“Ada” by Maggie Timothy


Mama says Ada is for steelpeople. Steelmen who melt iron in the factory in town to save up money for a townhouse. Steelwomen who clean their mobile homes and teach steelchildren math and science and how to read for when they go to the town high school. Steelbabies who grow and eat and grow and waste all the money their fathers make, and forget all the lessons their mothers teach them. Steelpeople who don’t have time to go to Church. Steelpeople who never leave Ada.

Mama says we’re not steelpeople. Dad doesn’t melt iron, he rolls finished steel, and that earns him an extra 2.50 an hour. Mama cleans our single wide, but she’s done before noon, and steelwomen always complain they slave away until midnight. Me and Otto are good children, who don’t grow much, or eat much, or forget Mama’s lessons. We go to Church. We’ll leave Ada soon.

Those last two are most important to Mama. The latter is what we pray for every night, and the former is how we ensure our prayers are heard.

There’s no churches in Ada, so every Sunday, Dad, Mama, Otto and me walk two miles to St. Paul’s Church in town.

Mama’s favorite part of Sunday is walking into Church. She says she likes the walking in best because she can feel the rush of godliness most when she first sees the pastor and the people and pink crosses hanging on the walls. I think she likes it most because St. Paul’s is next to a grocery, and when the steelpeople come to do the week’s shopping, they can see our family walking into the best church in our best clothes.

St. Paul’s really is nice. The seats have pink velvet, and there’s a great big cross hanging in the front with little pink lights, which makes it easy to see from the back row. I said to Otto once how nice that is, and asked if he thought the pastor had lit it up just for us, even though we were the only family at the back. I remember Otto frowned at me. I don’t think it had occurred to him before I said it that we were the only people sitting in the back.

He made a big deal over it, threw a real tantrum. Mama scolded him.

“How could we sit in the front with townpeople when we don’t know nobody, huh? You wanna sit next to a stranger?” she had said.

She thought she had shut up him up, but the next week he pulled us all over to meet Edith Anna Adams, a real towngirl from the high school. I could tell she was the real deal too, because she had three names with two syllables each, and I knew Mama was regretting giving me two names with one syllable each. What’s a Nell Haas to an Edith Anna Adams.

Otto introduced us to this girl and made a point to tell us how he was taking her to a dance and her father, who was a doctor, said there was room up front for Otto. Dad’s face didn’t give much away, so authority shifted to Mama, who I could see was wading through resentment and loss to grasp at ambition for her children.

“You can go, but bring Nell.”

Otto had rolled his eyes, but now I sit up front between Edith Anna Adams, and the pastor’s daughter, Hannah Prudence Jacobs. We’re first row, where the big women sit, and across the aisle is Otto and Dr. Adams, and the pastor’s son, Caleb Daniel Jacobs, who shoots me smiles during the lulls in the sermons.

The first time he had done it, I smiled tentatively back, but glanced quickly at Otto to make sure he hadn’t seen. That’s when I saw how Otto spends his time during sermons. He winks and smiles at Edith Anna Adams, and when she finally blushes and has to look away, he winks and smiles at Hannah Prudence Jacobs. He never looks more like Mama than when he’s winking and smiling at rich towngirls.

The pastor calls for us to embrace our neighbors three quarters through the service, and this is probably Otto’s favorite part of Sunday. He darts across the aisle quick as a lizard to embrace Edith Anna Adams and Hannah Prudence Jacobs both, and after his chuckles and smiles have been had he slaps a hand around my back quickly. He never notices when Caleb Daniel Jacobs wraps his arms around me too tight.

The last quarter always goes fast, and then it’s the end, and we’re all being rushed outside to dinner. This is Dad’s favorite part of Sunday, surely. Dad isn’t much of a talker or a smiler, but when we get a free dinner and leftovers to take back to Ada, he lets off a few pleasantries and grins. I can picture him deducting the cost of an extra loaf of bread or an extra carton of milk in his head, adding those cents and dollars to the townhouse townjob townlife fund.

It’s only when we’re walking two miles to Ada, which always feel more like four at that time of night, that my favorite part of Sunday comes. Dad leads us over the hill to our mobile home, biggest in Ada Mama croons as we approach it, and we all dissipate to different corners. Otto does homework on the steps, and Mama packs food away, and Dad goes to shower, but I stay outside.

I dig myself into a shallow patch of earth, and let Ada’s sunset and godlessness wash over me. Dad and Mama and Otto send up prayers from the bathroom and kitchen and steps that come soon they’ll have money for a townhouse, townclothes, dates with towngirls. Ada sends up prayers that my roots tangle with hers so I can never leave, and I whisper amens into the darkening sky.




Maggie Timothy is a lover of words and a destroyer of bookspines from New York City. She is currently in school and hopes to study Writing and Religion.


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