trolley but knew she’d missed the opportunity when she’d worked beyond her regular quitting time. So she settled herself and gazed out the window, getting lost in her dream of being a married lady.
The conductor slowed the trolley to a stop in front of the Polish church while passengers boarded and exited. Fiona paid them no mind, instead looking up at the church and asking God’s blessing. She felt the presence of a passenger as he took the seat beside her.
“Fiona,” the voice beside her was familiar.
She turned to see her beloved Jack smiling at her. He was dressed in his Sunday clothes and his heavy overcoat enveloped him. A snappy bowler hat covered his head. He took her hand in his and squeezed it lovingly. But the pressure of his hand on hers caused her to flinch although she tried to hide behind a smile. He gently pulled the mitten off her left hand, stroking the cracked skin of her knuckles.
“Fi, I hate to see you like this – tired, hurting, and out in the cold weather every day.”
“And where should I be, Jack? Sitting in front of a blazing fire while I sip champagne and dine one lobster?” she teased.
“I would happily give you all that and more,” he said, “if I could.”
“I’ll settle for a coal stove, a radio, a ham sandwich, and you,” she laughed.
“I’m so glad you feel that way.”
He reached into the vest pocket of his overcoat and extracted something. Fiona felt the coolness of the metal as he slipped a ring over the knuckle of her ring finger.
“Jack?” she inquired tremulously.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, darling.”
Fiona held her hand up and gazed at the tiny diamond in a simple gold setting. To her it was the most breathtaking engagement ring she’d ever seen.
“It’s perfect,” she whispered.
“Fiona, I’ve hated every minute you’ve had to spend at that awful job.”
“It’s not so bad.”
He squared his shoulders and continued.
“Tomorrow, you’ll give your notice. Tell them you’re getting married in four weeks.”
“I’ve arranged it all, the church, the flowers, everything – with some help from your ma, of course.”
He nodded his head. Her eyes glistened with tears of happiness.
“Fiona Delany, will you finally be my wife?”
She kissed him then, sealing the deal and while several passengers were scandalized by their public display of affection others smiled their appreciation. A few applauded the scene.
“I’m waiting for your answer, Fiona,” Jack prompted.
“Let the banns be read!” Fiona exclaimed.
Copyright: 2015 by Marion Marchetto
First Publication Date: February 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.