Bird in a Gilded Cage
Alicia made it her goal to never marry and go to school, but because of her father's greed she was thrown into the clutches of a forced marriage to a moster of a man. Now she is trapped, hidden behind fortune and fame and surrounded by treatchery and abuse. Her only escape is in the gentle arms of Finn.(Prequel to Paper Wings)
Some would call what happend to me a fairy tale, and perhaps in some light it was. In the light of what's said but not of what happened, what really happened behind the headlines and behind the photographs. I can only hope that you'll read my account and learn that everything said isn't always true. You might not believe my account, or even read all of it, and I accept that. I know my dear Finny that must be painful to read, but remember at least this, what happened to me wasn't tragic for it brought me you. I may have not lived the life I dreamed, but never have I regretted it. Out of all my dreams for myself, there's none I wanted more than you, none I fought harder for than I fought to have you with me in my arms. I loved you, all my life, I had loved you even before I met you, and I'll continue to love you forever and in death.
"Alicia, wake up!" My little sister Hattie shook me.
It was the middle of hot summer night in New York. I opened my eyes, "What on earth is it?" I asked half asleep.
"I had a dream, a preminition, of my true love!" she squeeled in excitement.
I sighed, "Shh! You'll wake up father."
My little sister, the romantic; the princess waiting and living for her prince charming. She was the youngest and prettiest of my five sisters with long golden locks of hair and rosy cheeks and a button nose.
"I know now, what he's going to look like," she moaned falling back on our bed we shared in our small tennent. "He's tall and handsome, and even though his face was in the shadows I could sense that he was rich."
"And what rich man is going to marry poor girl with a Jewish immigrant father?"
"Just wait and see Alicia, he'll come and take me away to a life of luxury!" She fliped her shaul over her shoulder as if it was a fur boah."And never again will I have to work and go hungry. Look at my hands, one more day of working in that factory and I'll be hideous for any man to marry!"
"Stop your whining, there more to life than pleasing men and being their little doll wife they could fondle over like some prize possesion."
"You forget, Alicia, that's all a girl can be."
I wanted to slap her for saying that, "That's horse shit! Who told you that? Yes that's all a girl can be as long as they're girls in the world like you!"
"Please not this again, what next? Are you going to join the spinsters who starve themselves in jail?"
"I would if I could, believe me I would, but I have to first fight my own battle for equality."
"Father's never going to let you go to college. In fact I heard him today talking to the butcher about you. His wife died last week of childbirth and already he's looking for a wife."
Thank God the butcher was in debt and not able to provide a dowry, though if that were to happen I'd run away to William and if worse come to worse, we'd elope.
"You should marry William, before Father finds you a husband."
My older three sisters were married. My father married Judith, the oldest off to a banker who was a widower of five nasty children who turned my one beautiful and vibrant sister into a old maid with prematuring gray hair. My sister Becky's husband died last year and she and her daughter Ruth lived out in the streets. My father claims her husband dying so young was punishment for her going against my father's word and marrying him and he refused for her to live with us. Perhaps if Becky had a son, he'd take her. Everyday I tried looking for her so I could help, but I had no luck. And then Sharon, tragically obidient like my mother, was married off to bad man who was cheap and didn't get a doctor when she was sick. For two years she worked hard to please and care for him, worked till her fingers bleed keeping his house in order and his belly full, and he couldn't even take the time and money to take care of her. She died leaving him no children.
I swore on her cheap pine box coffin, I'd be different. I wouldn't let my father sell me off like property to the highest bidding man.
William was my childhood sweetheart whom I met in grade school. His family was richer than mine and his family was methodist, meaning my father didn't apporve of our courtship. I can't say that I loved William, at least not in the way he wanted me to love. William was like a brother to me, never a lover. William was just my best friend.. I never believed in love or thought I needed it. I planned on marrying William in the future, not for love but for the campanionship. I fugured when we both finished with school, we'd use our degrees to open up a practice or a newspaper, and we'd picket for just about everything, to women's rights, to ban childlabor, to demand better working conditions for factory workers, and perhaps if we had the time we'd have a few kids and hire a nanny.
The next morning was busy despite it being dark out. Our apartment was small and crowded. I hated mornings before my sister and I left for work. My sister and I worked in a steel factory in the packaging division where we separated nails and put them into a small box to be sold in hardware stores. By five my hands would be so sore and I'd be too drained to do anything.
Little did I know that today would be the day that changed my life forever and after the events of today, nothing would ever be the same again.
