Thursday's Child

by Nancy
portrait by Linn

portrait of Miss Kendrick by Linn
9:00 PM   An August Friday   1941

“You been thinking on it, Mister Kendrick.”

She heard the crush of cushion and pictured the old couch sinking low to scrape the plywood floor as her pregnant mamma sat beside her daddy.  She smiled to think of his arm stretching across the back of the sofa, rubbing her mamma’s shoulders. She didn’t have to peek to see it.

“It’s right for me and Detta, I know, Flora Mae, but sometimes I’m wishing Emalee’d never sent us that letter.”

“A job, Tybee, with good pay, and a school in New York City for our Detta.  It’d be more than we could ever hope for here ’bouts.  A true miracle.”

“And I’ll be saving every penny, y’all know that, and sending the ticket just as soon’s the baby’s born.”

“Only two more months now.  And Momma and Jesse and Sarah Ann here to help with the birthing.  Pa and the brothers looking out for me.”

“Yet I’m sitting here wishing ya’ll could come now.  Wrong to be missing Detta’s first day of school, ya’ll down here and us up there.  We’ll be worrying, Miz Kendrick.  Detta and me’ll be worrying about you every minute.”

“Don’t think I’m forgetting your mangled foot, Tybee Kendrick.  How’re you gonna walk the stairs and over those train tracks?”

“Aw, Flora Mae, the subway’s a sight less dangerous than fighting overseas.  Been how many years since the accident and I’m used to walking safe.  Josiah’s conducting on those trains going on near four years now and he’s doing fine.  Don’t fret yourself.”

“Then we’re accepting the good Lord’s doing - the job opening and school about to start. None of us’ll be doubting the Lord’s ways, now will we?  And before you know it, I’ll be there, and the new one sleeping peaceable, and I’ll be washing and pressing Detta’s dresses and making your lunches, Tybee.”

More sounds, as though her parents had moved even closer on the worn old divan.

“Living in a basement, though, Flora Mae.  Won’t you miss the sunshine?  Arkansas ain’t much but she sure gives out a lot of sunshine.  ‘Course we’ll have indoor plumbing in New York City.  ’Magine that, Flora Mae … the outhouse on the inside.”  She heard the wonder in their brief silence.  “I reckon that’ll make up some for the windows.”

“And I’m thinking our Detta will be upstairs with her cousins most of the time, or in a classroom looking up at those buildings they say reach clear to the clouds.  That’ll be all that matters.  And it sure is a blessing Emmalee found a place in that building where she and Josiah live and then her promising to look after Detta when you’re at work.  Living in the basement, none of that’s important as long you have that good job and Detta and the new one are all right.”

“I can dream of you and the baby coming to join us.  Think of the fun of finding our own place, Flora Mae, us and the kids, space for all the babies we’ll be wanting.  And someday windows, big windows to see the sun … in every room … that’s the promise I’m making.”

She lay a while longer on the small bed in the darkest corner of the two-room house, pretending to sleep, listening for more.  There was no more.  Tomorrow they’d explain it to her again.  Starting first grade in a big city school.  The chance to learn as much as she wanted.  Her dreams were good, they’d say. They wanted them for her. She’d be a teacher someday.  All she’d have to do was study hard in her new school.  If only she weren’t so scared. Leaving home, leaving Mama, and she hardly remembered Aunt Emalee or Uncle Josiah or her cousins.  But she could see herself, nodding, holding back the tears, letting her father take her hand, brave even close-up to the black, steam-belching locomotive.

She wouldn’t try to imagine waving goodbye to her mother.

9:00 AM   A November Wednesday   1946

“I had hoped to speak to Mr. Kendrick about Bernadette, Mrs. Douglass.”

“I sent Wallace to the school with a note to tell you my brother got called in to work overtime, but Wallace said the building was already locked up for the night.  These days, a body can’t turn down extra money.  I’m sure sorry.  Tybee, too.  If you could tell me what’s needing said, he’ll be hearing it first thing when he gets home.”

