There came a knocking at the door. On instinct, a heavy sigh ripped through my throat, causing irritation. She hadn’t even entered my house yet and was already causing me pain.
“Come now Edward, it isn’t decent to keep a woman waiting outdoors on such a chilly afternoon.” With her words, I felt my pace slow, a smile covering my disdain and agony.
“I do apologize Eveline.” As I opened the door, her arm was raised, ready to strike once more.
“Well, of course you do. How lovely to see you dear brother.” Her eyes were searching up and down, displeasure sitting on her brow.
We stood in silence, the air suffocating me. It had been a while since I had seen Eveline and it wasn’t on accident.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me how I have been? Invite me in perhaps?” Though her words pointed towards frustration, her tone suggested a familiar playfulness.
“I suppose you will enter either way.” I motioned for her to move ahead of me into the living room, where two couches and a desk lived. I had been working on a cup of tea, as I had just returned from the office, knowing Eveline would arrive much earlier than we had previously agreed upon.
We sat and she stared, her eyes growing in further mock irritation at the second uncomfortable silence. “Well?” She sat, her back not as straight as any decent woman would have, but her face was strong, willing to combat any type of verbal warfare.
“How are you Eveline?” I crossed my legs and straightened my own back, not wanting to deal with any soreness in my back later that night. As if I had time for this, I needed a solid night of sleep. I began a countdown to her exit in my head.
“Well, I am doing just fine. And you, how is work? I suppose the question of retirement – “
“Heavens no Eveline. It hasn’t been that long since we have spoken. Surely you remember who I am.” It was a rhetorical question and she knew, for those tended to be the ones I asked most frequently.
“Right, of course. Well, then now that that’s over and done with, I need a favor.” She adjusted her positioning, getting herself prepared for whatever she was about to ask. I saw the determination in her eyes and I felt a twinge of nerves, realizing how hard it would be to get her to leave after I said no.
“What is it you would like to ask me?” I sat up straighter, hoping to intimidate her further. She didn’t budge.
“Does your business perform any sort of program for young adults?”
I felt my head retreat slightly, confused. I had assumed she would be asking for more money, “Young adults? Well, the factory hires pretty young, but the office holds more requirements to be considered of course. I am in charge of the hiring process though.”
“I am speaking of an internship. I know they are rare, and often competitive, but I assume that, as someone who values hard work and intelligence, you would possibly consider taking on someone of the younger variety for a paid internship and not simply another girl who can sew a smart blouse.” Her expression had returned to playful, light. I felt the twisted state of my brow, questions rumbling around in my head.
“You are asking me to pay a young girl to do what exactly?” I heard the astonishment in my tone, the hint of insignificance with her request.
“Yes, that is precisely what I am asking of you. She is young yes, and she is not of the wealthy sort, but as you know neither am I and I do just fine – “ I scoffed, but she only spoke louder over me, anger taking ahold of her now.
“ – She is a bright young girl, fighting to do something bigger than sewing, though she does that quite well too.”
“No, but thank you for your visit it has been…well, entertaining.” I smiled at her and went to stand. She rose quickly, but remained across from me, in front of the other couch.
“Edward, I had thought that you, being one who has worked his way to the top, would understand the importance of such an opportunity. She is smart and a fast learner, like you. Please, let her come in tomorrow and simply treat her as an assistant. She can grab you food or a drink or even just take the notes at meetings. I am asking you this as your sister.” She paused, then sighed, “Well, I guess I have forgotten you. I should have remembered that such a statement would mean nothing to you. Though she is family.”
I tilted my head to the side, deciding whether or not to take the bait. “Family you say? How so?”
“She is Lily’s daughter. As you know Lily has recently passed, though you didn’t attend the funeral.” She mumbled the second bit under her breath, but continued, “If you won’t do this as a business man, then do this as a family man. You might discover that it can be equally as rewarding.”
I stood and stewed and thought. Though I would have to pay her, I supposed I could pay her at an extremely low rate, given her desperation for money. I knew Eveline had always struggled with money, but she had never worked hard enough that was why. I had told her many times that to be wealthy and successful, one simply had to work tirelessly. If her granddaughter desired so much to work I admired that at least. However, I suppose Eveline could have been bluffing on the matter of her granddaughter’s character. Nevertheless I spoke, “I will see her tomorrow morning, 7:00AM sharp. She will walk with me to the office.”
“Honestly Edward, I can manage to drop her off at your office.” She seemed angry and I felt my eyes roll in equal resentment.
