Notes, headers, disclaimers, etc in part 0
New York City, Irish quarter, 1849
"Mary Katherine McCleve, ye'll get your ungrateful self out of this house
before I pray ye a husband with shackles!"
That would be my ma. She's a good woman, a hard worker, but as my older
sister says, it'd be easier to have a wild bull nested under our bedroom
than having her banging around and asking us to mind everything under the
sun-- and still make Mass in our good clothes.
The miracle is that we do precisely that every Sunday morning.
"I'll be down in a minute, Ma!"
"Now, lass! Margaret's already out waitin' on the street! I'm nae leaving
my only hope of grandchildren to the lunacy of this city!"
I swear I love her, but sometimes... nae, I won't say it. I'm nae spending
four hours in confession this week because I spoke ill of my remaining
parent. Trying to adjust the outermost layer of wool skirt-- which has
decided to twist up in a tangle of crinoline and whalebone-- I can just see
the look on ma's face.
"Kitty! Ma's gonna skin you!" Apparently my sister can see it too.
Tucking in the waist and re-cinching the tie-- I really hate the lace and
flounce of Sunday clothes and how it constricts my moving-- I walk to the
window to wave at the well bundled twenty-five year old troublemaker staring
up at the second story window. "One more minute, Jean!"
She crosses her arms. "Nae! Get down here now or I'm telling her where I
caught ye and Bobby the other day."
"I need to get shoes on first!"
"If ye don't get them on quick, Ma's gonna throw ye in the snow and make ye
walk to your namesake's own Feast Day."
With a nod I throw the heavier kidskin boots over my stockings, grab my
overcoat and fly out the door, taking two steps at a time down the building
stairs to reach street level. We live in an overglorified steamer trunk,
our building one of those that have become part of the "Mick" side of town,
but at least it keeps the cold out.
Bloody Yanks. I wish they knew that we didnae ask to be named McCleve.
Margaret Jean McCleve-- Jean to those that know better-- is waiting for me,
casting her eyes back to the covered taxi and the driver watching us
nervously. The grey and black gelding, Ol' Clark, snorts through the bit.
They know our mother all too well.
"Lasses, I love the both of ye like the mornin' sun, but oblige yer ma and
get in the taxi before she swears at us in Gaelic."
In the pause before we can pile in like good daughters, my elder, insane
sister shakes her head, smiles and waves the carriage on. "Nae. We'll
walk. It's only November and Marie will be walkin' about now. We'll join
Ma sticks her head out, her good hat hiding salt and pepper curls, and
scowls. She's far too good at that. "And what about an escort?"
"I'll nae have my only two girls walking the streets of this godforsaken
city to get mugged and beaten by some heathen."
"Ma," Jean starts, "the Lutherans are nae gonna mug us as we walk to Mass."
"Ye'd be surprised, missy."
Her eyes darken. Great. Ma has officially hit the trigger of the only
redheaded McCleve woman in the last thirty years. "This isnae Kilkenny, Ma!
We'll be fine. The bobbies will be makin' their rounds as we pass."
"We're walkin'." And with that she turns away, the fwoosh of her skirt
indicating that she's nae listening anymore. Sure, she can press limits and
rile Ma cause she knows that Anglican boy Scott would take her in if she
offered him a glance of ruffled petticoat, but if I go with her, I have to
come home to the firebrand that is Katherine Ann McCleve, daughter of County
Kilkenny, victim of the potato famine and mother to a litter of children
that want something more than a shepherd of a husband and a patch of lace
Or in my brother's case, something beyond the polished oak bar of O'Leary's
pub. He does'nae hate it, and it gives him an excuse to talk to young Marie
Kennedy despite the fact that she's in the same year as I-- Logan's old
enough to give me nephews half my age.
I'm the only one that doesn't get the daily interrogation about why I'm not
married yet. Give her a few years. I still lace the corset a little looser
to hide the womanly figure muck, but one day she'll notice and as sure as
the sun rises, she'll say "Kitty, ye need a Catholic boy to wed and give ye
At which point I'll steal sis' favourite phrase of "it'd take a lot more
than a wedding to tie this Irish filly to a man."
