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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Secret Life of a Spinner

Spinner: Fall River, Massachusetts, Lewis Hine
Spinner: Fall River, Massachusetts, Lewis Hine

EXCERPT When I played music in the barn, I left my troubles at the door. In Fall River, I left them on the bottom step that led to the attic. I played so quietly that I was unsure if I would ever be able to blow into that horn appropriately again. I did what was necessary. To stop playin’ music was to die a slow death, for no matter how tired I was at the end of the day, music breathed the life that had seeped out, back into my bein’.

I dragged myself from here to there, wonderin’ how I would endure the next phase of the day, but I managed. I viewed my music as a reward. However, I had to be careful. Without a timepiece, I stayed up too late and dreaded the sound of the first mornin’ bell.

Except for Mary and August, no one knew about the attic, and Mary was the only one who knew about my cornet. So, when I did go to bed, I thought about how I would keep my secret and wondered why it was a secret to begin with.

I took another look out over the city, and I saw August and Finn makin’ their way down the street. In case he got the notion that I was waitin’ for him and to avoid questions, I blew out the candle.

When I closed my eyes, I saw his face, which was quite pleasin’ to me. It was hard to believe that I knew someone from New York City. I could add it to the list of others that I knew from faraway places, includin’ the other side of the ocean.

I wondered why he had so many secrets. I laughed. Who was I to talk? I didn’t even comprehend my own secrets. All of this left me feelin’ uneasy yet curious. I would find the answers. Until I knew more about him, it was best to keep a safe distance.

I waited for the girls to go to bed before I put my horn away. I was about to go to the sinks when someone came up from behind.

“Wait, Sarah!”

There was Mercy, breathless, rushin’ to catch up with me. Even though we worked together and shared the same crowded bed, we didn’t talk much. Rebecca kept her under close watch. Clara and Mary, who had become an unsolved riddle, were my loyal companions.

“Are you goin’ down?” she asked.


“I’ll go with you.” She giggled and ran along beside me. “Where do you go at night?”

“Where do I go?” I should have been prepared. “Oh, I just like to walk around, go out to the yard, and sometimes visit with Mary.”

“Mary was playin’ cards with the girls in our room tonight.”

“I know. I went out and looked at the sky, hopin’ to see the stars, but it’s too cloudy.”

“It’s always cloudy in Fall River,” she said.

“It doesn’t hurt to check.”

“Mary said that you might be sneakin’ out to smoke.” She knew very well that I didn’t smoke. She was purposely stirrin’ up a nest of bees, for which she was very good at doin’.

“She did? Well, she could not be more wrong. I would not do somethin’ like that. I simply like to have my private time,” I said.

I slammed the door to the outhouse, rippin’ my sackcloth, before sittin’ upon the cold splintered seat. All I could do was wish her away.

I tried to keep feelin’s of bitterness from creepin’ in, but it was impossible. No, Mary did not tell about my music, but she offered up a dark story instead. I desired peace, an anchor to my soul. I would not break my promise to Mother. I assured her that I understood that music did not perish. People perished. They perished when they ignored their true callin’—the reason for a beatin’ heart. Sarah Hodgdon, 1872, Fall River, MA

Excerpt: The Angels' Lament Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, Book Two


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