The Giant Castle
New York 1850
A 14 year old Bridget O’Connor stands on the deck of a ship as it sails into New York Harbor. It is the first glimpse of America. She accepts what her parents told that a better life awaits them here. Right now Bridget is just happy she will soon be getting off this ship.
Soon she finds New York to be a filthy, smelly place. They live in a crowded tenement. Bridget and her younger brother have to work long hours in a factory. Her father works as a laborer. She doesn’t see how this is better than their situation in Ireland. She hopes this is a temporary situation and America will prove to be all that her parents said it was.
Sunnyvale, California Present Day
Cathy MacGrew, the last living descendant of Bridget O’Connor, breezes into work. She gives an enthusiastic “Good Morning” as she reaches her desk. She presses her computer’s power button. Kristy, who works at the desk next to her, asks, “Did you do anything interesting this weekend?”
Cathy smiles, “I spent most of it in an office building much like this one.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
Cathy says with excitement, “I painted a mural in the building’s lobby.”
“It seems your painting hobby is turning into a part time job.”
“Yes, it is great when a hobby makes a profit.”
The rest of the morning went by as a typical work filled Monday. When she returns from lunch there is an email waiting for her about a meeting at 3 o’clock.
At the meeting the supervisor tells everyone their project has been cancelled effective the end of next month. Many projects have been cancelled this past year Cathy and the others know they shouldn’t be surprised. The news still hit them like cinderblocks.
Her office was a miserable place for the remaining 6 weeks she worked there. Two of the young employees got other positions inside the company. Another young employee lined up a job with another company. Two co-workers decided they would simply retire. Another co-worker decided to get a realtor license. Cathy, as with all the others, didn’t even get a job interview. Unlike the others Cathy didn’t put in much effort in sending out resumes. On her last day the Human Resources person came by and had Cathy sign some papers. Cathy turned in her badge and that was it.
When Cathy got home she didn’t feel depressed. Logically she should feel depressed. She worked for the company all those years and had little to show for it. She just didn’t feel that way though. Lately she has been getting almost as much from her paintings as she has been getting from the job. If her fortune with selling paintings stalled there was always unemployment to fall back on. They paid much more in unemployment and for much longer than they did the last time she was out of a job.
Cathy spent the rest of the week sending out resumes and painting. On Monday it occurred to her it would be a good time to take a vacation. Cathy knew the experts say not to take a vacation while unemployed. The axiom is “if you don’t have a job your job is looking for a job.” Cathy reasoned she could send out resumes on her laptop on vacation just as well as she can if she were sitting at home. She reasoned if she were to get a job she wouldn’t be able to take a vacation for at least 6 months. Many employers are reluctant to grant more than a couple of days off at a time. Her vacation in Ireland was the only decent leave time she’d taken all the years she worked for that company.
Something told her she should visit New York. She took off on a rainy morning and her plane descended to JFK airport on a sunny afternoon. The view of Manhattan from the air was spectacular. During her 10 days in New York she made the obligatory visit to The Statue of Liberty. She went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. These museums dwarfed any museum she had visited before. The entrance fees also dwarfed all other fees she had paid for a museum. She turned it into a pseudo business trip by visiting some art galleries. She made some contacts at these galleries and picked up a few pointers about how to put on an exhibition. Of all the great sites she had seen the place that seemed to affect her was the South Street Seaport. As she walked the streets that had a 19th century appearance she had an odd feeling of familiarity with the place.
When Cathy returned from her vacation she was inspired to draw paintings depicting life in lower Manhattan in the mid-19th Century. Many of the paintings depicted the squalor people lived in. One painting she titled “The Walk Home”. It depicted three intoxicated men stumbling up the street. In the foreground a girl in her mid-teens sadly watches from an upstairs apartment. Another painting she titled “The Discovery”. It depicted a girl about 17 looking down a street and discovering one of the prostitutes was a friend of hers. Cathy looked over her paintings. While she felt inspired to make these paintings she was disappointed they were all so dark. Cathy paints a painting depicting the girl about 17 in mid-19th Century dress looking up and seeing 21st Century Manhattan.
New York 1853
It is late in the evening. Bridget O’Connor walks home from work. She walks down the same streets Cathy MacGrew, her last living descendent will walk down two centuries from now. Life in America has been hard. She thinks her family leaving Ireland was a big mistake. Even if they had starved in Ireland they would be better off than living this horror. Her mother seems to age by the day. Her father who drank very little in Ireland now comes home drunk every night. Much of what little money they earn he spends in bars. As she comes to a corner she glances down the street. The street is notorious as a place of prostitutes. A woman by the nearest street light looks familiar. She looks like a girl she has known since she arrived in America. They had so much in common. Now she is a harlot. Bridget stops and gives the girl a long look. Maybe it is someone who looks like her. Bridget sees it is definitely the girl she knows. Bridget quickly walks away. What is it about this country that makes people worse than they would ever be in Ireland?
When she reaches home she is in a state of despair. She does her best to disguise her feelings to her mother and brother. She makes her way to her bed and prays to the Virgin Mary for a reason to hope. An image flashes into Bridget’s mind of Manhattan as a great castle with many spires reaching to the clouds. The surrounding rivers act as moats. Huge metal and stone bridges cross the rivers. Bridget doesn’t know what to make of the image but she found herself filled with hope of a better future.
Thanks to Peggy W. for suggesting I write a sequel to a sequel of Return to the Castle Ruins.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi