Mount Creative Writers
A Silk Gown and a Kiss?
MSM Class of 2012
(2/2012) Arlene’s dark brown hair gently lifted off her shoulders as the wind rushed through it. She wore brown boots that laced up above her ankles and she skipped up the hill covered in damp grass. It had just rained, but the sun was out now. Arlene was going to take
advantage of this opportunity to climb to her favorite spot. There it is, she pointed. Her index finger looked as if it was the same size as a large portion of the water from the North Channel. Belfast, as I know it, she sighed.
Then her gaze turned downwards. Factories glistened in the sun and the shoreline was lined with shipbuilder after shipbuilder, including the Harland and Wolff Company. Arlene turned her back and looked the other way. Rolling hills and small cottages spotted the view. She liked the way that it looked like a painting—and no one had
planned the painting. Something made her turn back to the line of shipbuilders. Arlene peeled her eyes but she couldn’t find the ship Sean was working on—the one with the big blue mask.
Arlene didn’t just have "bacon and cabbage love" for Sean. "Bacon and cabbage love" is the type of enjoyment we find in pleasures like freshly baked bread, ferris-wheels, or big bonfires. Arlene knew that it was much deeper than that. She felt like she had been shot by Cupid’s arrow and it just wouldn’t come out. She didn’t really
want it to come out either. Her grandmother had once told her about the four types of love including affection, friendship, romance, and unconditional love. Affection, as Arlene recalled, is usually described as fondness among family members; it happens through familiarity. The next level is friendship; it is often initiated by two persons sharing a common
activity. True friends are made when each begins to look for the best for the other. Arlene’s grandmother explained that this caring can turn romantic if it becomes exclusive and emotional. Finally, the last type of love is the highest and its essence is found in God, who is unconditional love.
Arlene knew that she was true friends with Sean as she looked over the hills in her beloved Ireland, but she was wondering if it could turn into something more. How can I make him notice me? Will he ever like me? What can I do to get him to like me? Her thoughts churned until she stood up with a start. I’m supposed to be at work!
She dashed down the hill, tossed small, wild daisies on the wooden table in her kitchen, tied back her long hair, grabbed a cream sweater that would have to match her blue cotton dress, and yelled "Goodbye" to anyone who might have been home as the door slammed.
The factory smelled like sweat and the air was sticky. She looked for her opening in the linen assembly line. I must be on folding duty today, she thought. Arlene saw her friend John in the threading line. Maybe they won’t notice that I’m in the wrong station, Arlene slipped into the open station next to John. She immediately set
to work and only after a couple minutes glanced up.
"Oh, hi John! I hadn’t seen you there," Arlene smiled.
"Hey Arlene," John grunted back.
Arlene kept smiling, "So how’s everything going? Have you seen Sean lately?"
"Good. A little," John replied.
"You don’t seem much in the mood for talking," Arlene’s mood changed a little.
Boys! Arlene thought to herself. No worries, I’ll just continue as planned. She smiled again. "Have you thought about going to the St. Valentine’s Day shindig? I know you heard what I was saying to Katie the other day. Don’t you dare tell Sean I want to go to the St. Valentine’s Day shindig with him!"
John glanced up for the first time. "You know Sean pretty much just spends his time at the ship-yard, right?" he asked.
"Oh, of course," Arlene replied, "Just don’t you dare tell him that I want to go with him!" Arlene walked away to her folding station in triumph.
Arlene had her methods—her strategies of trying to get a boy’s attention in 1912 in Ireland. But she didn’t know if they were working. After work, she walked slowly home. The door creaked and then slammed closed; the house was quiet.
"Hi honey," Arlene’s grandmother whispered from her coach where she was crocheting a scarf.
"Hi," Arlene sighed and sunk down into the spot next to her grandmother.
"You have the boy blues; I know the look," her grandmother looked over at her.
Arlene squirmed her body deeper into the coach, "Grandma," she asked, "How did you and grandpa get things going—like when you first started?"
"Hmph," her grandma stopped crocheting, "Are you ready for my little secret?" She went on without waiting for a reply: "I nabbed HIM!"
"What?" Arlene’s eyebrows lifted.
"Don’t whisper a word to anyone, Arlene, but I relied on an old folklore…it allows women to ask men to marry them during a leap year!"
"Can you really do that?"
"Only if the girl wears a red petticoat," her grandma held up her finger, "If the boy refuses, then he has to give the girl a silk gown and a kiss."
"Grandma, this year is a leap year!" Arlene grabbed her coat and ran out the door.
