Chapter 1 – 1890
The sun was too bright. That was Maggie’s first thought when she woke on Thursday morning…or was it Thursday afternoon? The evening before had been long, as most of them had seemed lately, and Maggie had taken to sleeping later and later. With a groan, she sat up, and then clutched the sides of her head while the world spun for a few seconds. Her stomach churned, but she reached for the wafers at the side of her bed before the nausea became overwhelming. After a few bites the walls and floor righted themselves, and Maggie slipped out of bed.
It was probably late morning, she decided, when she looked out the window. The sun wasn’t straight above yet, but it was bright, and the window was warm when she placed her hand on the pane. People walked along the path between the house and the river, and white cranes landed on the water. It was late fall, and the white cranes always came in and took a rest on the Tennessee River. They didn’t stay, though. Maggie smiled a bit and envied them, as she always did. Maggie Lynn, the woman with wings. A knock interrupted Maggie’s thoughts, and she tied the sash of her robe tightly before answering it.
“Mornin’ Miss Maggie,” the robust woman on the other side of the door, Ella, was holding a tray with fried apples, eggs, homemade biscuits, and coffee. Normally the smell was wonderful, but on this morning Maggie took a deep breath, and then she knew she would be sick. She motioned for Ella to come in quickly and barely made it to the wash basin in time. She finished and then propped her hands on the table and rested her forehead against the cool glass of the mirror. Ella came up behind her, poured a bit of cool water onto a cloth, and pulled Maggie’s head away from the wall.
“You come sit down now Miss Maggie,” Ella said softly. Maggie followed her to the bed and sat on the edge. Ella washed Maggie’s face and hands and then shook her head. ‘You been feeling poorly for a while now. You need to eat though.”
Maggie smiled as Ella stood and retrieved the tray. Ella had been at the house since long before Maggie arrived, and she was more like a mother than a housekeeper. As usual, once Maggie’s stomach had been emptied, she was famished. She picked up a biscuit and took a bite. Ella poured her some coffee, and Maggie took a sip of that as well, allowing the warmth to travel down her throat and into her belly. Ella watched her closely for a minute of two before patting her hand and standing up. “I think you gon’ be alright now. You just rest on this Thursday. Remember there ain’t no workin’ tonight. Mr. McGee gon’ be home.”
“Thank you Ella, I feel much better now,” Maggie smiled and took a spoonful of fried apples.
Ella went to the door and studied it for a long moment before turning to look at Maggie. “You know, Miss Maggie, Miss Kate is always distracted on Thursdays. She probably wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t come back from your walkin’ today.” She smiled sadly. “You gots more than just you to think of now.”
Maggie dropped the spoon with a clatter onto the tray and stood so quickly that her head spun again. “Ella, please – “
“On Miss Maggie, I gots enough of my own to know. And I won’t be tellin’ nobody. But I’ll tell you plain. That last one ‘bout broke your heart. You don’t belong here, Miss Maggie. Never did. Your daddy…” her voice died as she saw the pain in Maggie’s eyes. “You got better things in you. You go somewhere Miss Maggie. You go anywhere away from here and start a life. I know you can. I seen that bag of coins and dollars you been saving under your mattress when I change the beds.”
Maggie sat again and looked at her hands. “It’s not that easy. I don’t have any place to go. And I don’t have any way to get there.”
Ella took a few steps until she was right in front of Maggie, hands on her broad hips. “Now that just ain’t true, Miss. There’s a train just down the street runs anywhere you want to go. And that bag is pretty full. In fact,” Ella said, smiling with a bit of mischief, “you might just find some extra coins in there.”
Maggie tilted her head and looked at Ella closely. “What did you do, Ella?”
“Oh, old Mrs. Ella don’t steal, Miss Maggie. But I don’t need much most of the time, what with my kids grown. I just been putting lotsa my money in an old mason jar for rainy days. I figure after watchin’ you these last weeks you might have some rainy days need tending to.”
Maggie felt her throat tighten, and tears blurred Ella’s bronze face. Before she knew it, her shoulders were shuddering, and she was sobbing. Ella sat down and gathered her close, rocking her. “Miss Maggie, you just use that rainy day gift. You promise me you’ll use it and take your new life. Do it today. For your daddy and mama and that baby.”
After taking a few shaky deep breaths, Maggie was able to quell her tears, and she pulled back from Ella, smiling weakly. “Thank you Ella. Thank you more than I can say.”
Ella waved off the gratitude and pulled herself back up into the role of no-nonsense housekeeper. “You thank me by bringing that son to see me when he’s nice and tall.”
“How do you know it will be a son?” Maggie laughed.
Ella winked. “Your Daddy wasn’t the only one who knew how to talk to Jesus, Miss Maggie.” She left then, and Maggie could hear her humming an old hymn as she walked down the hallway,