"Please, sir, I really need this job. I'm a good worker and I learn fast. I can do anything the job requires." Rose patted Charlotte's back, holding her against her shoulder and rocking her as the infant fussed, upset by her mother's tension.
Rose had spent two weeks in the hospital following Charlotte's birth, waiting as her body slowly healed. The doctor had been reluctant to let her see the bill while she was there, but Rose, knowing how short her money was and knowing that it might be a long time before she could earn more, had insisted. She had watched the growing bill with alarm, but hadn't had the strength to leave the hospital and go back to her apartment. When the day had come that she had no more money, though, she had left the hospital and taken Charlotte with her. She had still felt weak and shaky, but there was no way she could afford to stay in the hospital any longer.
Now, only two days later, she was searching for a job again. She knew that she didn't look good—her face was too pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes from taking care of Charlotte at night. But she had no money left—not a penny to her name—and the rent was due. She needed a job desperately.
"Mrs. Dawson…" The man shook his head, watching her cradle the fussing infant. The baby couldn't be more than a few weeks old.
"Sir, I'm a good worker. Really I am. At my last job, I was one of the best seamstresses. I left to…to have my baby, but now I'm looking for work again…"
"Why don't you go back to your former workplace? If you were that good, surely they'd hire you back."
Rose shook her head, trying to think of a story that wouldn't reveal the reason why she had really left her job. "They…they've already replaced me."
"And your employer gave you no references?"
Rose shook her head. "No, sir."
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"You could test me and see what kind of work I can do."
"And what about your baby? You can't bring her to work with you."
"She'd be no trouble, sir, really. She's usually very quiet. I would keep her at my side. She wouldn't bother anyone."
"Mrs. Dawson, a factory is no place for a newborn. Why don't you stay home until she's a little older?"
"I…my husband is dead, sir. If I don't work, neither Charlotte nor I will eat."
"Your husband left you no money?"
"Mrs. Dawson, you cannot possibly bring your baby to work. She's too young to be of any help, and the law prohibits young children from working now in any case."
"I'll find someone to watch her while I work, then."
"For twelve to fourteen hours a day?"
"If necessary, yes."
"Why didn't you get someone to watch her today instead of bringing her along on your job search?"
"I…I didn't realize it would be necessary."
"Mrs. Dawson, you say you've worked in a factory before. Didn't you ever notice that there were no babies there?"
"I…I never really thought about it."
He sat back, shaking his head and looking at her. "Mrs. Dawson, I cannot possibly hire you now. You have a young child to care for, and you may not be reliable because of that. If she gets sick, you won't come in. And you don't want to miss watching her grow, anyway."
"But, sir, if I don't work…how will I take care of her?"
"I don't know, Mrs. Dawson. That isn't my concern."
Rose tried once more, knowing even as she did that it was useless. "I'm very reliable, sir. If Charlotte gets sick, I…I'll come in anyway and work as long and as hard as anyone. There are people who could take of her."
"No, Mrs. Dawson. I won't hire you. Perhaps someone else will, but my business cannot be disrupted by a woman who has to run home to see to her child."
"Good day, Mrs. Dawson." The man dismissed her, turning back to his work without another glance.
Rose went outside, cradling Charlotte in her arms as she shivered against the February chill. This was the fifth factory she had asked for work at today—and the first that had even granted her an interview. She looked down at the baby in her arms, realizing that the man who had interviewed her had been right—a factory was no place for a newborn baby.
She would have to find someone to watch Charlotte while she worked if she wanted to have any chance of finding a factory job. But she didn't know many people in New York, due to the fact that she had spent so much time looking for work, and many of the women in her building had to work themselves to keep their families alive. Women of the upper and middle classes were usually able to stay home with their children—in fact, working was considered inappropriate and even scandalous for women of the upper class, whether they had children or not—and even women of the working class were often able to stay home with their children, but for the poor women of the tenements, working was often necessary. The jobs their husbands held paid poorly, and their families often went hungry without the additional income a working mother brought home. A few women were able to stay home, but many more had to work.
Rose briefly considered asking the midwife to watch Charlotte, then dismissed the idea. The woman was rarely home—births were common in the tenements, and babies didn't choose convenient times to be born—and Rose didn't want Charlotte to have to accompany her when she assisted with a birth anyway. Giving birth was a normal, natural process, but Rose had been raised in the upper class, where childbearing was kept behind closed doors and most girls knew little about it, at least in theory, until they were ready to marry themselves. Rose had heard a few things from the other girls when she had been at school, but most of her knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth had come after her engagement to Cal, when her mother had felt that Rose needed to know such things and had had the family doctor explain them to her. The rest of her knowledge had come from Charlotte's hard, painful birth—and now she didn't need to know those things anymore. Not for herself, anyway.
But what could she do? She couldn't leave Charlotte at home by herself—not for the twelve to fourteen or more hours a day she would be working. The newborn needed to nurse frequently, and was incapable of caring for herself in any way. Leaving the baby alone so long was out of the question.
She would have to find work somewhere other than a factory. She had no experience at anything else, but she was well-educated, and she could even cook now. There might be other things she could do...and she might be able to bring Charlotte along to such a job. After all, hadn't she seen the children of owners of small markets in her neighborhood running about, and hadn't one of the maids when she was growing up brought her children to work with her. To be sure, the children had worked, too, but if the work wasn't too hard, it would be all right.
Hope growing in her again, Rose cradled Charlotte against her shoulder and set out, leaving the factories behind.
As February passed, Rose continued searching for a job—to no avail. She looked everywhere she could, seeking work as a waitress, a cook, a secretary, a clerk—even as a maid with some middle class families who were unlikely to be familiar with the people she had left behind. She offered to work for very low wages, to work extra hours—but no one would hire her. She had a young baby who couldn't be left at home, and few employers would allow her to bring Charlotte along. Those few who would had no work for her.
The rent was overdue, and Rose had been eating only because of the charity of her neighbors and because she had discovered that she could earn meals at restaurants by washing dishes or sweeping floors—but none of the restaurants were willing to hire her on as a regular employee, no matter how good a job she did when earning her food. Moreover, some restaurant owners had begun to order her away when she came seeking meals—far too many people were in a position like her, and they could only afford a certain amount of charity. Rose had even gone to a soup kitchen, but she couldn't go there regularly—it was too far away, and they frowned upon people who made use of their services too often.
Rose knew that Charlotte had a great deal to do with the fact that she couldn't find a job—but she couldn't resent her. She loved the child unconditionally, not just because she was a part of Jack, but for herself. Charlotte was her baby, and Rose loved her regardless of the consequences.