Monica Swarth wiped the tears once more from her brown eyes. She had to stop crying if she wanted anyone to notice her! Well she was being noticed, she realized, but not in the way she sought. What could be less appealing than a crying whore? Before the thought completed its journey through her mind, she knew the answer–one like her. One who lied to everyone she knew, cheated on her husband, and didn’t have the spine to face up to the truth and seek reckoning when her own daughter discovered her filthy secret.
She was truly at the lowest place she could imagine.
It was no wonder she hadn’t had a single encounter in almost a week. Who wanted a mess like her for even a few short minutes, let alone on a regular basis? And a regular basis was the only way she’d ever get to the financial position she sought.
Any half-wit could testify to her natural attractiveness. It came from her mother, just as Monica had passed it on to her own daughter, Nina. Some women used their beauty to make a place for themselves. Monica often found her features to be nothing more than a nuisance. When she’d started this line of work, Monica had hoped she would find one wealthy man to visit once or twice a week, and that would be the worst things got. Three months in, she was not so blessed and had no promising prospects.
In Monica’s life, she had reaped only pain and disappointment from the potential wiles of her beauty. Now, at the darkest point she had yet known, her cursed beauty was still letting her down. What was she thinking?
Fed up with herself for the final time, Monica Swarth lifted her cloak from the street bench beside her and walked off into the darkness. She was going home. This time, she really was done.
They did not live in the poorest part of the city. In fact, their modest home was quite attractive on its quaint lot along a shaded, quiet street. It was trimmed with black shutters and crisp white fences. Every time Monica paused long enough to take in its character, she returned to the almost-distant memory of her husband.
Captain Oliver Swarth was a rough man in appearance. What sea captain wasn’t? He was home only three or four weeks out of each year, and whatever money he saw fit to bring with him was the entire allotment with which Monica had to budget for the next year. It had been ten months since he’d been back, and his last visit was so brief she’d hardly felt like he’d been there at all. He was home for a day or two, then left for the country to work on his brother’s farm.
When he was home, he never stopped talking about his dreams of a new life. Monica knew too well that they would never happen–not with the lifestyle he lived on that boat.
During his brief visits home, Olly–as he was better known–,ensured that his property was left in the best of shape, “his girls” were well-clothed and cared for, and his debts were in proper reimbursement. They had never gone hungry, and for that Monica was thankful, but there was no missing the fact that her husband brought home less for them to live off each year.
She could never bring herself to admit it aloud, but inside she knew what he was doing with their money. She knew enough about men to know that he wasn’t traveling around the world for a year at a time and not partaking in whatever liberties he desired. He was swindling a larger portion of his earnings each year before he made it home, and yet he still held blindly to an irrational dream of adventure and the illusion that his family would be together again. His audacity made her sick. Even with her own secrets, she could not bring herself to move beyond, or even fully face, what he was surely doing with their money.
She couldn’t say she blamed him. Their continuous separation was the same excuse she’d used to justify her recent attempts to acquire extra income. She’d felt the ways they had grown apart over the six years they’d lived this way. Nina had just turned ten when Oliver came home in chagrin after he’d lost his management job at the factory. When he had found work with the trading company on one of their ships, the promise of money was strong enough for them to accept the cost of his absence.
Six years later, Monica wallowed in the knowledge that life could have been so much better if he’d found work near home. Even after he’d departed on his first eleven-month voyage, she’d harbored the fleeting hope that he would return ready to leave the sea behind. Instead, he’d returned each time more infatuated with the seas. It hadn’t taken him long to become second to the captain, then captain himself, and he’d signed on for the long run.
When home, he was known by all to be a tender and nurturing man. With his faded Irish accent and warm blue eyes hidden behind a progressively fuller brown-red beard, he’d always had a lovable personality and a low pretense. These were the reasons Monica had fallen for him in their youth, yet each year they’d grown a bit older, a bit more tired, and a little further apart.
Monica knew that this separation of their hearts was as much her fault as his. Looking back, she could see how she’d built the walls around her heart higher each time the loneliness returned. She could feel the blocks in her mind that she’d built as strong as a brick wall. Regardless, she could not build the walls strong enough to keep him from hurting her with his absence. She could not think away the many, many ways she hated her life.
As she became more and more convinced of his unfaithfulness to his family–to her–she became more calloused. Whether he was spending his money on women, drink, gambling, or even some other family he may have somewhere, Monica found herself caring less with each passing year whether or not he even returned. Her heart and mind were in endless turmoil, cycling between heartbreak and hate.
There was much about her life she knew was irreconcilable. It was all too much to process. She’d just spent the past four months as a…she couldn’t say the “p” word. She knew that most of her troubles were her own fault, but she still managed to always bring it back to Oliver’s leaving. If he hadn’t left, nothing would be as it was.
He should have known–or at least guessed after so many years–that she was not meant to be alone. His absence and their slow descent into near poverty were enough to cause her increasing instability. She couldn’t know where life would go from here, but for her own sanity she could blame no one but him. The outcome was no longer important, getting through today was all that mattered.
Monica walked inside the house, leaving her cloak by the door, and started supper for two. Then she remembered that she hadn’t eaten with Nina in almost three weeks. She had some serious catching up to do.