Ma doesn't like Jean much anymore for that. Ma cannae hate her because of
blood and kin, but she swears up and down when she sneaks out to go the
Anglican area around 43rd Street that she'll burn alongside Lucifer for it.
My sister doesn't seem bothered by it much. Mark of the States on us new
Irish citisens, I swear it by Saint Catherine. We're the rats scrounging at
the bottom of the Statue of Liberty and with the Germans and English hanging
off her skirts mad that we're eatin' their crumbs, we try to be less like
the people we really are, and blend in.
And we've been here three years. After the Great Hunger cost Da his life
and Ma her happiness, I figure we're lucky if we have quint to rub by the
That is, if we live that long. Uncle Charlie in Westchester says that we
have to keep an open mind and hope that they stop treating us like chattel
and more like equal people, but he's nae down here. Not down in the
neighbourhoods that the upper classes avoid. Not where a man from Dublin
can come here and be confused with a man from Callan.
Uncle Charlie's from there. Dublin, I mean. Where the bloody Limeys have
tromped and let native blood into our beloved sod for centuries. He hates
them as much as we do, but there's a fresh dram of anger in our hearts
because we've been around them more recently than he has. To his credit, he
got out before the real problems started and people took ill and the crops
went bad, wedging himself a spot in society before they could take it away
from him. To our credit, we have more reason to revile the American
upstarts for trying to reject us in a land they so recently commandeered
from the British, and use it as justification.
"Ye're brooding again, Kitty. I can see it in your face."
"I just keep thinkin' about the shite Ma's been stuffing down our throats
since we were kids."
Jean gives me a sad look and nods, pushing the bonnet back up on her head.
"She doesnae really hate the Brits."
"Aye, she does."
"Nae," she corrects, "she hates everyone that isnae like her."
What's sad is that she's right. "Then why go out of your way to anger her?
She's determined to find out where ye spend the evenings when you're nae at
"Tell her I'm quilting with the Daughters of Liberty."
"It's a lie. I'll nae lie for ye."
There's a short laugh. There was a time when my sister wasn't so bitter, or
maybe it's disillusioned. "But ye'll lie for yourself, fair Kitty? To save
yourself and Bobby from incurring the wrath of the sainted mother McCleve?"
"We've nae done anything!" I stop on the sidewalk and cross my arms,
staring. I'm seventeen, nae fourteen, but she talks to me like I am. I
hate this! Can't I get along with anybody?! "I'm nae goin' and playin'
with the -Protestant- son of a carpenter! Compared to ye I have a small
list of sins to confess for."
"Aye, but every time someone mentions Robert Darcy's name in front of ye, ye
blush like a maid with her bodice unlaced." Standing there, matching my
stance and using her extra height to stare down at me, her eyes are
unwavering, silently fuming.
I think I've hit a nerve.
"Ye're in love with him!"
And that's when she stammers. The great firebrand, true to life stereotype
of the Irish temper, loses her bravado. About bloody time. "What if I was?"
Glancing up and realising that clouds-- the stormy kind-- are gathering, I
start walking again, forcing the lead to Saint Anthony's. "Ye cannae marry
him. We're Irish Catholic. His Da's from Oxfordshire. What part of 'two
worlds' don't ye understand?"
"Maybe I don't wanna live in ours anymore. Live with ma if ye like, but
I've already talked to Logan, and he'll keep me abreast of the family after
"Simple as that."
"Simple as bloody that."
I throw my head back and laugh, garnering the attention of a rider passing
by us on a large grey mare, then sober up as much as someone with whisky
pumpin' in their blood ever could. "They believe in divorce."
"They run this country."
Bustling across the street, waving as she reaches us, mid-argument, Marie
smiles and sums up our body language as easily as if she were counting
thread for spinning. "I thought ye two were taking Seamus' carriage?"
"Nae, Ma's determined to give us penance before we earn it."
"Before ye earn it," I grit through my teeth at Jean. "I'm nae being the
Marie, the daughter of a Berlin midwife and Limerick soldier, nods. "You're
the only sociable of the McCleve children, Kitty. The boy your Ma's been
eyeing since Easter is at the top of her list for marryin'."
