At Her Work
Sometimes, at her work, old memories assailed her: her charming, feckless father with only love to give his family, but that, unstinting, bountiful; her sisters complaining she was lazy - till her father told them to be quiet: poor was the house, he used to say, that could not afford one lady. She thought of how once, when she wore a new yellow dress, an old vendor on the corner whistled and told her she looked pomme de terre, "You mean, like a potato?" she asked. And he said, looking rebuffed and hurt, "I meant it as a compliment." And then in one disastrous season, three men who meant the most to her: father, brother, husband were gone, as now, all else was gone, all but her father's words. Still working, she heard voices through the door: "The light's on. Someone must be here." The door opened and another said, "It's only the cleaning woman." And with her oldest memory clear, "Oh, no," she amended silently, "It's the cleaning lady."