I decided today, just to make my father mad I'd wear my long dark brown hair down. I hated my father. He didn't love me and sisters. He only saw us as possesions to dominate over and sell. Like Sharon's husband he was a greedy penny pintcher who couldn't spare a dime for those who loved him. He was old fashioned Orthodox sexist clingling to the old Torah beliefs long burried. Constantly he'd chant, "A woman without a man is less than nothing. A woman without a man can never enter Heaven." Though I would always reply back, "Well then I guess I'm a damned women." My father didn't work, no he just need the day study his precious Torah, we worked to give his time to study and shared rooms to give him space to study. Though he was head of the family and table and dominated our lives and ordered us around like he deserved to have such royal treatment.
"Alicia, why have your hair down?" he asked at the table eating his custom made breakfast.
"If I'm a damned women, I must look it, father," I replied.
"As if I'll let you. You're eighteen, and although you might have already been spoiled by that boy, you're still in good postition for marriage."
"You don't own me father, for I'm more man than you are," I glared.
"How dare you back talk me? I pray to find you a husband who can show you how to properly respect those above you."
"As soon as I save up enough money, I'm going to college with William," I said firmly, not minding his talk of nonsense.
"The hell you will. Just who do you think you are? You still think you're going to college?" he chuckled, "Really hoity-toity, aren't we, Alicia?"
"I know I'm going to college, and there's nothing anybody could do to stop me."
"You didn't answer my question, who do you think you are?"
"I know I'm a hot headed girl with a mind of her own supported by a set of strong shoulders and thick spine and a body that's not shy of hard work."
"Women have weak necks that could easily be snapped," He smiled having the final word.
I'd rather die young by breaking my neck than die an old maid with a broken spirit.
"You shoudln't arue with father, it'll only bring trouble," Hattie said on the way to the factory.
Already at half past six the city streets were alive with swarming crowds and noisy traffic. "Trouble for him or me?" I smirked.
"Very funny. You're not invincible you know?"
"It's better to act invincible than act weak. You'll see, acting invincible makes anyone's life better."
"No, you're wrong, it causes trouble."
"Well sometimes trouble needs to be caused Hattie."
"Yeah well trouble never leads to good."
"And conformity does?"
She looked unsure before agreeing, "Yeah it does. Order stops crime."
"Listen Hattie, listen and remember, there are many more crimes done now and in the past by conformity than by rebelism. If anything, rebelism is what really stops crime."
"You're so full of it, Alicia," she rolled her eyes and walked ahead of me.
In the factory there is no escape from the trecherous hours of mindless work. The machines were loud with bangs and clanks that went on and on. There was no talking allowed and if anyone was caught they'd either be deducted of the day's pay if lucky or fired on the spot. But everytime the manager otherwise known as the warden walked away out of sight I started conversation with Lucy who worked besides me.
"Where's Charlie?" I pratically yelled.
Charlie was an twelve-year-old boy from an Irish family of twelve who worked at our station.
"Didn't you hear? They moved upstairs to welding."
My jaw dropped, "They can't do that, he's only a boy, that job would get him killed!"
"Well there's nothing anyone could do, the boy needs the job and isn't in the position to quit. That's life Alicia."
Then in the distance I see a man in a suit. Not a reional manager or inspetor, no this man had a different air to him. His suit was debonar, dark gray and so finey pressed, even by my distane I could see that. He looked to be in his late twenties, tall with dark brown hair like mine almost. I coudn't describe it, but something about him gave me chills.
"Lucy, who's that man over there?" I asked in a daze.
She looked my way and gasped, "I can't believe my eyes, it's him."
"Thee Henry Cromwell, that's who. Wonder why he's here?"
"You mean the man who owns the steel factories?"
Then suddenly I sensed a presence behind me, "What did I say about talking missy?"
I sighed in partial relief to find it was just the manager, "That it isn't allowed."
"I'm going to have to dock your pay."
"Dock it then," I challenged.
"I'll be docking two days for the additude," the short and stubby manager with a shinging bald head and three chins said.
"Excuse me?" I couldn't believe this. "I only broke the rule once!"
I was starting to make a scene and caused this Henry to come my way. He was in clear view now. He sure looked to be the man my sister dreamed about, tall, lean, strong jaw, high cheekbones, piercing eyes of amber, wavy hair. As hansome as he was, I didn't have one ounce of attraction for him. Something about him was repulsive to me.
"What seems to be the problem here?" He said looking at me head to toe.
