“I suppose we may require a new buggy, as you seem to have smashed this one beyond repair,” I said. A pin sprung loose from my hat at that moment and rang like a tiny bell as it hit the gravel. I had to force myself not to look down at it and hoped there were no other pins or fasteners working their way loose, as they could in moments of great agitation like these.
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“Get offa my car, lady,” he said between clenched teeth.
I glared down at him. Neither of us moved. “If you refuse to pay, then I must see your license plate,” I declared.
He lifted one brow as if issuing a challenge. At that I marched around to write the plate number in a little notebook I carried in my handbag.
“Don't bother with this,” Norma said from just behind me. “I don't like them looking at us.”
“I don't either, but we need his name,” I said in a low hiss.
“I don't care to know his name.”
“But I do.”
People were starting to crane their necks to hear us argue. I walked back around to the man and said, “Perhaps you'll save me the trouble of asking the state of New Jersey for your name and address.”
He looked around at the crowd and, seeing no alternative, leaned toward me. He smelled of hair tonic and (as I'd suspected) liquor and the hard, metallic stench that leaked out of all the factories in town. He spat the particulars at me, releasing a wave of abdominal breath that forced me to take a step back as I wrote them down: Henry Kaufman of Kaufman Silk Dyeing Company on Putnam.
“That will do, Mr. Kaufman,” I said, in a voice loud enough for the others to hear. “You'll have our invoice in a few days.”
He made no answer but swung back into the driver's seat. One of his friends gave the engine a hard crank and the motor roared to life. They all climbed aboard and the car lurched ahead, clearing a path through the mob of shoppers. Men held their horses back and mothers pulled their children to the sidewalks as the motor car careened away.
Norma and I watched the dust rise up behind Henry Kaufman's tires and settle back down again.
“You let them go?” Fleurette said from her perch on our buggy's broken seat. She had assumed the pose of an audience member at a play and seemed very disappointed in our performance.
“I didn't want to spend another minute with them,” Norma said. “They're the worst people I've ever seen. And look what they've done to your leg.”
“Is it broken?” asked Fleurette, who knew it wasn't but loved to elicit from Norma one of her gloomy predictions.
“Oh, probably, but we can set the bone ourselves if we have to.”
“I suppose my dancing career is at an end.”
“Yes, I believe it is.”
The livery drivers led a shaky but intact Dolley back to us. What remained of our buggy had been moved to the sidewalk, where it lay in a dozen or so pieces.
“I'm not sure it can be repaired,” one of the liverymen said, “but I could send my stable boy around to the carriage shops to inquire.”
“Oh, there's no need for that,” Norma said. “Our brother will come and fetch it. He drives a wagon for work.”
“But let's not involve Francis!” Fleurette protested. “He'll blame it on my driving.”
I stepped between them, not wanting the liveryman to withdraw his offer of help while we squabbled. “Sir, if you could send your boy to my brother's place of business, I'd be very grateful.” I wrote down the address of the basket importer where Francis worked.
“I'll take care of it,” he said. “But how are you girls getting home?”
“Constance and I can walk,” Norma said quickly, “and our little sister will ride.”
I wasn't sure I could walk. I was already stiff and sore from the crash and it would be past dark by the time we got home. But I was in no mood to debate Norma, so I accepted the man's offer of a saddle for Dolley. We lifted Fleurette into place and wrapped her injured foot in a flour sack before sliding it into the stirrup. Norma took hold of Dolley's reins and we shuffled down Market, looking more like refugees from a war than three sisters out shopping for an afternoon.
Ordinarily, I would have considered getting run down by an automobile to be the worst sort of catastrophe that could befall the three of us. But this was not to be an ordinary year.