“It must be hard for your brother, raising a daughter by himself.  Your niece is a very quiet girl but I can tell you do a wonderful job being a mother to her, as well as to your own children.”

Detta was eavesdropping.  She knew it was wrong, but, sometimes, when she suspected it was going to be grown-up talk about her, she couldn’t stop herself.  And so far, she’d never heard any of the bad things folks said you were bound to hear.  Besides, it was true that Aunt Emalee was a good mama to her, and each night,  when Detta prayed, she told God that if He needed her Mama and baby brother in Heaven, well, it was thoughtful of Him to be fixing up such a good substitute for her down here.

“That’s very kind of you to say, Miz MacLachlan.  I do love that girl like she’s my very own.  We’re all so proud of her.  She never gives a reason for worry.  My Mariah and Wallace, those two could take a lesson from her.”

Both women laughed.

“That’s part of what I hoped to discuss with Mr. Kendrick.  His daughter is halfway through 5th grade now, an eager student, a hard worker, and she will go far, I’m sure, and all her teachers agree.  I came tonight to speak to him about her musical abilities.  And about possibly arranging for her to have some private lessons.”

“Lessons?  Oh.”

Detta held her breath.

“The school has an old upright piano she and her teacher could use.”

“But private lessons cost a lot, I imagine. My brother has some money put by, but I don’t know if he’s thinking to spend it on piano lessons, Miz MacLachlan.  He’s planning on getting a place for him and Detta one of these days.”

“I’d be willing to give the lessons.  I want to.  We could work out the details, I’m sure.  Will you ask him, tell him what we’ve discussed?  I’ve been a Music Appreciation teacher for more than a few years and I’ve known some children who have a talent, a feel for the music.  Our Bernadette is one of those.  She has a very special gift that oughtn’t to be wasted, or ignored.  She’s enthusiastic now. Later, who can tell?”

Behind a bedroom door, her little girl’s heart beat so hard she scooted back for fear it would be heard by the women.  Lessons.  With Mrs. MacLachlan.  She couldn’t breathe through the excitement.  She sat, knees against her chest, dreaming musical dreams.

8:00 PM   A December Tuesday   1952

“If only you were here, Flora Mae, sitting alongside me in this high school auditorium, listening to our girl playing.  The music she’s giving, free to everyone.  And the applause … you’d be sobbing for joy, even up in Heaven.  She’s a star, your baby girl. I’m missing you something awful, Flora Mae. If only …”

7:00 PM   A May Monday   1954

“Eat your supper, Detta.”

“I’m late, Aunt Emalee.”

“Miz MacLachlan’ll wait an extra minute for you, Honey.  She won’t be starting the Spring Songfest without her accompanist being there.”

“But, Daddy, she’s paying me, or the school is, and all those little kids are nervous enough without wondering if I’m going to show up.”

“You’ve been in those university classes all day.  Did you stop for lunch, Girl?  Can’t be living on studying and practicing music.”

“But, Daddy …”

“Stop arguing, Detta, and chew.”

4:00 PM   A July Friday   1954

“How is he, Doctor Alcott?”

“It’s a cracked rib, a sprained ankle and some bangs and bruises.  No concussion.  He’ll be okay, Detta.  Some time off to heal, and you and your Aunt and Uncle and cousins to fuss over him.  He’ll be just fine.”

“Dr. Alcott, we sure are thankful you came so quick.  You’ve been good to us, all these years … since helping bring our Wallace into this world.  You’re here when Mariah has her asthma and every time one of us gets sick.  We can’t ever make it up, but we’ll pay what we can.”

“Emalee,” he said, “I have to hang around to see how that son of yours turns out now, don’t I?  But if you insist on paying me, I’ll take half my fee in some of that dinner I can smell cooking.

“I do wonder about your belly, eating from different kitchens every night.”

“Do you think I look sick?  Should I see a doctor?”

Even Tybee chuckled, then grimaced.


“I’m fine, Detta.  Don’t worry yourself.  Did y’all find who dragged me off the tracks?  I owe the man more’n thanks.  That locomotive, with the big E blurring as it came closer and closer, is the last I remember.”

