I am now working through my fourth edit of Mattie’s Legacy and was stunned at the power of reading the story out loud and how many more changes I made. This writing thing is a continual learning process that I am not sure ever ends. I am posting this first chapter again and I would love to hear what you think as you can compare the third edit with the results of this fourth edit, which is reading the story out loud all the way through. Many thanks to all who have taken the time to read my posts.I am Sending you love~
Mattie raised her arm to protect her face from the sailor’s large hand, but she was not quick enough and her skinny arm could not protect her from the force of the blow that met her face. Blood gushed from her nose and mouth, and as she scrambled backwards she caught herself just before she hit the splintered wood plank floor. Mattie lunged forward with her small fists doubled up tightly and flying wildly out in front of her, she hoped they would meet their mark. But the sailor was stronger and faster than she was and grabbed her up by the back of her head and shook her hard enough to cause sharp pain to shot through her scalp and across her face. She fought hard to break free from his grip by digging her fingernails into his rough weathered skin but her efforts had little effect on the sailor and he did not loosen his hold on her even slightly.
“You’ll do as I say!” He yelled while dragging her by the hair toward the door.
Mattie glared at him, locking her eyes with his, refusing to flinch or look away. Her fearlessness only made him meaner as his breathing became like a mad dog’s growl.
“I didn’t pay to put up with the likes of a gutter rat like you.” The drunken sailor said as he threw her out of the one room wharf shack and onto the wet cobblestone.
“Go on, get on out’a here, get! Don’t come back till ya see daylight.” He yelled after her. Mattie tried to catch her ma’s eyes, but when she did her ma turned her face to look away before the door slammed back on its rusty hinges leaving Mattie shut out in the cold foggy haze of a quickly disappearing day.
Ma never fought for herself or for Mattie and she never chose Mattie over the sailors or other men that she brought home. There was a time when Mattie was little when she used to beg her ma to stop bringing them around, but after a while she gave up because it set her ma off into an angry rage. And her ma’s words echoed through her mind as she pulled her bloody wet body up from the cobblestones and with the back of her hand she wiped at her face, while looking up and down the pier to see who might be about, but no one took any notice of her no one ever did. In her thirteen years of growing up on the docks she knew not to expect help from those who could not even help themselves. She made her way past the sailors and soldiers that roamed the docks looking for trouble of one sort or another. Mattie kept to the shadows and continued past the darkies who were unloading the boats and stacking the cotton bales.
The thick gray fog blocked out the disappearing sun and the gray dimness would soon give way to the dark of night and she knew the docks would not be safe for man or beast much less a skinny little girl like her after dark. As she ran through the alley she pushed her mass of copper curls away from her face but her hair kept falling forward and sticking to the blood, which made it hard for her to see where she was going as she hurried along. The throbbing pain in her head increased as she ran and she knew the pain had only just begun to set in. She had been beaten worse and she knew her body would heal up, and the blood she would wash away but the anger she felt stayed long after the pain was gone and it continued to grow like an evil weed, she could feel it growing thicker and darker with every beating or unwanted touch. She could feel it rising and building up within her as it pressed against her chest, and tightened around her throat, it felt like it would choke the life right out of her.
Growing up on the docks she learned early on how to become invisible and where all the best places to hide were. She knew how to survive during the night when it was not only dangerous but deadly to be out. With her back pressed against the damp brick wall of a saloon, Mattie peeked around the corner to make sure no one was in the back before she ran to use the hand pump. It took all her strength to pump the icy water with one hand while she dunked her head and face into it and scrubbed to get the blood and dirt off with her free hand. All the while Mattie stayed alert and listened closely for the slightest noise from the saloon. Experience had taught her that if the bar keep caught her using the hand pump, he would run after her swinging his big black strap and once that strap found her skin it would leave a bloody whelp that was hard to forget. Mattie squeezed the water from her tangled hair and pushed it back away from her face. Her skin was smarting from the beating and the icy water, and the cold wet air made it throb even more. Slipping around to the front of the low row of shops she continued down one alley and then the next until she heard the singing coming from the church at the far end of the Irish Channel.
Standing outside the door of the church she listened until the organ and singing grew loud, then she pulled open the heavy door and slipped in. Before anyone could take notice of her she knelt down quickly behind a bench seat closest to her and slid underneath it. Curling up in a ball Mattie tucked herself into the space under the seat, so no one could see her.
It was not long before the organ fell silent and the singing gave way to the booming lilt of the preacher’s voice. Mattie listened and wondered why folks on the dock didn’t like him much and looked away whenever he came around. She heard him tell a few sailors and saloon gals, the path to hell was wide and filled with the likes of them. But they could change their sinful ways and follow the narrow path that leads to life. Mattie had no idea what he was going on about but it sure did make everyone fight’en mad. She saw folks hurry away when they saw him headed toward them and figured it was probably best if she kept away from him too.
