Nels And Mollie
By Stanley P. Anderson
Everyone in Ashawa thought that she must have been pregnant. Most thought that Nels was the father. The “goings-on” at the Swanson farm were no secret.
Nels Swanson seemed to unravel after his wife, Martha, died in 1941. Living in a community sharply divided between the churched and the unchurched, he stopped attending Sunday morning services. He and his 15-year-old son, Jack, lived on a 160-acre farm, consisting mostly of second-growth forest, about 3 miles from town. After a couple of years, the house was such a mess that he hired an 18-year-old Finnish girl named Mollie Lapala to clean it on Wednesdays. Mollie was what he called “comely.” The Scandinavians in the area looked down on the Finns, regarding them as backward and suspecting them of socialism.
After the first day on the Swanson farm, Mollie discovered that she preferred the old man to the kid. Nels was still an attractive Scandinavian, still strong and lean, she figured because of the hard work on the farm, especially in the woods, where he cut pulpwood. He had a rugged face, like her grandfather’s, and lively blue eyes that scanned her body before he looked directly into her eyes. The kid, all of 17, was so standoffish that she predicted he would be a full-fledged prig by the time he was 19. He never seemed to look at her at all, even on the sly. His eyes were cold blue. He greeted her with a slight nod in the morning and then disappeared.
“You want coffee?” Nels asked when she arrived. The coffee pot was perking on the stove, filling the little house with a nice aroma.
Mollie was relieved to hear this news. The sink was full of dirty dishes, which were soaking in brown, tepid water. The table was covered with the greasy parts of some sort of motor she did not recognize.
“This room needs curtains,” she suggested.
“It has curtains, but they’re just so dirty and wrinkled.”
“We’ll fix that.”
And so she did.
After a few weeks, Mollie became a strong temptation for Nels. She did not seem to care if the top buttons of her blouse were undone and did not mind if Nels’ eyes were riveted on her exposed cleavage.
The force of temptation increased when Jack moved to Minneapolis to study at a Baptist seminary. One day when the first three buttons of her blouse were undone, she let Nels fondle her breasts. They had what he called “relations” in the bed he used to share with Martha. He had never known anything but the missionary position before.
“I’m pregnant, you know,” Mollie announced after a Wednesday romp with Nels in bed.
She had gained weight, so Nels was not surprised, though he acted otherwise. “How can this be?”
“You know how. You had your fun. It’s yours, you know. I‘m sure of it.”
Nels doubted that he was the only one. Many men, both young and old, would mortgage the farm to have her. He had frequently seen her with young men in town, always, it seemed, a different one. He had not minded, as long as she allowed him his weekly romp. “What about the others?”
“I teased the others. I slept with you.”
“You sure of that?”
“If we got married, you’d have me to yourself. You’d have me every day.”
He considered this prospect for a while but then got down to business. “You could get this problem fixed. A doctor in Duluth…”
“I’ll never do that! It’s dangerous. It would be wrong.”
“Who knows the right and wrong of it? You’re not even 20, and I’m almost 60. It would look ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous? You’d be admired.”
“Yeah, I’d be the talk of the town. I’ll pass on that.”
He refused to marry her. She left the farm without collecting her weekly pay. She did not show up the next Wednesday. Three days later, he read about her on the front page of the local paper.
The Winding River ran through town on its way to the Rainy River to the north. Mollie chose the second bend, where the river was deepest. She was dressed in her Sunday best. She did not want to shame her family, especially her grandfather, who doted on her.
She paused a while before plunging in. As the river carried her away, pulling her under, she changed her mind. Feeling a fierce pain in her chest, she struggled against the water until the darkness came.
Nels blamed himself. He had refused to marry her, and now she and the baby were dead. “I have done this thing,” he thought.
He did not have the nerve to attend the funeral. The day after the funeral, he opened his Swedish bible, which had belonged to his father, and added, below Jack’s name on the family tree, “Mollie Lapala’s child, d. June 20, 1944.”
Jack spent July and August helping his father on the farm. One morning when Nels was shopping, Jack removed the bible from the bookshelf in his father’s bedroom. He wanted to try his hand at Swedish. When Nels got home, he found Jack sitting on the bed with the bible open to the family tree.
“How could you?” Jack asked.
“How could I? How could you? Why are you snooping in my room?”
“How could you be such an old fool as to get that Finlander tart pregnant and then deface the family bible with her name?”
Stanley P. Anderson has been writing poetry and fiction for about 35 years and has published poetry in various literary journals, including Whole Notes, Descant, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Midwest Poetry Review, and the now defunct Kansas Quarterly. He has worked as an editor for the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, since 1974. Stanley has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland. He is married and has three sons.
Photo "Winona Minnesota 5" courtesy of Michael Swanson, St. Paul, MN.
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