Woodward’s Garden- a novel

This is my novel, Woodward’s Graden’s. It’s a story of a few people on the edge of the millenium in San Francisco. Please comment- love to know what you think. -Anna

Chapter 1: Woodward’s Garden

She took the trolley across town and walked a few blocks to the next one, the Green Line down to Mission City. Panting, because really, it always got this way in San Francisco. Always a tad too hot until the point that she peeled off another layer. Her skirts in hand and another hand clamped on her head to hold her best hat, she took off her shawl and stowed it over her arm to cool down. Maybe she was a little too conscious how she appeared, but it was a job interview.

She finally arrived at Woodward’s Garden, a private zoo and amusement park on the fringe of town, spelled out in fancy large sign over three doors. It was huge, noisy, and a little run down, but she was happy for the work- she’d read in the Chronicle yesterday that they needed a: “clean, smart and honest girl for light paperwork and bookkeeping.” Lately her sister Ann was helping her out by handing down laundry jobs. Ann managed a brothel in Little Chile, near Portsmouth Square.

She paid the twenty-five cents entrance fee, then looked around for an official-looking building and found it. Well, it was a shack really behind large signs for the circular boat ride and bear pit. A man with a huge belly and cigar hanging from his mouth eyed her sideways.

“Here for the job? Mary isn’t it?”

“Martha, actually. Nice to meet you.”

“Patrick, is my name.” he said, and as she shook his hand, she minutely inventoried who he was. He wasn’t a bad man, and the hand was fleshy, but there was muscle behind it. He probably was guilty of a thing or two but all in all she trusted him, as much as you could trust someone you’d met a few minutes before.

“Well,” He walked away and gestured for her to follow. “I’ll introduce you to the main man and he’ll tell you about the job. It’s just a simple thing, really. If you want it.” He had a faint Irish lilt. He looked her up and down. “You’re a sturdy gal, ain’tcha.”

She sucked in her stomach, straightened her back. He didn’t have to know her limited prospects.

The main man was not Woodward, as she’d assumed. Instead it was the Garden’s manager, Leonard Ackerman. Leonard was quick and formal, and barely had she turned up that he looked her over, had her copy some writing to check her penmanship, and hire her on the spot, for a “try out.” She was asked back at 8 in the morning- they opened at 8:30 though nobody really came until nearly 10 and then just nannies and children. She left, feeling like she’d been there longer than the fifteen minutes she had, and boarded a streetcar quickly passing by on Mission Street.

She climbed up the steep stairs up to the building, on Medau, a back alley off of the main common where a few cows and chickens were always defecating directly where you were going to put your foot. Her sister was the success story, of sorts, who was enterprising and wealthy and the source of this, truly she thought, was that she had no moral constraints. She didn’t blame her, they were both brought out with their parents and then roughly used until her father drank away the money they were saving for a farm.

She dragged piles of linens from heaps on the floor and started folding. She had a few more customers to deliver, and she would get the fires going to start up the vats of water and lye. She rolled up her sleeves, ignoring the large red inflamed sores up and down from this kind of work. The light started to fade as she transferred heavy stickfuls of clothes from one vat to another, and the sound of music and groans began from across the thin wall. She hated doing this at night- she couldn’t see the stains properly, even when she lit the four gas lights she could barely afford- but she wanted to finish up her work before her new job. She had vowed to change her life, to get out of this cycle of back-breaking work, before she turned thirty.

Chapter Two: Fritzer Consolidated Shipping

Franklin clipped his mustache, smoothed his part, and absently checked that he had everything he required for the day. His keys, his wallet, the newspaper for later, his glasses, and the case, and then a few notes he wanted to have written up.

He joined his wife for some coffee and biscuits. His daughter was playing in the other room, and he tousled her hair as he walked through to the kitchen. He picked up a biscuit or two and thought of the night before, too many whiskies down at Norton’s, and that stumbled walk home. His stomach was still a little iffy, but the biscuits had a buttery glaze. His wife had true skills in the kitchen. She disliked cooking, but they had to decide on a nanny or a good cook, and the nanny had won out. She couldn’t cook anything beyond boiled cabbage and grey looking beef.

He stepped on a car counted it as lucky until the jostling of the metal wheels against the cobblestones, combined with jerky movements of a new driver, made him think of tossing his breakfast a few times before arriving downtown. He stopped and had his shoes shined- the Chinaman was chatty this morning and he honestly couldn’t tell what he was saying. He was worried that Gerald would be mad at him- he’d been working on selling lumber shares to clippers – the fastest craft up to Alaska- and it hadn’t gone well. Something last night he’d learned. He couldn’t remember it quite. He’d go down and ask Sam if he remembered. It’s not that he was old, he was the youngest in the firm, but he had a blasted low tolerance for alcohol and it was becoming a problem. Maybe he’d try that tonic each day and build it up, or head over to Aquatic Park and start swimming with that club. He’d never met a man who swam who couldn’t drink a full tankard and still walk a straight line.