As Mattie listened to him she tried to make out his meaning but found that the warmer she was the harder it was to stay awake. The preachers thick lilting words fell like a warm blanket around her and she enjoyed the way he spoke it sounded a little like music to her and it reminded her of her ma’s voice when she was not angry.
The preacher’s words drifted over Mattie as she lay hidden.
“For those who believe in me and call upon my name they shall have everlasting life. Your life will be changed forever and you my friends can have a new life, when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a life of promise and peace, our Lord Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy leaden and I will give you rest.”
And that was the last thing she heard, before she was startled awake by a tugging on her arm and it seemed to her that the preacher’s voice was now close and echoing in her head.
“Here child wake up.”
“Come on out of there now.” The preacher said.
Mattie felt his grip on her arm as he pulled her out from under the bench where she had been sleeping. Mattie’s eyes darted from corner to corner, she felt trapped and that there was no way for her to quickly escape.
“Here now, what are doing hiding underneath there child?” The preacher said as he held her firmly before him.
“Listen, its early morn, come on along with me and have some of me wife’s biscuits and then you can be on yer’ way.” The preacher said as he let go of her and walked to the door, where he stood waiting for her to follow as he held the door open wide.
There it was Mattie thought, my opening, I can dodge past easily. But the thought of warm biscuits pushed out her desire to run, and her hunger was stronger than her fear of being seen talking to the preacher so she slowly followed him to the small house that set next to the church.
“Who do ya got there with ya Seamus?” The preacher’s wife said as she looked over her shoulder at Mattie.
“Not sure Nora, what’s your name child?” He said while hanging up his hat and large heavy coat.
“She’s shy now, I suppose.” Nora said as she set a plate of hot biscuits next to a jar of golden honey.
Mattie stood just inside the door watching the two of them closely as they talked to each other as if she was not within ear shot. The smell of hot food made her belly grumble and complain as she eased her way over to the table. Not wanting to draw their attention, she quietly sat down and reached for a hot biscuit.
“Not yet child, no eating til’ Seamus says grace.” The woman said looking over her shoulder and smiling at Mattie.
“Come now Nora, have a seat or the wee one and me are likely to starve to death while waiting on ya.” The preacher said smiling and giving Mattie a quick wink.
Mattie listened to the preacher as he prayed and hoped that he would be quick about it.
“So before you have a biscuit and slice of bacon, what is your name child?” Nora said as she handed Seamus the biscuits.
“Mattie.” She said, not looking up at either of them.
“Now there is a nice name.” Seamus said as he scooped honey onto his hot biscuit.
Nora extended the plate to Mattie, who quickly grabbed the biscuit from the plate and ate it hungrily. Nora set a cup of milk down in front of Mattie and she quickly drank it down to and then with the back of her hand she wiped at what had dribbled down the sides of her mouth. Mattie ate two more biscuits, and several pieces of fat bacon and another cup of milk. While she ate she listened to the preacher and his wife talk softly to each other and couldn’t seem to stop herself from speaking up.
“Is it true what you said?” Mattie asked the preacher.
“Is what true child?”
“That when ya believe in Jesus he will change your life, that’s what ya said, ain’t it?”
“Ah, you were listening, good. It is true enough.”
“If I believe, will he change my life?”
“Aye, of course he will.”
“All I have to do is believe and it will happen?” Mattie wanted to be sure she understood, because there was nothing she wanted more than for her life to be different. She hated being beat on and touched by the hands of the men her ma brought home. She really wanted her Ma to change too and if she saw it worked for Mattie, maybe she would want to believe too. But more than anything she didn’t want to be angry anymore or have to run and hide outside during cold wet nights.
“Alright then, I believe what you said.” Mattie grabbed another biscuit and jumped up from the chair and hurried out the door. She heard the preacher and his wife calling out as the door shut behind her, but she didn’t slow down as she ran toward the wharf shack. She was excited and fully expected that when she walked through that door her life would be different, that it would be better. She didn’t know how it would happen, or what God would do but if the preacher was telling the truth then it didn’t matter how he didn’t, it only mattered that he did.
Standing outside the door Mattie listened closely and heard the sailor’s loud deep snoring, but nothing else. She pushed the door open as quietly as she could and tiptoed toward her cot. When she heard the creaking of the other cot she stopped and listened, and held her breath, then she heard his voice. And she felt the food she had eaten try to come back up. But it would be different now, the preacher said so. All she had to do was believe and everything would change. She didn’t think the preacher looked like he would lie about a thing like that. Holding her breath she listened and waited but all she heard was the growl of the sailor’s voice behind her. The anger was fresh and raw but this time it was directed at the God who didn’t show up for her and she swore under her breath.
“I don’t need you; I can take care of myself.” Mattie said and then turned to face the monster on the other cot.
“Girl, come here.” The sailor’s sleep filled growl of a voice called out to her from the other side of the room.
