Deleted Scenes: Welcome to America

But fourteen days later, the calendar on the door steward’s quarters read November 7, 1895. The other women passengers hurried to work smoothing and putting on their best clothing, gathering up their toiletries and closing their trunks, tying their sacks. The water around the steamer had taken on a greenish cast as the port came closer, and the men hung over the bulwarks to get a better view as the ship docked at Pier 9 in Locust Point. One man, full of whiskey and rot, swung Safine up on his shoulders to get a view of Fort McHenry.

“Ere she fly,” he said, his wooly coat on the backs of her legs. “The American flag. Now all yer dreams be born, lass.”

Red, white, and blue, it furled lazily, a cat tail against the sky, an indifference, and perhaps cockiness, packed into its folds. The Baltimore harbor opened behind it, and then the city itself, not unlike the one from which they had departed. The gangplank lowered.

“Luggage here, drop your luggage here. Men this way, women and children this way.” A man at the bottom waved his arms and the sea of immigrants parted by sex. Safine followed Matka to the registry room. Since leaving Reszel, life had become nothing but lines, a blur of authoritative, bored men herding them here or there, this way, that. Safine’s stomach, worn from vomiting, scraped itself out from the inside. If she would eat, she would throw up, but if she did not eat, she would faint.

“Matka, I’m hungry.” Safine held her guts as Matka pulled her along in the ladies line for the doctor, a vulture grip on her shoulder.

“Shh.” Her grip tightened. “Hold your tongue and your stomach. Whatever you do, don’t throw up your breakfast. They send us back on the ship.”

A doctor looked at Safine’s tongue and eyes and ears for bumps or swelling, her hair for lice, and even though she was convinced she turned all shades of green and purple and white, he waved her past after a few seconds of inspection. At the Bureau of Immigration Makta was forced to unearth the few American dollars she had wrapped in her bosom, removing her scarf, her coat, and loosening her corset.

“Does it cost money?” Matka glared at the man at the table. “Nobody told us it costs money to enter America.”

“It doesn’t cost money.” The man did not look at her as he scanned the ship’s manifest against their papers. “But it cost money to live here. You think you just come off the boat and lady liberty is gonna feed ya? You ain’t got no money, we just send you back.”

It had never occurred to Safine that they could be sent back. Eyeing the lines of immigrants, the two hours they had already been there, she began to hope that maybe they would.

“Maria Wysecki?” The man eyed Matka, and she nodded. He looked at Safine. “Safine Wysecki? Welcome to America.”

They moved to a final pen to wait for Ojciec, a wooden terminal that leaked cold November air into his cracks. Matka had carefully recorded the date of arrival they had given her at the Bremen station and sent it to Ojcie’s address in Baltimore, the address from which they had not received a letter for six months. Safine had not asked Matka why Ojciec had stopped writing, and Matka had not answered, convinced that they only thing to do was to come. Through the windows of the holding area Safine gazed at the stark, bare branches of Fort McHenry Park pressed against the dull sky, which stared back at her indifferently as they waited. Matka motioned her to the door, and they walked the perimeter of the fence separating the shipyard from the town, looking for a man, any man, who might step forward and claim them.

The men looked past them, their hands bunched into their coat jackets, their chins in their collars. A gust blew snot out of Safine’s nose. The sun, an orange, dropped behind the trees, and Locus Point descended into unwelcoming darkness. It was hard to see where things would head, and Safine wished to be herded somewhere once more, somewhere warm, quiet, safe. But as others left the terminal with their relatives, the press of bodies that had insulated them against the chill of the wind thinned. They were in America, but they were not home.

(deleted scene from the novel The Tide King