His personal intolerance for alcohol was preoccupying his mind when Gerald did come into his office, crack open the window and relight his cigar. The man had a few every day and Franklin, hated the smell. Gerald teased him that he had the sensitivity of a knocked up maid each time he mentioned it, so Franklin tried to keep his distaste hidden.

“Good god man how could you bungle this?” Gerald leaned against the window. Sounds of Chinatown, fish smells and garbage, a bit of screaming in Cantonese, lifted up, to some men arguing loudly on the street about a woman.

“Oh blast it, Gerald. I don’t know. You know I put weeks into this.” Franklin respected Gerald, and he hated to displease him. Gerald had put him up for this job years ago, and that’s how he and May had been able to buy the house out in the heights. She’d had some money from her father, an apricot orchard keeper down the Peninsula. He’d hated that they bought in San Francisco. He wanted the apple of his eye to be close. Franklin didn’t dislike his father-in-law, he just didn’t like sharing May with him. May would get all girlish and fond of her father. It was a simpering kind of love that disgusted Franklin.

But they’d bought the house, had his granddaughter and saw them twice a year, taking the few hour ride down to see them, and bumpy carriage ride. It was always a production, and sleeping with the mosquitoes in that heat. It was not Franklin’s favorite, though he loved the turnovers and tarts his mother-in-law made, and his sisters-in-law were fine cooks. May loved being the urbanite and lording it over her sisters. Franklin was expected to go out among the trees with the brothers and father, and listen to each element of every pest and variety, when in reality he was daydreaming about supper and the fresh chicken he knew they’d kill for visitors.

Gerald was staring at him. “You really have no idea what happened?”

Franklin realized he was hungry, the first time since his bender last night. “Dammit I’m famished. Let’s get oysters, I’ll treat, down at John’s Place.”

True, it had only been an hour or so since he’d arrived, but they may as well eat since his stomach had finally recovered. Franklin liked his food, oh yes he did. Gerald regaled him on everything he’d done wrong in the deal. Don’t get drunk in front of your client, especially when he’s Italian and can drink you under the table. He shouldn’t have compared their rates to the competition or tell them about the weaknesses of their fleet. The Alaskan star was one of the fastest in the fleet, but that wasn’t saying much. Leftover ships from the Gold Rush were retiring, and the Alaska was undeniably one of them, built directly prior in the finest mode but aging. Serious retrofits to decaying timbers would have to be done, and they couldn’t afford to put her in dry dock.

“Don’t lie, just don’t say the truth.” Gerald tapped his 10th cigar on the ashtray at their table. They had polished off two large plates of fried oysters, and were eating slices of fresh sourdough bread.

“Isn’t omission a form of lying?” Franklin gave him a crooked smile.

“If I was a connoisseur,” Gerald had a way of saying it liek: connie-aya-sewer,” of the finer things such as you, my dear Franklin, I would try even harder to omit things so that I’d be able to afford such things.”

Gerald claimed that his less than fine tastes were wine, women, and, well, that was it.

Gerald led the sporting life with a vigor that astounded Franklin. He couldn’t for a day tag along with Gerald, a lesson he only had to learn once. Just thinking of that day of excess made him shrink into his suit and sip more water.

Gerald had a generous wife who kept his home and kept him out of her bed. She was wise, for Franklin was sure Gerald was an encyclopedia of venereal disease. The man knew every whore in town by her birth marks, and every bar by its bouncer. His wife loved that Gerald was a Vice President of a Shipping Firm and probably had some interests of her own, though it was kept from Franklin. He had politely met her once or twice, and May had never mentioned her either. For all he knew she could be hired for the job. “Wife wanted: please cook once in a while, keep the liquor cabinet stocked and be silent.’

After work Franklin walked a block or so and got on the trolley then rode it gazing across the tops of buildings. They’d had a fire a few years ago and here and there you could hear the construction still going on. It seemed like San Francisco had fires so regularly, the only way you were safe was to leave. He wanted to move but he didn’t want to get closer to his in-laws. Maybe they could buy a cabin in a vacation spot and just get away in the months, or May could go with the child and he’d visit on weekends.

He climbed the dozen steps up to their house, and entered an empty house. The dust from the afternoon settled and it was quiet and cool. He sat in the parlor and whipped open the newspaper, he hadn’t read it all day. With his hangover and that lunch, he’d tried to nap at his desk for quick 15 minute intervals. It didn’t take long for him to nod off here in the quiet afternoon of a Monday.

