Source: The Masses, November, 1911;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2002.
Do you know Kathleen Kelly, who works down at the H. & B. necktie factory?
Come to think of it, I guess you don't; and this may sound like a stupid question since Kathleen's name never appears in the society columns of the Sunday Magazine Section. But Kathleen is quite worth knowing. If she only had the wherewithal to get her name in the papers as a society belle, she certainly would shine large. And then, again, had she been this type of young woman, she probably would never have been worth having her name in the papers, for she would never have done the splendid thing that showed the pure gold in her make-up.
Kathleen worked for the Triangle Shirt Waist People before the terrible holocaust that set society half fainting with horror for a day or two. She got $7 a week, and gave half of it to help take care of the family. That left her far from a millionaire. However, she managed to look nice, the ambition of every normal girl, because she had a "figure"--a natural one, by the way--and her skin was rose tinted satin; and her hair a yellow fluff that framed her face in like an aureole. A lot of the girls tried to dye their hair so that it would look "just like Kathleen's," but they only succeeded in producing a cheap imitation, and the beauty of the little Irish lass depreciated none in value because of their attempted rivalry.
Mike O'Donovan was horribly "gone" on Kathleen. All his friends knew it, and even strangers could see it with half an eye when he walked down the Avenue with her.
Nobody needed a microscope to tell that Mike was poor, nor an ethnological treatise to trace the Killarney blood in his veins. Neither did they have to see him look twice at Kathleen to tell that he was "plum dead" on her.
They were going to get married, this "swate" little girl and the big promise of a policeman. They had it all figured out, and every time Mike walked home with Kathleen--which was every evening of the world (to say every evening of the week would be positively meaningless in this case; it was "every evening of the world" or nothing)--they went over their accounts, adding, multiplying and subtracting, to see how near they were to their heavenly dream.
Their "accounts" didn't mean their bank account, or anything of that kind. It meant the difficulties that stood in the way of the performance--the lack of the bank account, the strain of the family relations upon them, the tiny income, and all the rest of it.
Once Mike had $15 put by, but something happened to one of his folks, and it melted like snow under the ambitious glow of an early spring sun. How Mike hated to see that $15 fade away! He had sweat blood to get it together, and to keep it together. But then, after all, it was only one of the small, everyday tragedies of the poor, and nobody can really be expected to think of it seriously.
The day of the Triangle fire Mike had walked as usual into the building with Kathleen, and had stolen a kiss under the kindly shadow of a great staircase, before leaving her in the rush for work. Kathleen was awfully glad of that kiss later. As time passed she came to look upon it as a sacrament. It was the last Mike ever gave her.
Nobody knew how it all happened; everyone was ready to leave the building for their homes, when the horrible truth burst in upon them. Flames and smoke crept upon them from every side. Through the distance that lay between them Mike searched Kathleen out. He grasped her clothing and started to pull her through a gateway over the huddled, panic-stricken forms of a score or more of other girls. Kathleen loosed herself and drew back. "Save those girls, Mike" she screamed. "Force the gate open, and shove 'em through; I will help."
She saw him hesitate, and her tone commanded. He worked with the girls. In little groups of threes and fours he forced them through the opening and down the stairs. In their fright they delayed his operations, threatening immediate death to all of them. Mike could easily have saved himself and Kathleen, if she only had not bothered about the others.
At last the last struggling, half fainting girl was on her way to freedom and safety. Kathleen was sent after her. But Mike! Mike was never seen again dead or alive. Kathleen was picked up unconscious, and remained so for hours.
When she was strong enough to think she learned that Mike was one of the victims of the holocaust. Her Mike.
To-day Kathleen works at the H. & B. necktie factory. But because she wants to. There is no happy dream now to keep her company as she bends at her task She is a dead girl, breathing mechanically, moving about through the power of a chemical action within. Herself has nothing to do with it. She would prefer to have her ashes mingled with Mike's in the dirt and grime of Manhattan's streets.
But, mechanically she works, and gives her people all that she earns, save enough to clothe her body and put food into her poor, dry little mouth. Her face is pale and pinched,and she is not even a ghost of the beauty she was.
But a score or more of other girls are alive and safe, and their friends and relatives are happy, even if Kathleen Kelly did sacrifice Mike O'Donovan and her everlasting happiness for them.