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An Excerpt from Francena Hallett's Heart

Mary Flaherty stepped off the B&M express onto the Union Station platform which was deserted except for two men painting the exterior walls of the station office. As she waited for a baggage handler to unload her bags from the freight car, she walked up to the closed ticket window. Though she had expected the train station in a city like Portland to be teeming with travelers, it was as empty as a bus stop in the village of Gort, County Galway near where she had been living for ten years.

“Pardon me, fellas,” she said to the painters. “Is there anyone about who might help tote me bags to the tarmac out front?”

They looked at her with questioning smiles and said nothing. She was clearly a foreigner and by her accent they guessed she was Irish. The heavy tweed of her long coat was rough, like the home-spun material not seen by them in many years. Her red tresses, streaked with grey, hung loose beneath an old-fashioned pale blue bonnet tied beneath the chin with a green ribbon.

“Miss, there might be a porter inside the office. Why don’t you tap on the ticket window to see. The sign says closed, but I know someone is in there,” said the taller of the two men?

The shorter one who’s hair was nearly as long as hers and had a full beard only grunted and turned his face away.

“What’s with you, Amos?” said the first man. “Ain’t you ever seen a Mick woman before? I am told they are very flirtatious.”

“Listen, Lady,” the other began. “We have enough of your people around here. More than enough, if you ask me. Why don’t you just stay on the platform with your stuff and catch the next train to Canada. They like your kind up there.”

Mary stared in shock at his words. These sentiments were not foreign to her. She had heard them many times when she and Maeve had first come to America. When they worked in Saco at the Pepperell Mill, male supervisors had berated them and the other factory girls who came from foreign countries. Even some factory workers from Maine abused her verbally, calling her all sorts of names, usually behind her back. That was more than twenty years ago.

She turned away and tapped on the ticket window. A tall man in a dark blue uniform slid the window aside. “Yes, ma’am. What can I do for you?”

“Sure, I would be lookin’ for someone to help with a cart to get me trunk and bags to the street. Me sister is to be at the curb in front.”

“Well, you can just get your sister to help you, Colleen,” said the man as he slammed the door in her face.

Upon arrival in the port of Boston, she had been so confused by the bustle and crowds that she was unsure how to get from Commonwealth Pier to North Station to catch her train. A policeman hailed her a wagon to get from the harbor to the train. The wagon driver had politely assisted with her luggage, especially the heavy trunk, and when she offered him a tip he refused. He said that he himself had once been an immigrant. People had been so helpful. She had expected that the people in Maine would be just as kind.

Mary decided to ignore the animosity as much as possible. She piled her smaller bags on top of the trunk and began to push it across the platform to a door marked “EXIT.” When her hat fell off, she picked it up and tucked it into her satchel. Then she decided it might be easier to pull the trunk toward the door by its leather handle. That worked much better, so that soon she backed up to the door.

The long-haired man turned toward her and laughed. “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, missy.”

When she reached the curbside, beads of sweat covered her forehead. Off came the warm coat. She tried to straighten the hat, then decided it looked so bad that it could stay in her satchel. If only Maeve would show up soon.

Maeve and Liz travelled in Will’s old buckboard to meet Mary’s train. Both were so exhilarated by her return that they had chattered every minute along the twelve-mile route. It was a hot day, but as they approached the city a sea breeze brought with it the refreshing coolness of the harbor.

When they reached the big station on St. John Street, Mary was the only passenger standing on the sidewalk in front. Her luggage was piled in a haphazard jumble. She held her hat in one hand and a large satchel in the other. Her friends were dismayed at her appearance. Still, they were overjoyed.

Maeve jumped from the high bench, ran across the pavement and threw her arms around her sister, knocking the satchel to the ground. After tying the horse to a hitching post, Liz joined them. The three ladies embraced each other, laughing and crying with joy.

Liz was the first to step back from the embrace and speak. “Mary, I have missed you so. You are as lovely to look at as you were when you left. Ireland must have suited you well.”

“Sure, it did, lovey. Sure, it did. Yet, t’would have been more suitable if you had been with me. And look at you, dear Maeve. You‘ve not lost the fire in your eyes.” She grabbed both sides of her sister’s face and pulled it toward her before giving her a big kiss on the mouth.

“Mary, whatever happened to you. Why are you out here on the sidewalk and not in the station waiting room?” asked Maeve.

“The bloke of a Station Manager wouldn’t let me wait inside. Must have been me accent or style of dress. No one would help me, so I dragged the fuckin’ stuff on my own.”

“I will go find him and give him a piece of my mind,” said Lizzie. “We have come a long way since the ‘No Irish Need Apply’ days, haven’t we?”

“No, Dearie. Don’t get into any trouble on her behalf,” said Maeve. “Being Irish is fine with most people. But there are some. He may be a blasted Presbyterian or even Scots Baptist. They are the worst, you know.”

“Liz,” said Mary, “one of the things we two liked about you from the very beginning down in Saco was that you accepted us as we were. You always was respectful. That’s why we roomed with you for so long. Why we are still your friends after all this time.”

Liz took her hand and stood with her face almost touching Mary’s. “You are one of the dearest people I have ever met. I will love you both forever.”

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