“Daddy!!” Little Bess lifted up the newspaper and giggled delightedly when she discovered her father. “What are you doing hiding under the paper?” She flopped the broadsheet back then peeked under it again. Franklin let her play this game until he finally woke up and heaved her onto his lap.

They read the classifieds together until they got to one large drawing of an elephant. “Woodward Gardens. Maybe I’ll take you down there some day. What about Saturday.”

“Mama has her flower show in the park. And her meeting with those ladies.” May had a quarterly Junior League Auxiliiary meeting on Nob Hill she attended. Bess pouted. “Mama won’t let me go.”

“Tut, tut. We shall go. I am perfectly fine taking my daughter to an amusement park. Would you like that?”

Bess smiled up at her father and gave him a quick kiss, before running to tell her mother of their small victory.

Franklin got out of the couch and walked slowly out to the outhouse, which, through the yard lines hung with row upon row of laundry, was in the corner, sheltered by aromatic cypress trees, now catching fingers of fog as the sun set.He stood and lit a small cigarillo. The smell of these were light with cloves and steadied his always complaining stomach. Thinking of his golden-headed daughter and her wishes and deisres, he patted himself on the back the enchanted life he’d been able to give Bess, after he had had such a miserable childhood.
Chapter 3: May

Franklin wasn’t home yet and she had an hour or so before starting dinner. She covered the meat from flies and pinned on her hat, corralling Bess into another layer and a hat, gloves and an extra doll. She walked up the block to the corner garden where she knew she’d run into Sally.

Sally was a young mother too, married to a bank clerk and had come from some money. She was brunette, chubby and curvy with a corset that left her with a raspy breathless voice. She wasn’t in the League.

May had finally gotten invited to the League from her cousin’s husband. They were initiated last month, and May was trying to join as many committees as she could. If Franklin ever got to Gerald’s level she would be happy, and this network of friendships and acquaintances with the top society in the city would help him ascend that ladder of leadership in the Fritzer company. She didn’t realy know what he did, or what went on there- it was Shipping, and whenever she said that at a party, tea or other social gathering, everyone nodded knowingly and changed the subject. If Franklin were there, a man would corner him to talk about a specific shipment. Women would sometimes ask her if that’s how she got the porcelain Buddha antiquity or the nice wool rug in the entrance, but otherwise she really didn’t have to know more.

May touched up her hair, looping stray curls into the knot and re-pinning a few loose strands. She sat on a bench and Bess ran to two of the Whitman boys, near Bess’s age, that were playing on the field a few yards away. May had sent the nanny home early, saving some money here and there for a new hat she had seen on Montgomery Street near the What Cheer House.

Sally was late. Sally was always rushing from one task to another. May didn’t understand how Sally could be so busy when she didn’t do more than May did. May found her housework repetitive, dull, and uninteresting. Before she thought of joining the League she was seriously thinking of starting charity work in Chinatown with the Church and YWCA. A shudder ran through her as she thought of the dingy rooms, the broken English conversations, the sheer burden of the entire project. The matrons from the church were so disapproving. At least with the League she was charitable and gay. And really, helping out in a much larger way since the members were far more wealthy than anyone at all associated with St. Mary’s or those Methodists.

She saw May hiking up the sidewalk. You’d think it was Mount Everest, the way her face was red and expiring, and the umbrella she brought. May smiled and plonked down next to May.

“I’m so glad to find you here. I wasn’t sure when you said Franklin was out late last night, that you’d have to be home early. So …” Sally continued on her stream of conversation, largely self-propelled. She and May knew each other’s domestic schedules by heart, not because they were interested but because they needed to as they watched each other’s children and met for adult conversation each day. May had the house two doors down and they met while hanging laundry, seeing each other every day in the late morning and sharing little bits of things, honey once and some towels, then later their children assumed, with that knowing that children have, that they could play at each other’s hosues and down the block with no introduction. Penny, Sally’s oldest, was 12 and soon watched over Bess when the nanny was busy with light maid work. Jacob, Lewis and Richard were Sally’s other children, all a year or so apart. May didn’t want a large brood like Sally’s, she liked the ease of one child, and while she missed the feeling of a large family that she grew up with, she visited Sally enough to experience it. She was selfish, she knew, in not wanting more children, and she also knew Franklin fully expected to have a son. He hadn’t said it, but there was a reserve with Bess, like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He loved Bess and showered her with fatherly attention. May knew if, and really, when, she had a son Franklin would treat him a shade different.

