American the Beautiful
Sanford Tweedie

After disembarking the ship, they were directed up a long flight of open stairs. Heinrich had hoped to see New York, but landing in Philadelphia meant his cousin could meet him after he cleared customs. A job on Jewlers’ Row awaited. There he would perfect his skill making wedding rings for the betrothed.

Dragging his luggage on either side, Heinrich was breathing heavily when he reached the top. A man pointed at Heinrich. A woman came over and took him by the arm.

"What is your name?" she asked, leading him toward the doctor.

Heinrich did not reply.

"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" she offered.

"Ja," he answered.

"Wie heissen Sie?"

Heinrich, who had decided to change his name as soon as he got to America, replied "Henry."

"Welcome, stranger," she said.

Henry did not understand. “Willkommen streng?” Why was she welcoming him severly to America? He thought of his future life with this woman: honeyed words whispered to one another as he slipped on her finger the ring he made during his lunch hour at work.

Speaking slowly and clearly in his native tongue, for he could tell her German was not good, Henry asked, "Why am I not allowed to be with the others from my boat?"

Her knowledge of German exhausted, the woman did not respond. Henry turned and she smiled at him. He thought he would not see another American so beautiful.

The doctor conducted a quick examination then used a piece of chalk to place an H on the lapel of Henry’s shirt. Henry smiled. He thought the H stood for "Henry." It stood for "heart."

Few were aboard ship as it steamed back towards Hamburg. No longer able to discern land off the stern, a man splashed unnoticed into the chilly Atlantic, a few concentric rings that quickly disappeared while he thought of his American love and her harsh welcome for a man named Heinrich.

First published: February, 2008
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