“Stanley thought it might’ve been two people, Tybee, two kids maybe,” Josiah said.  “But they disappeared soon as they made you safe.  He’s not sure, but he thinks he saw two small shadows running off into the tunnel.”

“May the good Lord bless ‘em for me then.”


That house for him and Detta never did get bought.  Any extra money went for lessons and for college tuition.  They were comfortable in the basement, and it wasn’t really below ground like living in a root cellar back in Arkansas, he always preached to his daughter.  As long as they were there, it seemed they were waiting and Flora Mae might still come with the baby.  There were windows, though not nearly as fine or as large as he’d promised, and in only one room. The little bathroom had a vent fan.  His room had an old window frame, hanging on one wall, with scenes of the seasons showing in the four glass panes.  Detta had given it to him when she was in 6th grade, the window picked from a neighbor’s garbage, the pictures her artwork.  He remembered how she’d helped him to hang it.  Her room got the morning light from its small, high-set double windows.  And she woke to it as though that light came from her, to show the world a better way to go.  Her father marveled at all she was, such a good girl, so smart, educated, studying her music at Hunter College, day and night, it seemed. And her young man, a music student, too.  The family liked him and Emmalee had him come to Sunday dinner almost every week.  As for himself, the subways had been good to him and he’d have a nice pension when he was ready to retire.  Life was full, except for the empty place that belonged forever to Flora Mae.

10:00 AM   A January Sunday   1955

“It’ll be okay, Detta.  I can get the money from my father. My buddy says a guy named Jeff’ll do it.  Says he’s done it dozens of times.  You just say the word … it’ll be taken care of.   What’s the matter?”

She heard the cajoling cadence, the edgy impatience.  The anger?

The matter?  You’re asking me what’s the matter?  I’m pregnant, Len. Pregnant.  It’s a baby in here.  That’s the matter.  My whole life is ruined, that’s the matter.  What will my daddy say?  And Aunt Emalee.  I’m so ashamed.”

She was crying and she didn’t want to cry.  This demanded a cool head, logic, not emotions running wild.  But then, she thought, pregnant women were supposed to be volatile, weren’t they?

“Look, Detta, I know it’s hard.  I know.  I’m part of this, too, remember. But here’s the answer.  I can get the money.  You just have to go and … it’ll all be fine again.  Life goes back to the way it was.  Spring semester starts in two weeks and we go to classes, we practice, we perform.  It’s just a memory and then it’s not even that.  We forget it happened.  Come on.  Here’s the address.  Do what you know is right. What you have to do.”

She took it, a lined sheet torn from a spiral memo pad.  It wasn’t Len’s handwriting.  He’d gotten it from that buddy of his, who claimed Jeff had done this before, which meant other girls had been to see Jeff.  Other girls had chosen this ‘answer’.

“Okay.  You’re right.  I’ll take care of … it.”

“Yeah.  That’s good.  That’s good, Detta.  You know I love you.  And I’m sorry this happened.  But we can fix it.  And then it’s you and me again, just you and me.”

“You’ll come with me?”

“Sure.  Sure.  Just let me know when you set it up.  Of course I’ll come.”

“Okay.”  She turned away from him to ask, “Len, we … have … to do this?”

“It’s the only way, Detta.”

11:00 PM   A January Tuesday   1955

“Detta?  I thought that was you.”  He’d parked the Buick and was about to cross the street to his office when he noticed her leaning against the wrought iron railing.

“Hello, Dr. Alcott.”  She hesitated, “I, uh …”  She burst into tears.

“Come in out of the cold.”

They sat in the consultation room.  A clock on the desk between them counted the night-quiet seconds.

 “How’s everyone at home?”

“Fine.  They’re all …”  She began to cry again.

 “I want to help.  Will you let me help?”

She caught her breath.  “I just found out I’m pregnant.  I’m 19, Dr. Alcott.  And Len says the only thing to do is …  But I can’t.  I can’t kill this innocent baby. And I don’t know what to do.  I have school.  My music.  And if my father finds out …”

She wasn’t aware of his hand on her shoulder until she heard him speaking.

