If Only February 4, 1934

Tilde got off the subway at Christopher Street. As she walked toward the stairs, she passed a dazed looking man with a bloodied mouth. He was leaning for support on another man, who looked as shocked as the injured one.

“Don’t go up there,” the second man said.

“Why not?” she said, and paused.

But he offered nothing further, and since the pair seemed strange enough to make her uncomfortable standing on the nearly empty subway platform with them, she continued on her way.

Going up the stairs, she heard voices. They sounded so numerous she thought they must be bouncing back and forth, echoing and multiplying on the hard tiled surface of the walls. But when she reached the top, she found herself among a crowd of shouting men waving their fists. They were cheering on a group trying to overturn a Yellow Cab. The driver looked terrified.

She turned to go back down into the subway, but a group of men and women with the same idea of self preservation jostled her aside, and then she was caught in the crowd. The men were bulky in their winter coats, and smelled of tobacco and beer. Arms flailed all around her, and as the crowd moved, it carried her with it. She tried to break free, but there was always another body in the way.

A man stepped back suddenly, bumping her hard. He didn’t seem to notice she was there, just kept yelling, “Strike! Strike!” as she fell to the pavement.

Someone stepped on her leg. A knee hit her in the face. Knocked down again as she was trying to get up, she had a vision of dying here, trampled. Adrenalin gave her sudden clarity, and she thought to grab onto something solid and cling to it, pull herself up, but there was nothing, only legs, and she was about to grab one of those when and arm reached down and dragged her up by her coat collar.

“Go home, Girlie. You shouldn’t be here.”

Tilde looked up into his face. He was a big man, middle aged, with a kindly face, and she wanted to thank him but found she didn’t have breath to speak.

“I’ll get you out,” he said. Holding on to her, he used his bulk and his free elbow to push through until they stood in a side street, the backs of the mob turned toward them. They hadn’t come far, but what a difference it made.

“Are you all right?” he said.

Tilde gulped air, nodded, said, “Yes,” said, “Thank you.”

A sound of glass breaking drew her attention to shards falling from a broken window, a milk bottle flying through the air and breaking the next window as well.

“Were you trying to get to the subway?”

Tilde took another labored breath. Her chest hurt. “I came from the subway. What’s happening?”

He gave her an incredulous look. “Don’t you know the taxi drivers are on strike? Where did you come from?”

“Staten Island.”

“That explains it.”

“I thought the strike was up at Times Square.”

“It was. For two days.”

There was a clash of metal against pavement, and the mob cheered: they had pushed over the Yellow Cab. Tilde could see a man standing higher than the crowd, kicking something beneath him, and she heard glass shattering. Arms holding clubs rose and descended, echoing against the metal.

“Will they kill the driver?” she said, her own bruised body making her more sensitive to another’s pain.

He shook his head. “ Scab should have got out like he was told. Do you have some place safe to go to?”

“Yes.”

“Then go there. And stay away from Broadway between Times Square and Wall Street,” he said, melding back into the crowd.

Tilde limped away from the shouting and the violence. If they were going to kill the driver, she didn’t want to see it. The noise went on behind her as she passed neat brownstones protected by iron fences, their windows curtained with lace, refusing to bear witness to what was going on outside. She wished she were inside one of them.

She turned a corner and a frigid wind hit her face. Tilde realized her cheeks were wet, that she was crying. The roar behind her was like the sound of the ocean. She was shivering. She tried to stop, but couldn’t.

And there was Max’s gallery, its metal security gate pulled tight across the door and windows. She crossed the street, reached through the gate, and rang the bell.

While she waited, she looked behind her. All the shops were closed and shuttered or gated. The street was empty except for a sheet of newspaper skittering along the pavement. It touched a curb and billowed over it, climbing onto the sidewalk. Of all she saw, it was the nearest to a living thing. Even the pigeons were gone.

Footsteps approached inside the gallery, and she returned her attention to the door. Max’s face appeared behind the glass, his expression of wariness quickly changing to recognition and then concern. He opened the door and came toward her. “Tilde, what happened? Are you all right?”

“No. I don’t know. I think so,” she said, searching her pocket for a handkerchief.

Max was unlocking the gate. “Come in. Did you come through that mob?” He pulled her inside and relocked the gate.

She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.“Mhmm.”

“Did they hurt you?”

“Mhmm.”

Inside, the gallery was its ordinary self, but she could still hear the sea of voices. The tears and the trembling wouldn’t stop.

“Charlotte, it’s Tilde. She’s been hurt,” Max shouted, and led Tilde into the back room he used as a studio for those of his artists who didn’t have their own.

Charlotte Snow looked up from the potter’s wheel on which she was shaping a vase and immediately got up. Leaving the wheel to spin to a stop on its own and wiping her clay stained hands on her apron, she crossed the room.

“Sit down, Tilde,” she said gently pushing her into a chair. “You’re shaking. Max, get her some brandy.” She lifted Tilde’s chin with one broad, strong hand and inspected her face. “You’re going to have a black eye. “

Cliff, who had been lounging on the sofa, got up and peered over Charlotte’s shoulder. He whistled. “That’s going to be quite the shiner. Impressive.”

“Your communist buddies did it,” said Tilde.

“Hurt or not, she’s still feisty.”

Max brought over a shot glass of brandy. Charlotte gave it to Tilde, but kept hold of her hand to steady it so she could drink without spilling. It burned going down, but she felt warmer inside.

“Why are cab drivers killing a cab driver?” Tilde said.

“They’re not,” said Cliff, offended. “They wouldn’t attack a fellow worker even if he is a scab.”

“I saw them.”

“No. They’re disabling any taxis that break the strike, but they’re letting the drivers go. It’s Parmelee they want to hurt, not his drivers.”

“Did you see any police?” said Max.

“No,” said Tilde.

“What is wrong with LaGuardia? Why will he still not let the Police Commissioner act?”

“He had the Union’s word the demonstrations would be peaceful,” Charlotte said dryly.

Cliff looked stung. “You hurt me, Snow Maiden,” he said, putting his hand over his heart.

Tilde wondered why Charlotte put up with him. Cliff was an actor with some experimental group theatre, handsome in a theatrical way, which as far as Tilde could tell meant he looked better from a distance. He had curly hair and a weak chin, followed her like a puppy, and was always calling her Snow Maiden.

Snow Maiden? Charlotte , with her round cheeks and plump curves was about as wintry as a ripe peach in August. Tide thought it was a good thing the guy was an actor and not a writer.

Charlotte said, “Odets, go get the girl some ice for her eye.”

Bowing, Cliff said, “As you wish, Snow Maiden,” and went into the kitchen.

“Are you hurt anywhere else?” said Charlotte.

“Just my leg, but… I think I’m just generally bruised.”

Max said, “You’d better stay here for tonight — actually, until the strike is over and it’s safe to go home. We’ll make up a bed on the sofa for you. And feel free to call your parents as soon as you feel up to it. They’ll be worried sick.”

“They don’t have a phone. When they closed the shop, they discontinued the telephone.”

“Is there a neighbor who could get a message to them?”

Tilde thought. Mrs. Grunwald had a phone in her fabric shop. Her daughter Rachel and Tilde’s sister Clara had been good friends since grade school, but that was over Mama’s dead body. And Mrs. Grunwald knew that.

Still, she was a neighborly person and just might do it.