"Emily, listen very carefully. We are going to wait two weeks, and then leave town. I'm going to be working a lot, so you are going to stay at Miss Darla's house for a few days. Then We can go live in our old house again." I'm not sure wether a few days is enough work to pay off the house, but it will have to be. My sister stands straight as we walk through the dirt streets, packed with beggars and merchants alike. I don't give a single one of them a second glance. No one has money to buy anything now. Emily and I are going to get some food from a run down tavern across town. It's the cheapest place around anyway.
"Alright, Jacob." She answers, putting her head down slightly. We both sigh.
"You mustn't tell anyone of our plans to leave, understood?" When ever Mother added 'Understood?' to her language, we certainly understood. Loud and clear. It would snap Emily and I harder than any of Father's belts could, and we obey whatever she had said.
"I was sorry to hear of your Mother. I hope you two have not contracted anything." Miss Darla whispers, pulling myself and Emily in a tight hug. I refuse, standing straight. I don't need sympathy, I need money. The more time I spend hugging the more time I could be getting ahead on laundry or something. The second she lets go I hold out Mother's weaved clothing basket and ask for her dirty laundry.
"All I've got, Jacob. I can't afford more." She puts a single white, satin dress in the basket. It doesn't even fill it halfway.
"Fine, fine." I whisper, not really feeling fine. By Mother's prices, all I'll get for washing this would be a bronze coin. All one of those would be good for would be half a stale biscuit. I'll take that any day against starvation, though.
"Here you are, for last weeks pay. You mother returned the clothes before I had the chance to pay." I'm handed a few silver coins, engraved with lettering I can't read, for I never went to schooling. I smile, now we are getting somewhere. I spent three bronze at the tavern for a single cup of tea and a bowl of grapes. By splitting them both, Emily and I had a fair lunch.
"Emily, you be careful, and behave. Take these." I say, pulling Emily off to the side so I can hand her a silver coin and two apples. Miss Darla doesn't usually except compensation for her kind actions, so I tell Emily to hide the silver under her pillow.
"Goodbye, I'll be back in two days!" I wave to Miss Darla and Emily, taking off down the street.
I make my rounds through the town. Twenty two houses in all. Only fifteen of them hand me at least one article of clothing to wash for money. Only five give me more than just one dress of suit. Everything together is just enough to fill the basket. I add the sums in my head. If I can get all of this done by my grave shift tomorrow, I'll have three silver coins and two bronze. Good pay for just one night. I'll spend almost all of it on food and clothes. Then, in two weeks, if I keep it up, we'll have enough to leave the town.
I open the door to our home, almost forgetting what I must do tonight. Take Mother's body out to the dead-collectors.
I empty the basket's contents into a bucket of water. Soapy, yet dirty from last tim wash. Water is starting to become scarce, so I'm forced to use the same water twice. I take the bar of yellow soap in my hands and toss it around in the bucket a bit before starting to scrub the clothes. One by one, dress by dress,suit by suit. Halfway through, I hear the words outside the door:
"Bring out your dead!" I hurry to Mother's room and cover my mouth with my shirt. Picking her up in my arms, I take her outside, and lay her in the wheelbarrow. I stand in the cold night, watching her body leave so carelessly. How can anyone live like this? How are we going to survive this?