My groan is entirely genuine. If it's who I think it is, it's the blonde
boy from Carlow that has two pence, but nae the skill to rub them together.
"Aye. Logan says he's been in the pub recently asking about ye."
As we cross the street and walk past the closed up cobbler's, I shake my
head and nearly dislodge my own bonnet in the process. "Between the two of
them I'd rather have Bobby."
"Bobby's three licks from cutpurse and a scoundrel!"
Marie and I have been arguing about him since the first day she saw him.
He's apparently nae good enough for me. "At least he's Catholic," I say,
looking significantly to the redhead listening in on the conversation.
"Ach. At least Scott's got the brains to earn a living," Jean mutters back.
"And the looks," Marie adds with a arch of her eyebrow, "or so I'm hearin'."
We let ourselves laugh about it but the comment go unremarked. Three blocks
from the church we know better to keep talking about the men were nae
supposed to be considering in any terms but pure ones.
Though, I still can't get Jean to confirm whether or nae she's given herself
over to the heathen Scott Sumner. Personally, I think she has, but Marie
doesn't; she would have told Logan, and then he would haul up and teach the
boy how to treat a sister of his. So, 'til my sister chooses to gossip
about her own life, I guess we'll never know for certain.
"Kitty, pass me that tankard off the table."
I raise my sight from my soda bread and lock gazes with masculine hazel
eyes. "Aye, Logan. Where are your barmaids anyways?"
He shakes his head and accepts the tall, ale-reeking cup from my hold. "Who
needs barmaids when ye have sisters?"
Throwing my bonnet and watching him catch the cotton and lace blur
effortlessly with a grin, I stomp a foot. "Then make Jean do it, too!"
He cocks an eyebrow and takes up another dirtied cup, dropping it into soapy
water. "Nae in this lifetime, lass. Ye, wee one, have yet to drop me to
the floor and humiliate me in front of Ma for ruttin' around your friends."
I cross my arms crossly. I hate bein' treated like this. "Why do ye two
always team up 'gainst me?"
"'Cause I'm the twenty-eight year old that's too busy to settle down because
I run a mate's bar and my-- our father's household. Margaret Jean is a few
years behind me; your closest sibling by God's hand. Who do ye think was
helping pick up the pieces with me when Ma was in hysterics over losing two
children and 'er husband?"
"Still does'nae explain why ye team up," I grumble. I know, I'm being petty
and am a bit skittish 'bout it all, but Father Colin lost track of the
homily at one point today. He never does that.
"Dinnae hate her so much. She wants to be happy, and if ye havenae noticed,
I'll support her efforts to do just that, even if it means breaking away
from the Church."
"And when Sean and Megan went on to the Creator, I didnae ask questions,"
his voice lowers and he leans over to me, "Ma went to ye cause ye were her
youngest, leavin' us two alone."
He pats my arm and refills the mug of warm cider. "Aye. But, there's no
worries to have now, Kitty. Where is she anyways, our dear sinning sister?"
Marie, her outermost surcote loosened and her brown hair pulled into a messy
bun, points at the door. "Waitin' for the Anglican to get out of his own
I scowl, but Logan catches it, doing a fair impression of Da. "At least he's
nae a total heathen."
"Aye, what ye say."
Marie sits on the barstool next to me and picks a piece of soda bread out of
the basket, nibbling. "It too early for anything but cider?"
"And a dance?"
Logan scowls disapprovingly, the hand touching Marie's shift collar
betraying his other thoughts on the matter. "'Tis Sunday. At least wait
'til the Catholic mothers that ye know watch us are safely holed up in their
homes making fixin's for dinner, lass."
This is the light version of my brother and my friend. I know they get
closer than this, but they don't do it in public. Smart people. The city
may nae love us and size us up for their rich parties, but the standards of
decency are still firmly embedded here.
And then there's the girl who runs off to see a twenty-six year old boy that
doesnae know the prayer that accompanies the rosary in her pocket.
I have such a normal family.
[cont'd in part 2]
"To touch is to heal
To hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky
Better learn how to kneel" --"Mysterious Ways," U2