THE NEXT MORNING
the sun worked past the half-curtained windows and hit the mirror on the wall opposite, casting a blinding light across my bed. Even at that early hour, the air was heavy and unbearably hot. I kicked the blanket away and tried to sit up. As soon as my feet touched the floor I knew I'd been hurt worse than I had realized. My right arm was useless, the shoulder red and hot and bruised so badly that I could hardly bear to move it. With some difficulty I opened the top buttons of my nightgown and slid out of it. I was hardly able to stand, but after a few attempts, I forced myself upright and struggled into the first dress I could find that didn't require me to raise my arm above my head.
Walking was nearly impossible. My hip felt like it had been pushed out of joint. I couldn't quite hold myself upright, and every time I put weight on my left leg, my knee cried out in pain.
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This was not the soreness of a hard day's work. It felt more like the aftermath of a beating. I made my way to the hall and kept one hand on the rail as I shuffled downstairs.
I found Fleurette in the kitchen, eating a boiled egg with a spoon.
she said. After Mother died last year, Fleurette took to imitating her speech mannerisms. Mother, having grown up in Vienna with a French father and an Austrian mother, spoke French and two distinct styles of German. Fleurette preferred the French for its romantic flourishes. Norma and I found the affectation tiresome, but we had conferred on it and decided to ignore it.
“Let me see your foot.”
She lifted her skirt and presented a badly bandaged ankle. The cloth was stained a rusted brown. I am sorry to admit that it was a stagnation of dried blood, and not our poorly situated pins, that held the bandage in place.
“Ach. We did not take very good care of you last night.”
“Je pense que c'est cassÃ©.”
“Surely not. Can't you move it? Stand up.”
Fleurette didn't move. She picked at her egg cup and kept her eyes down. “Norma said to tell you that Francisâ” But before she could finish, there was a rattle at the kitchen door and my brother let himself in.
“Which one of you was driving?” he said. With Mother gone, Francis had taken on the proprietary air of the man of the house, even though he'd been married and living in Hawthorne for years.
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Fleuretteâwho looks people square in the face when she lies to themâturned to Francis and said, “Constance, of course. I'm too young to drive, and Norma was reading the paper.”
“It doesn't matter who was driving,” I said. “That man aimed his machine directly at us. Dolley could have been killed.”
could have been killed,” Fleurette said with a dramatic roll of her eyes. She shifted around in her chair to give Francis a look at the purple bruise emerging just above her knee. He turned away, embarrassed.
“She'll be fine, won't she?” he asked, and I nodded. He held the door open and gestured for me to come along for a private scolding and an examination of the wreckage he'd just delivered.
Outside was a wide and airy barn that housed Dolley, an occasional goat or pig, and a dozen or so chickens. The eaves had been extended on one side to accommodate Norma's pigeon loft. The imbalance between the two sides of the building made it seem in constant danger of losing its footing. Next to it, facing the drive, was the entrance to our root cellar. A few summers ago, Francis had laid the stone walk that led us there.
He spoke in a low voice so Fleurette couldn't listen in from the kitchen door. “Who is this man, this Harryâwhat was it?”
“Henry Kaufman,” I said, “of Kaufman Silk Dyeing Company.”
That brought him to a stop as surely as if he'd walked into a wall. He planted his feet and looked down at them with a long and loud exhale. This was a mannerism of our father's, one I had almost forgotten until Francis reached the age at which exasperation became an everyday emotion. Francis had our father's light brown hair and his pale Czech features, but where our father had managed to take a high forehead and light, intelligent eyes and make himself into something of a ruffian, Francis took the same features and composed them into those of a serious gentleman, with perfectly slicked and combed hair and a mustache that turned up neatly at the ends.
“He's a silk man? Are you sure?”
“One can hardly picture him running a factory, but that's the address he gave. He's on Putnam with all the others.”