May asked about the League. Sally started in on the details of the next tea and the personalities she had to deal with to organize this one. She loved to be the sole authority on each of these great ladies of the city. She gasped when she described the clothes of Mrs. Hearst. And Mrs. Fremont-Older, the publisher’s wife, down to the details. Sally listened and started knitting, laughing at parts and wide-eyed in amazement at others.

Finally it was too cold, and Sally had to call her children over. Bess came with them and they started the two block walk, Sally teetering on too-tight boots. May wasn’t sure why she wore them, they were probably a predeliction of Mr. Santos, Sally’s husband.

As they arrived home Bess found Franklin asleep on the couch, and Sally started assembling their cold dinner. It was understood a few nights they would have the leftovers, with some hot soup. After dinner she trundled up Bess in her layers of her bed, then went to her own, unlaced herself and threw on an old white gown, then slid into an arctic bed with Franklin already asleep on his side. To calm herself she thought of the cool off-white invitations to the tea that were being printed, and the names of the ladies that she would write in her best hand, on each envelope, the following day. As she envisioned each envelope she drifted off into a deep sleep, the foghorns and seagulls calling through the window, the pine trees rustling and creaks from the cats chasing mice, lightly on the floorboards, throughout the house.

Chapter 4: Melinda

The Dingby’s rooster woke Melinda before dawn, and she, along with her neighbors, trudged down to the water pipe on the steps. She hauled it back up from Broadway and set some tea on. She’d used up all her water last night, and the clothes had dried over night. The fog had gotten them slightly damp, but they’d have to do since she needed to drop them off at the brothel before her new job. She unbuttoned her blouse and washed quickly over her bowl of water, tucked up some stray hairs and examined her face in the tin pan she used as a mirror. She was young and pretty, but she knew her work showed on her face. Brown hair like her sister and mother, but soft and shiny. She never really thought of her looks, trying to keep out of the way as much as possible in the brothel and on the streets of her house. Once in a while in the public house or sitting playing cards with neighbors she’d relax and want to be pretty again, drink some ale and smile flirtatiously. She didn’t fancy anyone on her block as much, there were some delivery boys and clerks in the shops nearby who were good-looking but everyone was working as hard as she, they didn’t have time to think of starting a family. And dependents. The worst thing that could happen right now was to get pregnant. No, syphilis would be worse.

She finished her coffee and folded the series of white shifts and knickers, long skirts and waist-shirts. She had done some starching last night and those garments were on the top. Hauling them the few doors down, she knocked on the back kitchen door of the brothel.

Liu Sing opened the door and took the basket. He left the door open in a complicit invitation for Melinda. Melinda decided she had a few minutes, and Liu Sing’s porridge was a good idea. She scooped some into a bowl and sat at the kitchen table along with a few of the whores who’d risen early. She rarely talked to the Chinese servant, who seemed fine with that. He continued doing the washing up as she leaned back in her chair. The porridge was something he made, that he served to her once without asking. It was savory with bits of bacon and egg. She thought it might be rice, but she’d never asked him, and she wasn’t too good with food. This was probably the only meat she’d had all week, and the taste of fat lingered on her tongue.

Her sister came in wearing a brown skirt and white shirt, hair in an efficient bun and no make-up. She patted the girls on the shoulder and the two of them shuffled out, groggy and (probably) sore, Melinda thought.

“How are you this morning, dear?”

“Heading over to a job in a few. Woodward’s Garden.”

“That old place is still going?”

“Why woudln’t it?”

Rachel sat down and Sui-Ling quickly passed her a large blue and white china cup full of coffee with a dash of heavy cream. “I’d heard old man whats-its, the What Cheer man, he was getting old and a little,” she spun her finger near her head.

“It seemed alright when I stopped by there yesterday.”

Rachel looked steadily at her sister.

“Don’t start Rachel.”

“Liu Sing, how much did we take in yesterday?”

He stood with his back to them, continuing a slow progression through a large stack of wine glasses and tumblers piled high on the pine counter’s drainboard.

“That would be, by my accounting,” and she jostled her change purse, tied to her skirt string and under a protective layer of burlap. “100 dollar coins.”

A rush of feeling, despair, longing, envy, jealousy, disgust, and dreams yet unfulfilled, raced through Melinda making her hot and anxious, and wanting to flee. “I … it’s… you’re not… “

“It’s alright dear, it’s not for everyone. Now thank you for the laundry. This is working out quite well for us.”

Melinda didn’t’ doubt that having a washerwoman a few doors down was a large boon to the house, who was judged by its cleanliness.

Rachel didn’t forget, and before Melinda left, handed her a dollar. Liu Sing could probably get this done better, for half that, by his connections in Chinatown, but Rachel was nice and doling out work to her family. It made Melinda sick.

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