“You need time to think this through.  I know a place you could go.  Somewhere to be alone and somewhere you can find counsel if you want it.  My friend, and he’s a good listener, is a doctor, too.  You want to consider everything before you make a decision, don’t you?”

“How could your friend help?  What can he say?”  Another person knowing …  It was bad enough that her Mama knew.  Up there in Heaven, her mamma knew.  Detta cringed at the thought.  I’m sorry, Mamma.  I’m sorry.  “There is no answer to this except …”

“Humor me, Detta?  I’ve known you for most of your growing up years.  I wouldn’t suggest this if I didn’t care about you.  I’ll drive you home now and tomorrow morning you come by about 9.”

“Are you a magician?” she whispered, hopeful.   Into the silence that was his disappointing response she said, “Yes, okay, Dr. Alcott.”

9:00 AM   A January Wednesday   1955

“Detta, I would like you to meet the friend I told you about.  This is …  Jacob. Jacob, Detta.”

His hand, half covered in a fingerless glove, was warm when she took it.  At first, she hadn’t believed Dr. Alcott when he explained where he was taking her.  It all seemed beyond possibility. But here it was.  Real.  Or was it the magic she wanted?

“Peter has explained that you need some time to, ah, come to an important decision.  I hope being here will help you do that.  We don’t usually have visitors, you understand.”

“I know that all of this has to be kept secret.  You can trust me.  You have my word.”

“Good.  Good.  Now, would you join me for a cup of tea?  And you, Peter?”

“Thank you, but I’ve a full day today.”  He turned to Detta, “You’ll be fine.  I promise the right answer will come to you … down here.”

“You’ll come back for me at 7:00?  I told my Aunt I was going to a friend’s for the day.”

“I’ll be right here, having that cup of tea I don’t have time for now.”


Anna showed Detta to a chamber, a small sleeping area, chatting about, of all things, the weather.  She offered a shawl, apologized for the chill, was certain Detta would soon be accustomed to the temperature.  There was a  pitcher in a chipped bowl on the small table beside the narrow, made-up bed.  A book, and a fat candle in a rusty holder, sat on a second table beside the only chair, a rocker with worn cushions on the back and seat.  The walls, many shades of stone, and the ceiling, mostly shadows, flickered and faded in the candlelight.  For a moment it seemed … creepy … and Detta shivered.  She listened about lunch and about more books in the library.  Anna took her to where she could watch a spectacular waterfall make startling rainbows, explained the way to Jacob’s study should she want company, and, before leaving, she hugged Detta and wished her a pleasant visit.

The day was mostly quiet, though metallic sounds echoed once, somewhere far off beyond the tunnel at her back.  She stayed for a time at the underground falls, thinking of nothing beyond the absurdity of her surroundings, trying hard to think of nothing else, resting from the turmoil of the last few weeks in the cacophony of cascading water.  When she felt herself nodding off, Detta stood and followed Anna’s directions through the wide passage that led to the little room she’d been shown earlier.  With no windows and no wristwatch, it was hard to judge the time.  Not one to succumb to daytime naps and definitely not one courageous or foolhardy enough to go exploring in this underground labyrinth, she decided to pace back and forth between her chamber and the falls.  It was not an exercise for thinking, but rather one intended for the opposite - to keep her mind from travelling beyond each footstep placed in the dust.

Lunch with Jacob was pleasant, if meager, and they spoke of Peter Alcott.  The doctors had been friends for a very long time.  She was grateful for the stories, some so humorous that she laughed.  It felt good to laugh, and it felt wrong.


She slept the afternoon away.  So much for not taking naps, she thought, waking slowly beneath a worn-to-softness quilt.  She felt not much better.   Her problem would not be solved with sleep.


“Do you think I could come back for one more day?  I’ve not accomplished much …”

“Anna?”  His gaze had shifted over Detta’s shoulder.