He shook his head and squinted at Norma, who had heard us coming and backed out of her pigeon loft. She took her time locking it behind her. Norma had cut her hair short this spring, insisting on doing it herself and chopping at it until her brown curls framed her face unevenly. In the last few years, she'd taken to wearing riding boots and a split skirt that fell to just above her ankles. In this costume she would climb ladders to repair a gutter or traipse down to the creek to trap a rabbit. Fleurette used to sing a little song to her that went, “Pants are made for men and not for women. Women are made for men and not for pants.” Norma took offense at the song but nonetheless insisted that what she wore could not be considered pants in the least.
“You aren't hurt,” I said, as she walked up. At least one of us could still move.
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“My head aches terribly,” she said, “from listening to Fleurette go on about how she was nearly killed yesterday. She talks too much for a girl who is almost dead.”
“I wondered why she was up so early. She's been rehearsing her story for Francis.”
“Listen to me, both of you,” Francis said. He put a hand on each of us and led us down the drive to his wagon. “This man Kaufman. What exactly did he say?”
“As little as he could before roaring off in that machine with all his hoodlum friends,” I said, as I reached up with my good arm to help Francis pull the tarpaulin off the back of his wagon. “But I let him know that he should expectâOh.”
The buggy was a horror of splintered wood and twisted metal. Until now I hadn't thought about exactly how it had looked when we left it in Paterson, but here it was, this fragile veneer of wood panels and leather and brass fittings that had done so little to shelter us from the force of Henry Kaufman's automobile.
Norma and I stared at it. It was a wonder we'd survived.
Francis removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “I can't be out here all the time looking after you girls.”
“We haven't asked you to look after us,” I said. “We only needed our buggy brought here, and that wasn't too much of a bother, was it?”
“No, but without a man around the placeâ”
“We haven't had a man around the place since you married!” I interrupted. “And what difference would it have made? He hit us broadside with his automobile. There was nothing you could have done.”
“It doesn't matter. You shouldn't be out here by yourselves,” Francis said, “especially now that you've lost your buggy. Wouldn't you rather stay in town with us?”
“I prefer not to live in a town,” Norma said. “Going to town nearly got us killed yesterday, in case you've forgotten. We're much safer here.”
Francis looked down at his feet againâthis had been our father's way of stopping himself from saying something he didn't want to sayâand worked his jaw back and forth for a minute before giving in. “All right. I'll take care of the repairs. I know a man in Hackensack who can do it. It looks bad, but I think it can be rebuilt. The gears are fine, and most of the panels came apart at their seams.”
“We can arrange for the repairs,” I said, “and Henry Kaufman will pay for it.”
“You can't make him pay, and you shouldn't have anything to do with him,” Francis said. “You know what these men are like. Didn't you see what they did to the strikers last year?”
Francis didn't have to remind me. Everyone had seen what happened to the strikers. The mill owners got it into their heads that a worker could operate four looms at a time, instead of two, and do it for ten hours a day instead of eight. Three hundred mills shut down. Factory workers in New York City walked off the job in solidarity. The streets in Paterson were choked with outraged strikers. Even the children who worked as pickers and twisters in the mills took up their placards and marched.
The mill owners used their considerable influence to have the police turn up at rallies and arrest as many people as the jails would hold. When the police were overwhelmed, the silk men hired their own private force. That's when houses started burning down. That's when speeches were interrupted by gunshots. That's when bakeries and butchers were warned not to sell food to the strikers. Eventually the workers were too starved and defeated to do anything but return to their looms.
The silk men behaved as if they owned Paterson. But none of them had the right to run us down in the street and get away with it.
“Mr. Kaufman doesn't frighten me,” I said. “He will pay what he owes.”
about us moving in with Francis began on the evening of our mother's funeral, after a supper of ham sandwiches and pickles and Bessie's lemon cake. While Norma and Fleurette washed the dishes, I sat with Francis on his back porch and watched him fill his pipe. From the lane behind the house came the sound of his children playing some game whose rules were known only to them, but which seemed to involve tossing a stick through a large metal hoop. I settled into a reed chair next to him and breathed my first calm breath of the day. It did not last.