The line of ships stretched along the main dock and curved around the corner. Men were up high on the ships, on the main decks and everywhere in between. They carried supplies back and forth from the dock to the ships and from the ships to the dock. The chirping of birds mixed with the voices of men yelling to one another. A
younger guy whistled at Arlene as she walked past. She pretended to ignore him, but she cracked a smile and pushed her shoulders back a little more. Suddenly, a man walking in front of Arlene tripped over a rope that was lying on the dock and his water jug flew into the air. Arlene jumped out of the way, but as she did, she tripped on another rope that was lying
on the ground. Her body made contact with the wood dock and a huge splash of water from the jug covered her skirt. The man gasped, froze in his place and stared down at her. From her spot on the ground, Arlene pushed the water jug back upright with her feet and she burst into laughter.
"I guess we both weren’t watching where we were going!" Arlene exclaimed.
The man smiled back and reached out to help her to her feet. A hand from another man grabbed Arlene’s hand instead.
"Sean!" Arlene raised her voice, "Did you see all of that?"
"Yeah, I was surprised you didn’t start crying or something," Sean smiled, "You were pretty cool about that. You ok?
Arlene froze as her hand was caught up in Sean’s grasp. "Oh yeah, I’m fine," she mumbled with a smile.
"That’s good," Sean said quickly. His freckles especially stood out today and his red hair was disheveled on top of his head. His legs started twitching and he glanced back towards his ship.
Arlene peered intently at him with her blue eyes. "How are you?" she asked.
"I’m good. Gotta head back to work," Sean swung a rope over his shoulder and quickly headed towards the ship with the big blue mask. He turned to smile back at her once more before he reached his ship.
That was it—that was all he could say before getting back to working! Arlene yelled as she walked home. My only comfort is that he smiled at me. And he came to help me up. I just have to wait for the right moment.
The Valentine’s Day shindig was approaching—or perhaps it should be called the Saint Valentine’s Day shindig. St. Valentine was somewhat of a mystery to Arlene, but she had heard her grandmother say his name for years. This St. Valentine that she talked about lived during the reign of Emperor Cladius II in 3rd century Rome. The
Emperor outlawed marriage for young men because single men were often better soldiers. St. Valentine was outraged at the injustice of this order! He performed marriages in secret. The result was his own martyrdom.
Arlene carried on the tradition of honoring St. Valentine when she bought a pink and red card with hearts on it for Sean. She stared down at the note she had written and wondered what he would say.
The lanes were decorated with lights and bright colored flowers peeked through the trellises. Stages were set up on almost every street corner and there wasn’t a quiet spot in the town of Belfast. The pubs were packed and smoke drifted out of their open doors. Arlene wore a purple dress that suited her light complexion. She linked
arms with some of her girlfriends and strolled through the streets.
"He’s at the ship-yard," John told Arlene before she could even ask.
I know he’ll come, Arlene tried to comfort herself. She listened to a fiddle quartet, danced through the streets and ate lots of chocolates. She kept looking. This way then that way. Into pubs. In dancing groups. In the food lines. But she couldn’t find him. It started getting dark and Arlene found a bit of grass to sit on and
listen to a group of fiddlers playing slower melodies.
"Hi," a soft voice spoke behind her and she knew it was him.
"Want to join me?" Arlene made room for Sean to sit down. He must have stayed at the shipyard until it was too dark for him to work anymore, Arlene realized.
"Can you read this?" Arlene asked as she pulled the card out of her pocket. She hoped it was the right moment.
"Of course," Sean took the card and read it: "I’m sure you know it is St. Valentine’s Day, but did you also know that it is also a leap year? You work a lot, but I can’t help but think you might like me? It’s a leap-year folklore that women are allowed to ask men to marry them during the leap year. I’m wearing a red petticoat as
the folklore requires, so if you refuse me, you would need to give me a silk gown and a kiss. What will your answer be?"
"Yes," Sean handed the card back to Arlene, "I will marry you."
Sean and Arlene Stewart were married in 1912. They decided that they were going to start their lives together in America because there were more opportunities in this land. Shortly after their marriage, Arlene set sail to join her uncle’s family in a little town named Emmitsburg, in a state called Maryland. Sean planned to join her
after he finished working on the ship, which was nearly complete.
Arlene’s uncle, who had left for America when she was still in her mother’s arms, had been singing the town’s praise in letters to her mother. In the most recent letter he described Emmitsburg as "the most wonderful place on the earth, where the soil is rich, the air clear, the water is mountain pure, and the people are as good as
gold … the perfect place to raise and family."
Read Part 2: A Rivet of Love
Read other articles by Kelly Conroy