Linda Wood Rondeau

Snark & Sensibility

THE PINK BONNET
Friday, June 7, 2019 by LIZ TOLSMA

PLEASE WELCOME

LIZ TOLSMA

TO

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY

 

EXCERPT FROM THE PINK BONNET

Momma, Momma, watch me.”

Cecile Dowd turned from the old blackened cookstove where the chicken broth simmered and peeked into the bedroom at her brown-haired three-year-old daughter who jumped on the thin mattress. “Millie Mae, be careful. You’ll fall.”

“No, Momma.” But at the next landing, her foot missed the edge of the bed, and she tumbled off.

Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, and wails cut the peace of the early afternoon. Cecile rushed to her and cradled Millie in her arms. “That’s why you must obey Momma. Then you won’t get hurt. Do you understand?

Millie sniffled. “I be good.”

“Why don’t you play with your dolly so I can finish lunch?” Cecile kissed the top of her daughter’s head.

“Okay.” Millie picked up her secondhand, soft-bodied baby. She smoothed down the yellow dress Cecile had sewn for the doll. “My baby pretty.”

Cecile smiled. “Yes, she is. But she’s not as pretty as you are.” “Momma’s pretty.” Could a heart fill and burst with love? Millie followed Cecile into the kitchen and plopped on the floor with the toy, pretending to pour tea for her.

Good. Maybe a few uninterrupted minutes. While the stock bubbled, Cecile cut and buttered bread to eat with it. She wiped her hands on her apron. What was she feeling on it? Oatmeal. From breakfast. Great. She dashed to the bedroom to grab a clean apron. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Millie as she toddled toward the hot oven. “Millie.” She raced to the kitchen, caught the girl with her hand outstretched, and plopped the child into her too-small-for-her crib. Millie tugged on the already-peeling rose-peppered wallpaper. Maybe that would keep her occupied for a few minutes.

Before Cecile could tie her apron, Millie climbed over the crib’s rails and headed toward the kitchen. “Millie, no.” The girl stopped for just a second then continued in the direction of danger. Even with only two rooms in the apartment, keeping track of her was impossible.

She scooped up Millie and balanced the little one on her hip. Millie squirmed and hung upside down in an attempt to break free from Cecile’s hold. “Stop it this instant, Millie Mae. Do you hear me?” The child deserved a harsher punishment, but Cecile had no energy to mete it out. Her arms ached from the effort required to maintain her grip. When Millie continued to wriggle, Cecile swatted her little bottom. The child let loose with an earsplitting howl. Tears burned the back of Cecile’s throat. “Hush, hush, Momma’s sorry. But you must behave.”

Oh, how could Nathaniel have left her alone to deal with all of this? A year after his death from an infection, they were low on money. Just a few months’ worth of rent were left in the bank account. Her part-time job at the nursery school helped, but the savings continued to dwindle.

She glanced at the letter lying on the corner of the worn kitchen table. One she’d sent to her parents in Massachusetts, begging for help. Another one returned unopened.

With Nathaniel’s parents deceased, she had no one else to turn to.

She sat the girl on one of two rough chairs at the scarred table and gave her a pencil and an envelope containing a doctor’s bill she couldn’t pay. “You draw Momma a pretty picture.” “Okay.” As she got down to work, Millie stuck out her lower lip.

She resembled Nathaniel so much when she did that. “I draw me and Momma.”

“That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to see it.” Cecile relaxed her shoulders. How long this would last was anyone’s guess. From outside came shouts, a couple having a fight, an infant screaming at the top of his lungs, dogs barking. What she wouldn’t give for the peace and quiet of the New England farm where she’d grown up. But Nathaniel was a dreamer, and he’d envisioned making his fortune in Memphis by selling automobiles in the booming market and saving enough money to buy his own dealership.

The summer heat pressed on her, and she wiped the sweat that trickled across her brow and down her temple. Memphis proved not to be a land flowing with milk and honey but a wasteland. What he’d earned, they’d lost in the stock market crash just after Millie’s birth. She picked up a pair of Millie’s frilly white socks and went to return them to the bedroom. An acrid odor, something burning, reached her. She hustled to the kitchen. Millie had pulled her chair to the stove and stood stirring the broth, sloshing much of it onto the hot burner. Cecile grabbed the child. “You aren’t supposed to be by the stove.”

“I help, Momma.”

Someday, the girl would be helpful, but today wasn’t that day. “I know you want to help, but you are too little.” Cecile stood her in the tiny room’s far corner. “You stay there.”

In no time, Millie joined Cecile in front of the hot oven. “No, you don’t go near the stove. Have a drink of water.” She reached into the cupboard for a glass. As Cecile’s fingers brushed it, Millie tugged on her. The cup slipped from the cabinet and shattered on the floor. “Millicent Mae Dowd, look at what you made me do.” With each word, Cecile’s voice rose in pitch. Millie opened her mouth and released a wail to rival that of any injured cat.

The apartment door swung open. No, please, no. A visit from Mrs. Ward was the last thing Cecile needed.

“Cecile, dear, is everything okay?” Stooped, gray-haired Mrs. Ward from downstairs popped in. Not what Cecile needed, an annoyed neighbor snooping on the disaster area they called home. She pulled her lace-trimmed handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her nose.

ABOUT THE BLUE BONNET

How far will a mother go to find out what happened to her child?

Synopsis: A Desperate Mother Searches for Her Child
Step into True Colors -- a new series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime

Widowed in Memphis during 1932, Cecile Dowd is struggling to provide for her three-year-old daughter. Unwittingly trusting a neighbor puts little Millie Mae into the clutches of Georgia Tann, corrupt Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society director suspected of the disappearance of hundreds of children. With the help of a sympathetic lawyer, the search for Millie uncovers a deep level of corruption that threatens their very liv

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Pink-Bonnet-Historical-Stories-American-ebook/dp/B07L58MPR9/


ABOUT LIZ TOLSMA

Bio: Liz Tolsma is the author of several WWII novels, prairie romance novellas, and an Amish romance. The Pink Bonnet is her first romantic suspense. She is a popular speaker and an editor and resides next to a Wisconsin farm field with her husband and their youngest daughter. Her son is a U.S. Marine, and her oldest daughter is a college student. Liz enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping.

 

 

 

 

 

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