Dark Ch. 00byValentineSatterlee©
I have been on this damned ship for twelve days now. What started out feeling like salvation now feels more like a floating coffin. We all feel it. It is freezing, and the ship's steam, rather than keeping us warm, makes us damp and uncomfortable. Typhus fever is rampant; seventy-four passengers have died of the original 250. My own husband, Aoghan, is among them. My sister, Brighde, is the only thing keeping me from breaking down completely. The way to America has been a long, painful one.
We almost didn't make it to the big steam ship.
First we had to make the three day trek from our home of Cork, Ireland, to the dock in Liverpool. That was only after we each had three pounds for our fare. It had taken Aoghan and I six months to save up enough, and Brighde had lost her husband the year past, having to sell everything he had owned to come up with the money.
We have very little in the way of possessions with us. One trunk for three. A few items of clothing each, our Mother's silver in a wooden box, with some scant jewelry and a quilt she had knitted. The silver will most likely have to be sold now. My husband was the one who would have found work and lodging, the one who spoke the most English. Without him, we will have to sell all we have, and our shared dream of living better here may not come to fruition.
But, we did not emigrate here for ourselves. We came here for my yet-unborn daughter. Eight months ago I knew I was pregnant. I asked only one thing of Aoghan, for our child to have a better life than us. To not know starvation. To not be persecuted for our religion. To be free, born in America. He'd given all he had, even his life, for this baby.
"They say we are getting close." Brighde says to me.
I nod. The contractions started nearly an hour ago, and my nerves are beginning to fray. I twist my Claddaugh ring round and round my finger. I am nervous. I do not want my baby to be born on this boat.
Someone calls from above deck, in a language I do not know. I look to Brighde.
"Dawn." she murmurs.
The thirteenth day. I hold my swollen stomach as another contraction hits.
Brighde furrows her warm brow.
"I see it!" someone shouts in Gaelic. "New York!" A cheer goes up, everyone talking and shouting and praying to their God in different languages. Soon, the ship stops, and men come in from ashore. They will not let us depart. They line everyone up, go around to each person checking out eyes, looking in our mouths, and feeling for a temperature. Some people get motioned to go above deck, most likely to be documented. Others, like Brighde and I, have to stay.
Eventually it becomes quieter. Some of the American men go into the hold, where the bodies are. They have masks on their faces and papers in their hands. To count and document the dead, I hear someone say. A tear comes to my eyes. I will not see my husband again, never hold his hand, he will never see the baby he gave so much for. It is a hard thing to bear.
The ship moves again, but not far. Now they motion us all on deck, and I see that we are at a small island. There is one large building, and many smaller ones surrounding it. It looks to be a hospital of some kind. The men check our ship's papers, and send us along the ramp and into the building. The contractions are becoming stronger, and while walking seems to help, I know it won't be long now.
We are led inside where women in white dresses and hats, with scarves on their faces are asking everyone questions, writing things down on papers. I have my papers ready with me, as we were told to do when we departed, for identification. Are we sick? Is that why we went to a different place? Brighde seems lost too; her little knowledge of English does not help us here, there are too many languages being spoken at once.
A woman comes up to us, and we hand her our papers. She glances at them, and back to us. "Names?" she says, but I don't understand her. She points to my name.
"Lasair o Donnabhain" I say, but she just looks at me.
She puts a hand to her chest. "Ros." she says, and then writes it down. "Row-z" she says again, slowly, pronouncing it. The paper reads R-o-s-e. Now I understand, she doesn't know the Gaelic pronunciations, and I can't write in English. She needs me to tell her, slowly.
"Los-ir" I say, pointing to myself, and the name on the paper. She scribbles something underneath my name, probably the phonetic pronunciation. I point to my last name. "Oh Don-a-van." Another scribble.
She does the same for Brighde. It reads Brighde o Seaghdha. "Bree-ju oh Sh-ay."
She was about to turn away when I was rocked with a hard contraction. "Oh..." I whimpered, putting my hand to my stomach.
"Baby." Brighde says to Rose, pointing.
"Now?" the woman asks, and Brighde nods.
She brings around a chair with large wheels on each side, and has me sit in it. As she wheels me up a corridor, Brighde follows behind, pulling our trunk. She is sweating, as am I, big drops on her brow. I feel tired and weak, but I am in labor, and I am sure that is what it is from.
Surely we are not sick, too.
It does not take long before we are in a big room with curtains separating one bed from another. Some of the beds are occupied, with people sleeping, or moaning, or being checked by nurses. I am put by the window, and I can see out into the harbor, and New York itself.
No matter what happens now, we have done it. My baby will be born here, an American citizen.
Three hours I have pushed, and finally, finally, I can see my baby girl. She is so beautiful; she has fair skin, like me, but favors her father. Pitch black hair covers her head, and her eyes are as blue as the sky. 'Black Irish' they called Aoghan's kind, the ones who have black hair rather than red or blond. I find it stunning on her, and whatever persecution could have befallen her for being Irish will not harm her now, since she is missing those traits that make us instantly recognizable.
The nurse smiles at me. "Name?" she asks, handing me a piece of paper and pointing to where I should write. I think only a moment, and write 'Aoibheann o Donnabhain,' meaning Beautiful in Gaelic. And, oh, she is.
The nurse looks at me, points to the name. At least I know what she wants this time. "Eve-een" I tell her. She nods.
I see Brighde behind the nurses. She is looking at her niece, but is leaning against the wall, and seems short of breath. I am having a hard time as well; labor took so much more than I thought. I put a hand to my head and wipe away the beads of sweat there. Even to my own hand, I feel warm. A rush of commotion, and I look to where the nurses have gone. Brighde has fallen to the floor. I try to get up, but everything aches, and a nurse sets my back down.
They put Brighde on a bed, and wheel her to the other side of the room. In the mayhem, I almost missed the fact that they've also wheeled out Aoibheann. I call out to her, and a woman comes up to me.
"Aoibheann?" I ask.
"She is fine. They are going to clean her up, and dress her, and make sure everything is ok." she says in Gaelic, and smiles.
"Thank you. It is nice to be able to speak to someone."
"Once they figured out which language you were speaking, they sent for me. How do you feel?"
"Tired. Very tired. And my muscles hurt. I have a slight headache as well. Is all this normal?"
She checks my chart, and glances briefly at me before putting it away. "Yes, you will be fine after you rest." she assures me.
"What about my sister? They took her over there." I point to where I had seen them take Brighde.
"I will go see her next." she says. "I am Caelan."
"Lasair." I say, and smile, as I sink into my pillow and drift off.
It has been three days. I have not seen my baby but once, and my sister has left the room. I can barely move anymore, the ache in my muscles hurts so much. My head pains me terribly, to the point that any sound is torture.
Caelan has been back once, but she is not giving me answers. She says Aoibheann is fine, the nurses are taking care of her, and they call her Joleine. I don't like it.
Most of the people who were in this room when I came in are gone. New ones come in and out every day. I do not think this is a hospital where you go to get better. I think it is where you go when there is nowhere else for you to go.
And I think we all have it. The fever. We will all die here.