Friday, April 27, 2012

The City of Champions


            “So Karen,” Mr. Petersen asked. “You’re a Brockton girl, eh?”
            She sat up a little straighter feeling the strange pride of her rough-around-the-edges hometown. It could be a tough place, but it was part of who she was.
            “Yes,” she said. “Born and bred.”
            “Have you ever met Rocky Marciano?”
            “No Mr. Petersen I’m probably the only Brocktonian who won’t claim to know Mr. Marciano,” she said with a smile. “The whole city is very proud of him, of course.”
            “As you should be. Great boxer. And smart to retire while he was on top. You have to admire a man like that.”
            Karen nodded and looked over at Henry. He was smiling. Dinner was going well. Karen was even beginning to enjoy herself. She had eaten the first two courses very slowly, watching for which utensil to use.
            “Does your father work for one of those shoe factories the city is so famous for?”
            “Dad, I’m sure Karen doesn’t want to talk about what her father does for a living. Have you and Mom read the new James Michener book yet?” Henry said, trying to change the subject.
A Brockton Shoe Factory.
Karen wanted to fill the awkward silence. She could see Henry pretending to be nonchalant and his father growing colder waiting for an explanation.
            “Henry, it’s okay,” Karen said. “I’m sorry Mr. Petersen. I think Henry didn’t want me to be embarrassed. To answer your question, my father was a foreman at The Eaton Shoe Company for years. When it closed down, he got involved with the wrong people. I haven’t seen him since I was ten. My mother works very hard and we manage without him.”
            “She must be a very strong woman,” Henry’s mother remarked. She had been so quiet most of the evening, it startled Karen when she spoke.
            Karen nodded, grateful for the kindness. She knew the conversation might go in this direction, but she had been too concerned about her appearance and making sure she didn’t splash soup on herself to worry about it.
            “So, are you a student like Henry?”  Mrs. Petersen asked.
            “Not yet,” Karen said. “I’m hoping to save enough money to go to secretarial school next year.”
            “Smart move,” Mr. Petersen said with forced heartiness. “Everyone should learn a trade even if they can’t get into college.”
            “I got in,” Karen said, trying not to sound offended. “But it’s too expensive and I don’t want to leave my mother on her own.”
            “Good girl,” Mrs. Petersen said approvingly. “Too many young people are so selfish these days.”
            “I’m all she has. She is a strong woman, but everyone has their limits.”
            “They do indeed,” Mrs. Petersen whispered. Karen was sure there were tears in her eyes as she said it.

            This week’s Write On Edge prompt was to explore the meaning of the word “core” in fiction or non-fiction. It seemed like a natural place to pick up where I left off with Karen. For years I’ve been wanting to use the city of Brockton as a background—almost a character in a story. I think I’ve found the right story with Karen. You can read more about Brockton here and more about Karen here.