Land Of Honey

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Letters sent by one Patrick O'Sullivan.


FEBRUARY 27, 1915
DEAR MOTHER,

I am writing to you from a cellar on 155th Street.

It borders two places: One named Harlem, and another named Washington Heights. I arrived off the steamer from Liverpool to Ellis Island, scurried past the clerks and watchers, and hastily made my way from Jersey to Manhattan. I spent several days trying to find work and rent, settling for housing in a winery with four other migrants. I can say with utmost certainty that Dublin had less Irish than New York. Everywhere I've gone, all — or at least, almost all — have looked like me. They are all poor and ragged and running like pigeons to work for bread.

The streets here are not paved with gold; in fact, some are not paved at all. At night they are overrun with rats as thick as dogs. The belching smoke from the chimneys chokes the air and makes rainy days all the more suffocating.

Those shipbrokers and emigration agents lied to me when they told me of "vast volumes of gold" and the "buildings made ivory." So did the letters from Maggie.

She was nowhere by the docks when I came, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of her since I took lodge beneath the winery.

Please, do not send Father or Uncle here, and do not come here yourself — not before I have found work with a decent wage. A Pole that I room with said that a nearby factory favoured Irishmen over Germans and Italians. I will head there by the morning.

Greet everyone at home for me. For the time being, tell them that Maggie is safe with me.

-P. O'Sullivan


MARCH 19, 1915
DEAR MOTHER,

I worry for Maggie.

The letter she sent a year ago made no sense. Exaggerations were never beneath her — she always tended to have an eye for whimsy — but castles that rise up into the sky? Stars that shine as bright in the day as at night? Land of honey? Whatever she described, it was not New York.

I remember when we were young, we would read the posters and poems and newspapers from Father's small print shop. She was always frail and soft-spoken. Short fiction and poetry were where she found her true voice — bereft of her stutters, her timidity, her nervous ticks, and her ennui. Her thoughts were so-often filled with tales of worlds that were seas away from Dublin, rich with all manner of exotic feasts and people and culture.

When she came down with an outbreak of typhus, it made her write more feverishly, often writing by candlelight into the early morning. By the grace of God, she recovered and had penned a series of stories that grew increasingly incoherent from page-to-page — an anthology of hectic, angry stars, screaming into the night. I remember when you and Father could not make heads or tails of it and recommended she take a nursing job, instead of becoming a writer.

Afterwards, I do not know why she took the steamer first to America. Perhaps, she saw Lady Liberty on a postcard and her mind went west.

I miss her.

Yesterday, on my way to work at the factory, I walked past a very young pale thing that looked exactly like her. The small girl had feathers in her hair and smelled far too clean for the city. She snuck into an alleyway, knocked five times on a handleless door, and was allowed in by someone behind it.

I noticed men often flocked there by night. Others were women — in groups of no more than fifteen and no less than eight — who went in from time to time, and they often came out bruised or limping.

It appears that the degradations of man do not fear our Lord here. It appears that the Lord is blind to the alleyways.

Maggie has no place here; I pray for her safety.

Greet everyone at home for me. Tell them Maggie has found work as a nurse.

-P. O'Sullivan


MAY 12, 1915
DEAR MOTHER,

The summer swelters here.

I regret to inform you that I, your son, Patrick O'Sullivan, lack the funds to purchase tickets for all of you. I regret to inform you that I have had little time to pursue the whereabouts of your daughter, my sister, Maggie. It is a man's duty to provide, and it is this duty that I feel I have failed in.

I have worked long and hard for meagre wages. The foreman keeps us busy from dawn until dusk with little more than two dollars per wrought iron sheet. The large Bessemer converters that help process raw ore often cause accidents amongst the unfocused labourers. I wish that neither you nor Father will have to see a man's arm melt from mishandled leakage. It is enough to make a man believe in the murmurs of anarchists and the whispers of communists, both of whom demand unionization.

At work, I always take the machines by the windowsill. The window is affixed with black-iron bars on the exterior, further obfuscated by a red-bricked wall. Between the crevices of two buildings, I see the alleyway — the one I had mentioned previously — as if the Lord confronts me and the Devil goads me. I can view them as they come out — faceless and blurry, further obfuscated by the old window.

They wear street worker's outfits. I shall not speak on the details of such, but some possess these queer feathered wings strapped to their backs. Maybe it is the heat or the sweat from my brow. Perhaps, I may be seeing things, but some seem to drift ever so steadily above the concrete floor.

All appear as Maggie does.

Perhaps, this is divine providence — a sign — or perhaps, these images are simply fuelled by my regret and frustration. By tomorrow, I will visit that place in the alleyway and knock five times on the door.

Greet everyone at home for me. I will find Maggie.

-P. O'Sullivan

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