"The problem is your manager being unfair," I spoke before the manager could answer.
He narrowed his eyes to me, "Did I ask you?"
"You were looking at me when you asked."
"This young miss here was talking on the job, so I fairly showed her the consequences," the manager said.
"Fairly?! I hardly call that fair!"
"Fair or not, you should keep your mouth shut and get back to work," Henry Cromwell stated and I could see that he was offended by me.
"Just like you feed off the starving, Mr. Cromwell," I had the courage to talk back.
"What did you say?"
"Those clothes you wear, the food you eat, doesn't come from your effort but from the blood and sweat of overworked and underpaid innocent children, yet you keep your mouth shut and continue to work them."
Lucy dropped a bunch of nails at what I said I said, in horror. I wasn't afriad of this Henry Cromwell. He couldn't hurt me and he had no power over me.
"How dare you speak to me in that mannor," he said calmly as everyone around stopped what they were doing and were watching.
"How dare I? How dare you, Mr. Cromwell? How dare you?" I cooly smirked.
"You shouldn't speak to me that way?"
"And why shouldn't I? What are you going to do? Fire me?" I laughed in his face.
"And you shouldn't ever mock my words," he said, his eyes unfocused.
"Well I'm mocking them now, aren't I? And there's nothing you could do about it, because I quit!" I took off and threw my apron at him before walking away.
"You'll surely regret what you did."
"Well it's better than regretting what I didn't do, Mr. Cromwell. Now please get out of my way, I'm not your employer anymore."
After that fiasco, I immediately rushed the five blocks to William's college and waited for his class to end in the park nearby. He saw me the second he emerged out of the building, he face brightened as he ran to me.
"Alicia, what are you doing here? Shoudl you be at work?" he hugged me.
"You should have been there, I quit my job!"
"You did why?" A look of concern crossed his face.
"I had to, it was so aweful there. You remember the boy I told you about? Well they moved him up to welding!"
"I know, that's why I publicly quit, well after giving a piece of my mind of course."
"Your father's going to be so furious."
"I know, and I don't care. Quitting that job was the best thing I did. I feel so free now," I plopped down on the bench.
"But didn't you need this job?" He sat down next to me.
"Oh William, I did, but I think I'm going to have a long talk with my father and turn the tables and make him be the one working and I be the one who studies. I'm telling you William, things are going to change." I leaned on his shoulder for assurance.
Things indeed were going to change, but not in my favor. Never in a thousand years would I had predicted what was waiting for me at home.
We spent the rest of the day together strolling around the city hand in hand like any set of young lovers.
William was worried for me, "Marry me, Alicia, that way your father can't--"
I stopped him, placing my hand over his mouth, "We can't do that, you're still in school living with your parents."
He moved my hands, "It'll still work though, we'd have to live with my parent in the first couple years and then after I graduate--"
"It just won't work William, what would I do in the those first few years, have children? Children that would only tie us down and I'll become just like my sisters and I don't want that!"
"You won't get pregnant, I won't let that happen, you can stay home while I'm at school and---"
"I don't know, we'll work something out. Either way, you won't be like Sharon and Judith. You love me and I love you and no matter what you'll always come first to me."
"I'll think about it William. I better get going, I have to go back to the factory and walk Hattie home." I kissed him before leaving him. Little did I know that that would be our last kiss...
I met up with Hattie who greeted me with a look of disaproval, "Father's going to kill you."
"You mean he's going to snap my neck in two? Or marry me off to a psycho?" I quipped
"This is beyond funny! What are you going to do?! This job was important!" She whined.
"It's not the end of the world, I'll live."
"How could you be so selfish?!"
"You, little miss princess is calling me selfish and not father who does nothing all day but 'study' while everyone else works to near death?"
She didn't answer me and was silent the rest of the way. I kept on telling myself while walking, "whatever happens next, I will not regret what I did." Though that didn't stop the sick feeling in my stomach that something bad was awaiting me. I tried to think positive. If father kicks me out I'll marry William, if he doesn't then....either one led to me marrying William-my last resort. I just did not want to get married, at least not now. There's so much I want to do. But I just can't make it on my own and go to school at the same time. As much as William say marrying him will provide me a way to go to college, I know deep down that it would not. It was just unheard of of a married women going to college, let alone a girl of an immigrant father.
No matter what I was going to stay free, from now on, no one was going to rule over me, I decided right there.
But when I entered our apartment, I came face to face with the man who would...Henry Cromwell.