Wealth and Privilege Excerpts
Irritating his mother wasn’t specifically Thomas’ favorite hobby. She did, however, seem to excel at providing him with opportunities to do so. He didn’t have to try very hard. His very existence was an obvious irritant to her. It wasn’t because of who he was – Thomas knew perfectly well it was all about what he wasn’t.
He wasn’t everything his older brother Benjamin had been; quick and clever and charming and talkative. The entire Baldwin family – especially his mother, Eugenia Baldwin, aspiring family matriarch and his most verbal critic – admitted that Thomas was the much more handsome of the two. Then everyone shrugged. Pretty is as pretty does.
Thomas had to agree on that point. He gladly would have traded his bright blue eyes and much-admired dark hair for the ability to know what to say to people.
He stood at the entrance to the ballroom in his parents’ house, surrounded by giggling girls all wishing him a happy birthday with their dance cards not-so-subtly dangling from their wrists. Trying to smile, he offered his hand to accept the little pencils and sign the blasted things.
The troops had achieved their objective. The tracks at the crossing were clear. They stood in formation, at attention, their arms at their sides, guarding the tracks. Their faces were impassive, and not one of them looked down.
The dead and dying lay scattered about the rail yard. There were men, women, even children lying face down in the dirt. A young man in the uniform of the 14th National Guards, one of the Pittsburgh regiments, was crawling away from the scene, his right arm and leg both covered in blood.
From his elevated viewpoint, Thomas could see movements beyond the rail yard, as people half-dragged, half-carried dead and wounded away from the crossing. He could see the shock on people’s faces – he could also feel the anger. It was a burning, deadly anger. These Philadelphians shot down protesters in cold blood. By God, this wasn’t over yet.
Thomas and Regina both sat down on the hard metal deck of the water tower. They sat in silence, too appalled by the scene below to say anything.
“They could have shot over people’s heads, and probably had the same effect without killing anybody,” Regina said eventually.
“Could be,” Thomas answered, only half paying attention. He’d seen movement on the streets below. Yes, indeed: the protesters were returning. He nudged Regina – easy to do, since she’d been leaning against him – and pointed. She looked, and a grim, glad smile reached her lips, if not her eyes.
A soft rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, and they both groaned.
“Just what we need,” Thomas observed. “More water.”
“Well, I suppose thunder doesn’t necessarily mean more rain,” Regina answered hopefully.
It was an odd sort of thunder. It took Thomas a moment to realize why. Then it occurred to him that it was continuous, and getting louder, instead of fading away.
A strange black fog began to drift through the air. They froze, staring at each other, listening. The rumble increased like – what? It was a cross between an oncoming train, and – and – Thomas imagined this must be what an avalanche must sound like.
Then he knew what was going on. The South Fork dam had broken!
Before he could share his insight, Regina’s face changed. She stared up Clinton Street, mouth open, eyes wide with horror. She pointed, incoherent noises issuing from her throat. Thomas turned, and nearly fell off their precarious little raft.
The source of the crashing rumble was a towering wall of debris moving toward them. A misty black cloud hung in the air, occasionally obscuring the horrific sight. A writhing mass of tree roots, rooftops, planks, railroad pieces and other metal parts tumbled over and over upon itself.
The rumble had clarified into a roar of screaming and crashing as the rapidly approaching behemoth rolled toward them. They couldn’t outrun it, either on or off their little craft. Regina pointed to the nearest building. The brick corners were coined, laid unevenly enough to make a decent ladder. Thomas understood without a word. They poled their way across the watery distance, desperation giving them strength and speed.
Regina looked at him as they grabbed the corner of the building. “You go first,” she shouted over the noise.
Thomas didn’t understand why, but this was no time to stand around arguing etiquette. He stood up on the raft, found a foothold and handhold, and clambered up the side of the building. He slowed his ascent to look down at Regina.
Gritting her teeth in determination, she was making slow progress. Looking up, she caught his eye as he waited, uncertainly, for her. “Don’t wait for me! Go!” He could barely hear her over the roar.
Frustrated and helpless, he climbed up onto the roof, then lay on his stomach so that he could reach back down towards Regina. She was making better time, but he feared the wall of debris would reach the roof before she would. He scooted forward, upside down on the pitched roof, caught hold of her wrist, and managed to bodily yank her onto the roof beside him.
“Why did you have me go first?” he demanded angrily.
“No reason we should both die,” she answered.
The words were no sooner out of her mouth then Thomas was absolutely certain they were both going to die. With a grinding, crunching, screaming moan, the wave hit the building.