The Hired Girl
Author:Laura Amy Schlitz

I find I’m in two minds about this. I remember how when I was a little thing, the services seemed so long. My legs hurt from sitting still, and I wasn’t allowed to swing my feet. If I fidgeted, Ma would put her hands on mine to stop me. But St. Mary’s had stained glass in the windows, and the light glowing through the colors was so beautiful it made me feel holy inside.

After the service Ma would light a candle in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother, and I loved her, because she was as slender as a girl, with a smile that looked as if she was teasing someone she loved very dearly. I still pray to her — I carry a picture of the statue in my mind — and sometimes she answers me back, though I’m never sure if the voice is hers or Ma’s, or if the whole thing is my imagination.

It was warm this morning. I tried not to walk too fast, because I didn’t want to look red faced and hot when I saw Miss Chandler. My Sunday dress this year is heavy cotton. I declare, that dress is a sore spot with me. Father always asks the storekeeper what’s cheap, and that’s what he buys. This year what was cheap was a chocolate-brown twill with little bunches of purple flowers on it. Something went wrong with the printing, and the flowers are all blotched and don’t look like flowers at all. Because the pattern was spoiled, the cloth was so cheap that Father bought the rest of the bolt and says it can be next year’s new dress, too. I was so despairing that I went upstairs to cry. One of my books, Dombey and Son, is about a girl named Florence and her awful father that she loves even though he never pays any attention to her. But Florence has pretty clothes and she doesn’t have to work as hard as I do, so I guess it’s easier for her to love her father.

Father says I grow so fast there’s no use wasting money on my clothes. He calls me an ox of a girl, and I wish he wouldn’t, because when I look in the mirror, that’s what I see. I wish I weren’t so tall and coarse-like. Even my hair is ox colored, reddish brown and neither curly nor straight, but each strand kinked and thick and standing away from the others. My braids are almost as thick as my wrists, and my wrists are all thick and muscled from scrubbing.

The Presbyterian church isn’t as pretty as St. Mary’s, because there is no colored glass. But it’s very clean and bright inside, and the morning was fine, and the ladies wore their best hats. I looked for Miss Chandler’s hat, which has the wing of an arctic tern on it, but I couldn’t see it. I saw two girls from school, Alice Marsh and Lucy Watkins. I sat down in the back and was glad they couldn’t see me. Alice isn’t so bad; she will speak to me quite pleasantly if Lucy and Hazel Fry aren’t with her, and she doesn’t tease. But I think Alice is a coward, because she lets Lucy and Hazel decide who her friends should be. I wouldn’t let another girl make up my mind for me like that. I can never decide whether to be grateful to Alice because she is kinder than the others, or whether I ought to despise her for being such a poltroon. So I do both.