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  • Mj Pettengill

Eve and the Apple: The Angels' Lament


Doffer Girls, Brookside Worsted Mills, Westford, MA, Hines, LOC

Sarah

November 3, 1872


Every time my head drooped forward, Norah jabbed me with her elbow. It was hard to imagine that I had become like one of those old folks who fell asleep durin’ the sermon. As much as Mother protested, my sister and I poked fun at them.

Once he started in on Eve, I perked up. Ever since I was old enough to understand the hypocrisy of it, I rejected what everyone tried to teach us about her. We learned about her in Sunday school and at church. Even Mother referred to Eve when it came to matters of bleedin’ or childbirth. It was Eve’s fault for everything.

I was quite disappointed in my sister for believin’ in the curse. I asked her what kind of God would punish his own creation for seekin’ wisdom? For eatin’ an apple? If it were so, he was not a kind and compassionate God, but one created of and for man, a tyrant that condemned for no reliable or valid reason, an action that would continue to resonate unless we became her ally.

Pastor Leighton used his sermons to castigate the sinners in our church, or the ones that he suspected were less than perfect. However, for some reason, in the face of women, he stuttered. I did not want to pick a fight, and I could never do so. It was unacceptable behavior for a young woman or any woman for that matter. But, he knew. He knew that I would not take part in blamin’ everything that ever went wrong, since the Garden of Eden, on Eve.

I returned my attention to the reverend—flushed and heated—as he pointed up to the Heavens and exclaimed, “Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this you have done? And the woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate, Genesis 3:13.”

I was saved by the hymn. I so needed to stand and sing.

Unlike Mother, singin’ was not my favorite thing, especially hymns. I preferred to sing them in small groups, relishin’ the harmonies, not in with a wild crowd who were just wakin’ up from the sermon, pretendin’ to have a musical bone in their bodies.

My sister and I were accustomed to makin’ sure that Mother was praised whenever she sang. All the way home, she talked about her singin’. She would ask, Are you sure I sounded good, and you’re not just sayin’ that? We had to convince her. She knew but was afraid to believe it. The truest part of her was quite proud and for good reason.

My mind had a tendency to wander, bringin’ me to the fact that I hadn’t seen August around. I feared that I may have discouraged him by never showin’ up at the same time or by shoutin’ at him while runnin’ off with a groundless explanation. Mother always said, there are many flowers in the garden. You’re not the only one.

I hurried down the steps, quickly scannin’ the street, only to find no sign of him. I tried to keep on the sunny side, not permittin’ my heart to sink. Clara reached over and wrapped her warm hand around mine, and we walked quietly towards our tenement. I fancied the idea of an afternoon of cookin’, launderin’, and brushin’ up the room.

After our chores were done, and while the girls were either readin’ or playin’ a game of cards, I entered the room holdin’ my braid up high in the air.

“Look at what I did!” I exclaimed.

“Oh my,” Clara said. She dashed over and took it from me.

“You’re not in ya right mind,” Ruby said.

Clemmie gasped, while Norah and Addy were speechless.

“Yes, I decided that it was too much of a risk to have my hair get caught in the machinery. Look at what happened to Clara. She could have lost her life. And then, last week at Durfee’s, one of the girls had a similar experience, but not quite as bad as what happened to poor Clara,” I said.

“But you’re not careless like the others. You wear a snood,” Addy said, purposely avoidin’ Clara’s pained expression.

Mercy and Rebecca stood in the open doorway.

“What’s all the fuss?” Rebecca asked.

“Sarah went and cut off her braid,” Addy said.

“I wasn’t careless,” Clara said, crossin’ her arms over her chest.

“You were young. It’s okay that you were careless,” Addy said. “But, everyone knows that you were careless.”

“What? You cut your beautiful hair?” Mercy snatched the braid from Norah.

“Why did you do that?” Rebecca asked.

“She’s afraid that she’ll get her hair caught in the machinery,” Norah said.

“Can I have your braid?” Mercy asked.

“What? What are you talkin’ about?” Rebecca whipped it away from her.

“I can coil it around my head,” she said.

“Your hair is brown and frizzy. It would look ridiculous,” Rebecca said while wrappin’ it around her own head.

“You won’t be suitable for courtin’ with hair like a boy,” Mercy said.

“Who has time for courtin’?” I asked.

“You do! I see you with that boy… August? And, you’re always goin’ off, like Cora did. I know you’re meetin’ up with him, but I won’t tell no one,” Mercy said.

“Just because we’re friends, doesn’t mean that I’m courtin’ him. We have a lot in common,” I said.

“What have we got here?” Mary moseyed in and snatched the braid from Rebecca.

“Sarah cut her hair,” Norah said.

“I wish that you would all settle down,” I said. “And besides, it’s hair. It will grow back.”

“Abigail would never cut her hair,” Mercy said. “Are you gonna tell her when you write?”

“She will see me when I return to New Hampshire. She won’t mind at all,” I said.

We sat together, drinkin’ tea, and discussin’ the men who worked in the mills—which ones were not taken and worth a second look, and which ones were horrible. I hadn’t noticed that Clara was no longer present until she burst in.

“Clara, what have you done?” I shouted.

She pushed her way into the middle of the room, holdin’ her messy blonde braid. “I don’t want to ever go through that again. I think that havin’ short hair is a good idea.”

Before the end of the night, Clemmie, the youngest and quietest of the group, cut her curly brown hair too. To prevent Mercy from stealin’ our hair, we decided to hang our braids above the door of the sink closet.

Although in my usual tired state, I managed to steal at least a half an hour on my cornet. As long as the babies cried, the women shouted at their drunken husbands, and the girl across the hall played her concertina, I was fine. EXCERPT: THE ANGELS' LAMENT Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book Two The Crow's Path, Book Four, is in the making...


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