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Marla in Iowa

Marla carried the washtub into the kitchen when her toe caught the leg of a chair. Metal clanged after water spilled, but somehow she shielded the baby. Just startled the poor thing, Marla hoped, as she ran her hands over the maternity dress and felt tiny kicks for hours. The due-date approached and her apron struggled to stretch over her. Sometimes she looked in the hallway mirror at her growing middle, and dreaded the final countdown.

If Robert wasn’t in the ground just beyond the maple tree, he would’ve carried that washtub.

He buried all their babies when they passed. When would the time come for this baby? And please, God, bring life, she thought.

She pushed the water puddles on the kitchen floor with a rag mop, and tried to push away the fear that taunted her. The kettle’s whistle almost knocked her over again as it cried into the darkening room where night arrived.

“The laundry can wait for tomorrow,” she sighed and went to put the flame out, while she thought about the cornbread wrapped in a dishcloth for supper. Fresh butter and milk from the cow, Marla silently thanked the Good Lord for this. And she bowed her head at the table and said grace for the meager meal, even though her heart cried bitterly over all the losses, all the time.


Iowa mornings filled the world with a brightness like no other. She heard it said a “Nine-Mile Sunset” graced the land, and same with sunrises. She rinsed out her cup, then wiped the coffee grounds with her apron’s edge. Drinking coffee alone was a curse. It used to be when she and Robert sat and watched the sunrise, before chores soaked up the day. And he would read aloud from the Bible with his voice, strong and steady, just like his faith.

Light seeped into the kitchen window as the memory brushed by. There it lay on the sideboard, his leather-bound Bible covered in dust, yet its gilded pages shone while bathed in morning sun. She wondered if God himself, or perhaps an angel beckoned her to open it.

No. I couldn’t. Not alone, she thought. Then she found herself holding it. Robert used to underline verses he loved. Why had she kept it closed all these months? Seven months, to be exact. The Spanish Flu had slammed into the farming community like a tornado. So many gone without a chance to take cover, and no cellar could save them from its reckless path.

Marla seated herself at the table, the Bible still with her. Romans 8:28, she remembered, and thumbed to the page. Robert’s markings scattered up and down. Her fingers traced them, then she stood up and walked to the window to let the light spill over the chapter and she read.


Writing Prompt: My local writers' group helped me craft this historical fiction piece as I combined what I knew about the Spanish Flu (almost nothing) and what I knew about my great-grandparents in Iowa 100 years ago. Having a few starting points allowed for a story idea and painted a picture. Then, asking others in my writing group helped expand it. They also shared tidbits from long ago days of growing up Iowan and stories they'd heard passed down. Apparently a huge Spanish Flu outbreak occurred near Des Moines. I'm not sure if the time period is one that hooks me, but I did enjoy pondering life as it may have been 100 years ago.



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