“You heard me, get over here.” He growled again.
The snake of disgust and fear uncoiled itself and crawled up from the pit of her stomach into her throat, as she knew his meaning and what he wanted. Mattie didn’t move, she waited, believing, repeating the words, to herself, and waited for something to happen, anything to make the man go away.
“No, no, it is supposed to be different now,” She said over and over in her mind.
“You heard me girl get over here.”
Mattie took a couple of short steps until her foot tripped over something on the floor, looking down Mattie saw her ma’s body lying there, she dropped down beside her and grabbing her ma’s shoulders, she saw that her head hung oddly to the side like a broken doll and her sad green eyes no longer saw Mattie. Looking up at the sailo in the dim light of the room that reeked with his sweat and filth, Mattie screamed.
“What did you do? You killed her!”
She heard him shifting his weight on the cot and saw that he was getting ready to come after her. But before he could pull his large heavy body off the low slung cot, Mattie quickly scrambled and grabbed the white boned handle of his fishing knife that lay next to her ma’s dead body on the floor. Mattie jerked the knife free from its leather ties that held it to his britches and before she had time to think about what she was doing she grabbed up his heavy britches and threw them toward the door. Holding the mean looking knife between her tiny fists she lunged at the sailor’s leg cutting deep into his flesh, and then she quickly pulled it out and away and scurried backwards on her heels keeping out of reach from his claw of a hand, which barely missed grabbing the top of her head. Mattie grabbed up the britches and bolted out the door, she ran blindly out of the shack and into a heavy wet fog that made it hard for her to see her hand in front of her face.
“You filthy gutter snipe, I’m gonna kill you too.” He yelled after her with rage and pain as he stumbled into the street.
Mattie heard him but didn’t slow down or look back as she ran down one alley then the next. She criss crossed and turned one way and then another, until she came to another of her secret hiding places. This one was not as warm as under the bench at the church but it was where no one would ever think of looking for anyone. The thick fog would help to hide her as she crawled into the notch between the two brick buildings that didn’t quite come together, and were just far enough apart for her to slip into. Wiggling toward the back until she was pressed up against the cold stone, she pulled her knees up to her chest, and her thread bare dress down over her dirty skinned up knees and legs to try and keep warm as best as she could.
The wet sea salt mist mingled with the salt of her tears as they silently slid down her battered face and caused her open cuts to sting. Pressing her eyes tightly closed she tried to push the image of her ma out of her mind. Mattie stayed in the crevice the rest of the day and into the cold night. Drifting in and out of sleep she had begun to shiver uncontrollably from the wet cold. Her body ached from being in the same spot for so long. But she dared not take a chance of being seen by anyone who knew the sailor and might be looking for her. She had wanted to believe it would be different but it wasn’t, it was worse, her ma now lay in the shack dead and alone.
“There’s no help for me, no God’s gonna change anything. Now she’s gone too. So if you are there and you can hear me, I can take care of myself, I don’t need you.” Mattie hissed between clenched teeth into the cold darkness with all the anger she felt inside, until she finally fell asleep.
In the dead of night she was awakened by the sound of slurred voices yelling and cussing at each other and she thought at first the sailor had found her and had brought others with him and that at any moment he would reach in and pull her from where she was hidden. The voices grew angrier and were soon followed by the cracking of powerful blows as the men began fighting. The fight didn’t last long before other voices joined in and broke up the ruckus. Leaning her head against the hard wet brick she tried to go back to sleep, but her mind was awake and would not let her. She thought about what it would be like to be anywhere but on the docks, huddled down and freezing between two buildings and as she did bits and pieces of a plan began to take shape in her mind and the what if’s soon began to fall into place. An anxious restless energy ran through her veins as the glimmer of expectation sparked a sliver of hope within her. Mattie anxiously awaited the dark night to turn to a steel gray dawn of a new day and as it did she crawled out of her hiding place and stretched out her stiff aching body. She figured that this would be the only chance she would have and hopefully the sailor and anyone he might know would be long gone.
Mattie made her way through the thick morning fog and back to the wharf shack and once again she leaned against the door and listened closely for several minutes. When she didn’t hear anything she pushed the door open and slipped inside.
She saw the dim outline of her ma’s broken body lying on the floor, she could see the shadow of it from the corner of her eye but she refused to look directly at it again. Quickly Mattie moved across the space between the door and the cot where she had slept for most of her life and pulled out her burlap sack from underneath it. The thread bare burlap held everything she owned. The smell of alcohol, filth and death was growing stronger, the longer she was in the room and she wanted to hurry and escape it forever. Reaching into the pocket of the sailor’s britches she pulled out a leather pouch from it and put it in her burlap sack, then tossed the britches onto her ma’s cot. Mattie looked down at her ma and quickly knelt down beside her and kissed her ma’s cold forehead she then whispered goodbye.