Emily’s Mother is a piece I worked on during NaNoWriMo during the April session in 2015. I’ve considered posting a promo for it now and again, always removing it and replacing it with something else because of the unfortunate nature of it. Now that it’s in the editing process I’ll post a piece of it here.
Emily’s Mother is the story of Layla, an Irish immigrant girl from Kerry, who lives in Boston in the mid 1910s. A story of exploitation, Layla is forced to work as a prostitute to a cruel pimp who beats her. As a result she uses opium to escape her own reality, often neglecting her own infant daughter; Emily.
Read this with some understanding that this is a difficult piece with some troubling subject matter.
from Emily’s Mother
She buried her face against the thin feather pillow stained with saliva. It had been a long night working in the West End of Boston. Her only recompense was the glorious pipe and the tincture of opium she could draw upon when the sun finally came up and the girls had to be of the street, or at least out of sight. This rule of the ward boss brought Layla some relief, though it meant she returned to the single room rented to her by Mr. O’Halloran, her employer of sorts. It could be difficult to find a landlord who would rent to the Irish, and given Layla’s circumstances it would doubly difficult.
The opium was always there for her though. She laid the pipe down on the floor beside her cot, the remnants of the smoke billowing up from the floor, the pipe still warm. It had almost started a fire once and she had been able to wake up enough to toss the contents of her chamber pot onto the smoldering flames. The disaster averted, she made sure to not lay the pipe down until she was sure the glowing embers had gone down sufficiently.
It was a wondrous feeling. It swaddled her from head to toe, the way she faintly remembered her mother doing, or one of her four older sisters. It was a duty she was expected to perform for her younger brothers and sisters, the six who came after her. There was security in the opium, the heavenly smell and the way it transported her away from that dank, dark room in the West End to somewhere nothing could hurt her. The blanket pulled up to her face kept the chill out somewhat, but the opium made it go away all together.
There was a soft wrapping against the door and Layla knew that she was off the clock now and didn’t have to answer. The opium gave her a wonderfully frightening feeling that she couldn’t breathe, but she could force a breath into her lungs and then it felt as though the effect came on stronger. She did this now and felt the surge of the Chinaman’s cure for what ailed her. The knocking came again and she disregarded it.
A loud crack startled her awake as her rickety door slammed against the wall. She shrieked sitting upright in bed and pulling the blanket up close to her face. A large brute of a man charged into the room, grabbing her by the nap of her hair and yanking her onto the floor. He was a large man, nearly bursting out of his coat and trousers. He was dressed well despite this, and in a position to take in his shoes she found she might have even been able to see her reflection in their shine if he hadn’t mistakenly trodden in a pile of manure. Her sight flashed as he brought his open, cupped hand across her face. Her head struck the floor from the recoil and she laid still. From under the bed, tucked into an old dresser drawer, her baby began to wail.
“Don’t rough her up too badly,” a quiet Irish voice said somewhere out in the hall. “She has to work tonight.”
Layla felt herself lifted off the ground, the wind knocked out of her as the big brute black Irishman put her against the wall. The entire room shook and her feet were in the air, inches from the floor as the muscly man held up her by her thin dress. The sound of delicate feet entering the room could be heard and she recognized the brown bowler hat of Mr. O’Halloran. He was dressed finely, the goon holding her against the wall presumably dressed by Mr. O’Halloran as well. He didn’t indulge his girls that way unless it suited the business needs of his clients. He opened the jacket of his suit and retrieved a small ledger, opened it, and began to look over Layla’s account.
“You had a busy night, girl,” he said. “Where’s my fourteen dollars?” Layla’s head lolled around on her thin neck and it fell forward. She began to snore. Mr. O’Halloran sighed gesturing across the room to his mug.
The goon flung her across the room, slamming her against the opposite wall and shattering the horsehair plaster. She hit the ground and cried out. A man out in the hall stopped to watch, but Mr. O’Halloran ended his curiosity by saying, “This don’t concern you,” and slamming the door in his face. He turned his attention to Layla on the ground, grabbing hold of her by the front of the dress. The baby under the bed was still crying, wailing out at being woken up in the disturbance.
“You listen to me you fuckin’ Irish whore,” he growled. “You don’t skip out on me to smoke that shit. You come to me when you’re done for the night. I own you, you remember that. I pay for this room because they don’t rent to Kerry trash like you. I pay for your food, your clothes, and your fuckin’ hop. Now where is it?”
Layla lifted her head and pointed to the rickety table across the room. He let go of her dress and the goon stepped forward, standing between Layla and Mr. O’Halloran. Finding her satchel left on the table he flipped the bag open, dumping the contents onto the table. A few dollars and some coins fell out onto the table and rolled onto the floor.
“Look what I found,” Mr. O’Halloran said joyfully. “Seems I found me money!” He stuffed whatever she’d had in her satchel into his pockets, crossing off her nightly debt in his ledger and replacing the book back into his coat pocket. The baby was still crying, Layla’s sleepy attention drawn to it in motherly instinct. She felt her breasts lactating at the sound.
“You’re working tonight,” he told her. “But I’m pulling you off the street and sending you over to the Hendrick’s Club. The Mahatma is having a party and raising money for the election. You’re going to be a party favor, so that means whatever those fat cats want you give ‘em, understand?” He knelt down in front of her, putting his finger against her chest and digging it in between her ribs for emphasis. “I don’t want to hear you saying ‘no’ to nothin’, you hear? Now shut that fuckin’ kid up!” he said as he and his goon stormed out of the small room.
She heaved, trying to stretch out her rib cage from the thrust against the wall. Her back ached and her high had been ruined, but both of those injustices could be fixed with a few more hits from the pipe.
She shut the door with an angry swat of her hand. Crawling across the floor covered in the fine powder and horse hair from the broken wall she reached the edge of her cot. Reaching underneath and pulled out the drawer, skidding it closely to her. Her baby girl inside crying furiously as she lifted her out and held her close to her body.
“Shh, Emily,” Layla pleaded. “Don’t cry me darlin’. Mama’s here, Mama’s here…” Swadling the baby against her again Emily began to settle down, smelling her mother. Layla unbuttoned her shirt and Emily began to feed from her. Sitting on the edge of her cot Layla supported her baby against her chest with one hand while picking her pipe up with the other. There was still enough burnable material inside to get her off to sleep as soon as Emily was done. Then she could be free again.
Emily’s Mother copyright © 2015 by James Windale
Image license info:
License: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/47656901@N08/4365103161″>The opium of the people…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>