 Detta turned.

“He was in the trash, Jacob.  In the trash.  Behind St. Vincent’s.  I heard a sound and looked and there he was, freezing.  He’s so weak …”

“Here, give him to me.  Oh … dear God …  Come into my bedchamber,” he said to Anna.

As he hurried away, he remembered her question.  “Detta, of course you must come again tomorrow.  If you will excuse me now … Peter will be here soon, I’m sure.”


The next morning Jacob called out to ask permission to enter the chamber Detta was once again given.  He carried the whimpering infant, bundled in quilts.  The doctor seated himself on the edge of the bed, put the child to his shoulder, and rubbed circles on the tiny back.

“Please, sit, my dear.  Here, take a pillow.  That rocker is more uncomfortable than it looks.  I apologize for not meeting you and Peter earlier.”

“How is the baby today?”

“About the same, I’m afraid.  It’s been a long night.  We don’t know quite what to do for him.”  Jacob rose to pace the small room, patting the tiny body he carried.  “Is there anything you need today?  Did you want to talk to me … about …?  No?  Well, then, in case I don’t see you during the day, please know you are welcome to return.  For now I think I should take this little one for a long walk.  The motion seems to soothe him.  Gretchen will come by later with lunch.”  And he was gone.


Detta returned Friday and Saturday .  She always found Jacob with the baby.  After asking about his charge and hearing his hopeful prognosis, belied by the worry in his eyes, she’d find her way to the falls.

Rather than thinking about the decision she’d come to make she found herself wondering at the attention and care given the foundling.  Anna hovered, taking the child so Jacob could sleep now and again, or it was Mariah or Old Cosimo taking a turn, or Benjamin and his wife, Michelina.  She lost track of names.  The baby never seemed to stop fussing, and Jacob told Detta he couldn’t rest for long because he knew the baby seemed more … consoled … in his arms.  

Saturday evening, after dinner, Detta sat off to the side as young children were allowed to see the baby.  She was taken by  their absorbed expressions, the studying stares with which some considered him.  A few asked permission to touch a cheek or hold a finger.  Jacob refused with gentle explanations about germs and the baby’s illness.   She wanted to help but felt … dishonest.  Wasn’t she here to decide whether to have her own baby?  Still, she thought she could be trusted to hold and rock the small bundle and finally found the courage to ask the next morning.

“Of course you can,” Jacob said, “And while you do, I’ll just go and check on the diapers. Here, let me introduce you to Vincent, the newest member of our family.  You’ve not met him yet, have you?  Oh, don’t cry, little one…  ”

Detta, intrigued, opened her arms to receive the child, but they fell, wooden, to her sides.  She stepped back, horrified, turned and ran into the tunnel.

8:00 PM   A January Wednesday   1955

“No, Len, I won’t tell you where I was.  I told you I had to think. What?  Yes.  I’m going to see Jeff.  Tomorrow night.  No.  I don’t want you to come to the house.  I’ll meet you at the library about 7.  Yeah, I’m fine with it.  I’ve got to go now. Bye.”  She let the phone slip back into its cradle and left the phone booth.

Nightmares are nothing compared to this, she thought.  At least you woke from a scary dream.  Imagine if she’d given birth to a … thing … like that.  There’d never be any awakening from such a horror.  That crazy man.  Did he honestly think she’d hold, rock, that … mutation?  They were all weird down there.  They actually seemed to care if … it … lived.  Even Dr. Alcott wanted to save it.  He’d found her waiting in the tunnel and when she said she wanted to go home he hadn’t asked any questions.

She’d be free of the problem by Saturday and school would start Monday.  It was the right decision.  The only decision.

1:00 PM   A January Thursday   1976


There was surprise in his voice when he opened the office door, though surely he’d seen her name on his schedule.

“Hello, Dr. Alcott.”

He stood aside, gestured her in.

She ignored the patient chair and walked to the window to stare out at the brownstones across the way.  “I … never … thanked you.”  She turned to face him.  “For taking me down to the tunnels all those years ago.”


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