I could see her face; I could hear her occasionally whisper my name. But she had to convince me she was worthy, that she was interesting, and that she had purpose.
For nearly two years I did not listen and I was nearly successful in supressing her face from my visions. She revealed to me in snapshots at first. And when I finally let her in, she began to reveal to me her world, with all of the joy and pain that came with it. I could identify with her in some ways and in the ways I could not, I had sympathy for her.
To suggest that she could come to me and I could deny her forever was ludicrous. And she did have a name after all, in fact she always had. Perhaps this is what finally convinced me to give in and tell her story; Aubry MacNicholl’s story.
But there had to be more than just her story. There had to be an element of relevance. As a Haligonian, the choice was easy-tell her story in the context of the Halifax Explosion. With all of the important details decided upon, I set to work.
My knowledge of the Halifax Explosion was shaky. So I headed to my local library, surfed the internet and visited relevant sites, including The Maritime Museum of The Atlantic and the Memorial Bell Tower.
Nearly two years of research finally came to an end when I realized that I had put off writing for long enough. I was not learning anything new. In fact, I was so well versed in the explosion that I was easily able to find historical inaccuracies in many of the books I was reading/cross referencing. TO be sure, the inaccuracies were for the most part trivial and inconsequential.
Speaking of historical inaccuracies, Aubry’s story has a few. For those who know about the Halifax Explosion, I am confident the inaccuracies will shout out loud and clear, “Look at me, I didn’t happen that way.” Of course I would respond by stating that it is a work of fiction, and when I deviated from the facts, it was for a purpose. I would implore anyone who reads my book “Through Cast Iron Gates” to remember-my number on goal is to entertain, and I sure hope I’ve done that. Below is an excerpt from the book, which is nearing a release date. I will post links to purchase the book when it is released. Please-Enjoy.
Aubry MacNicholl was born to parents Grace and Francis in Halifax
in the summer of 1893. She was a beautiful baby, having inherited the
best of her mother and the best of her father. From her mother, she had
inherited her crystal blue eyes and warm and inviting smile. From her
father, she had inherited her red hair and prominent nose. It was not
long before her 13th birthday that she started to flourish.
By the time she was 17, she had become the object of affection of
many smitten and foolish men. Her long red hair, which she usually
parted to one side or the other, ended at the small of her back with
a whisper of a wave. Her smile was captivating and held a hint of
playfulness and a hint of shyness, which she used to her advantage in
She was so stunning men would take notice from across a crowded
room and be driven to try to make a connection with her. Oftentimes,
these same men would long to be in her company well after her scent
had faded. Even married men would let fantasies play out that would
bring them to their knees in their darkest hours, leaving them nothing
more than infidels. Aubry knew she was stunning; she knew she had
the ability to leave even the strongest-willed men weak and ruined.
Yet there was a part if herself she kept hidden very well, like a secret
kept between best friends, never to be revealed. She knew she was different.
Though embarrassing as she might have thought her certain
personality traits to be, and as much as she kept her heart under lock
and key, she knew that one day, in order to be loved and in order to
love as deeply as her heart desired, she would have to reveal herself.
Truth be told, sometimes her passions and desires overwhelmed and
even frightened her. For her, each day was a blessing, and she spent
much of her time day dreaming and longing to be fulfilled.
What she dreamt of most often was love that most people would
never be able to conceive of, a love so powerful and engaging; it would
be all-consuming. It would more than exist; it would flourish through
any storm life would bring. She wanted a man who was as passionate
as she was, a man who was strong, so strong that he could surrender
himself to her entirely. Many dreaming days and sleepless nights this
desire had taken hold of her and refused to let go.
Until she was 23, the fates would not allow Aubry to be loved this
way. At 23, with her future ahead of her and her teaching degree in
hand, Aubry went to work at St. Joseph’s Grade School on Kaye Street.
It was a brisk 45-minute walk from her house at 16 Inglis Street, where
she still lived with her parents.
St. Joseph’s was an all-girl Catholic school that included students
from grades 1 to 8. Aubry, being one of only three teachers not to be
a nun, had often butted heads with some of the sisters, who not only
thought Aubry did not belong, but also saw her as a temptress. Aubry
was aware of the disapproval and the scorn that followed her down dark
and empty corridors. Still, she had her pride and she enjoyed teaching.
Her first year of teaching, in 1916, was a test of her dedication. Her
7th grade class consisted of 38 girls, many showing promise and an
aptitude for literature and history. At the top of her class were three
girls, Anne, Marie and Jane, and they were always competing with each
other to see who could obtain the highest grade on the latest math
test, or who was chosen to read out loud a passage from the Bible. On
occasion, other students would share in their classroom notoriety. It
brought Aubry great joy to teach such capable and attentive students.
It seemed that the children sensed the tension between the sisters
and Aubry, and played this to their advantage. One cold autumn day
there was an incident that would call into question Aubry’s ability to
maintain control over her classroom. With her back to the class, she
looked out towards Halifax Harbour and slipped into one of her daydreams.
She imagined herself wearing the most beautiful, sinful red
dress. It exposed her bosom and ran just past her knees. Her arms were
exposed entirely from her shoulders down. Her lover and husband held
her in his arms and kissed her so deeply that she felt she would melt.
He spun her around and they began dancing. Their embrace was…
“Miss MacNicholl, Miss MacNicholl!” As suddenly as she had
found herself in the arms of her lover and husband, she was back in her
classroom, and in the garbage can next to her desk burned a small fire.
“Children, stay calm and form a line single file toward the classroom
door,” she ordered. The children obeyed. Two children at the back of
the line were giggling and pointing. “Diane and Louise, this is no time
to,” she began but just then the flames climbed the legs of her wooden
desk and assignments, books and supplies caught fire. “Children, please
move quickly to the main door and gather outside by the playground.”
“Miss MacNicholl, what’s that burning smell?” Sister Mary
inquired, running from her classroom. In seeing the flames, Sister
Mary, nearly yelling, said, “Goodness, we must get the children out of
here and notify the fire department.” Ten minutes later, all 398 children
were present and accounted for. Eight minutes after that, horses’
hooves falling heavily on the narrow road announced the arrival of the
By the time the flames were extinguished, the classroom had been
badly damaged. It had be gutted and cleaned extensively before Aubry’s
class could return. The work took a week and a half and during that
time, Aubry had to share a classroom with Sister Mary. It became apparent
to Aubry that Sister Mary regarded her with scorn and disdain, and
the students knew that Aubry might be teaching with borrowed time,
as well as with borrowed books.
Aubry was called before the headmistress, and an explanation was
demanded. Aubry did not know for sure how the fire had started or who
had started it, so she could offer little in the way of answers. Indeed she
was told she was teaching on borrowed time. If another such incident
occurred this school year, and with such consequences, Aubry would
have to look for work elsewhere. After all, someone could have been
hurt, or worse. Teachers needed to be in control in their classrooms,
and students needed to know that teachers were to be respected and
rules were to be abided by or there would be consequences.