“No. If she wishes to really learn and work hard then she will accompany me to work in the way I deem appropriate. If not then I resend my offer.” I raised an eyebrow, enjoying the upper hand.
“Very well. Oh, and Edward.” She turned before fully exiting my house, “Be nice.” I scoffed again as she left. At the very least it would be an interesting day.
There was a knock at the door, light, but firm. I walked over, pulling my coat over my arms. I opened the door to a shocking sight. “Amelia?” She was horridly thin, almost sickly so. Her eyes were large, like an owl. She stood with a strong pose, it was admirable for such a small girl, yet I got the urge to laugh.
“Please, call me Mia. How are you this morning Edward?”
“Well, and you?” I moved and she stepped back, making room for me to close the door behind me. She nodded that she was well. “Shall we?” I motioned for us to begin our walk to work and she followed. Her clothes were obviously hand me downs and worn. She wore a white blouse and a simple, long skirt. Her hair was braided up into a bun at an attempt at looking put together. We remained silent, to be honest I preferred it that way.
“Edward? I wanted to say – “
“There’s no need to thank me, you haven’t gotten the internship quite yet.”
“No. I was going to say that I will work to your satisfaction. Whatever you wish of me I will do.” Her voice was light, it held no threat, but simplicity and confidence. I was surprised by her answer, but also impressed. We would see how well she would perform when we actually arrived. I nodded to her statement, and we walked once more in silence until she spoke up again.
After a pause, she spoke again, “I enjoy walking.” I nodded once more, not fully looking her way. “I think the last time I saw you was when John was born.”
“Yes I suppose so. How is he?”
“Dead.” There was a small sadness about her, but reserved as if she had done all her mourning already.
“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” She made a small sound, almost a little giggle at my comment, as if she didn’t believe me. Smart girl.
We arrived at the office and her eyes lit up, widening at an even larger scale than before. I feared they would pop out of her head. All day she followed at a respectable distance, watching me, taking notes. I found my curiosity building in a way it hadn’t in a very long time. I wanted to read her notes, actually speak with her. What did she want to accomplish in her life? She asked questions too, a lot of questions. It was enlivening to actually transfer my knowledge to another who was so excited to receive it. She asked how I had gotten to run the company, how I liked it, did I always desire to be a business man? Did she think it was possible for her to someday follow in suit? I replied that in was unlikely, and she didn’t reply, but there was a new expression about her, a determination and sort of sparkle. She seemed excited to take on the challenge. With no embarrassment or hitch in her confidence she proceeded to ask a million questions. At the end of the day I told her the next day she would go to the factory by herself and sew. Her face deflated, but I explained that success is worth doing the small things and at that, the sparkle returned.
I didn’t see her at all the next day, as the factory were the clothes were was across town. I found myself wondering how she was doing. Her grandmother said she sewed well, but you could never really believe the old woman. I returned home as I did the day before, following into routine. I washed myself and then ate as I relaxed on the couch with a book and yet my mind wandered.
The next day came, mid-week, and Amelia was waiting for me outside. She didn’t come in, as we headed right out as we had the day before. We spoke just as little as the other day, but somehow it was still nice. I didn’t usually converse so freely with people. Everyone else was predictable and boring. Amelia said the oddest things.
She had been walking funny and when I inquired about it she answered, “This boy in school said that girls weren’t strong like men or fast and that it wasn’t him speaking but simply scientific facts. So, you know what I did?” She had her hands behind her back, stretching her head to catch my expression.
“I have not even a guess.” The corner of my lip slid upward, amused.
“I raced him. I won of course. I did thoroughly ruin my ankle, but I suppose it was worth it.” She was beaming.
“How was the factory for you? Did Henry treat you well?”
“Yes very much so. However, if I am to be truthful, I would much rather die than sew another dress.” She saw my shocked expression and giggled. “It was not completely horrible. I met another woman from another country. Italy, it was. She speaks little English of course, but she is teaching herself and I helped her out a little bit too. She’s so funny, always complaining and ranting in her language. She constantly fights with Henry about the conditions. Just the other day she yelled at him for the state of the fire escape.” She seemed extremely pleased with herself and I couldn’t help but admire her drive. She reminded me of myself at that age. Young and alive, ready to take on the world.
“You shouldn’t be so forthcoming with strangers, nor so trusting. People cause pain.”
“Yes, but without people we don’t really live I feel. We need others to experience. Think about it, if you hadn’t met certain people you wouldn’t have gotten this job nor have been so successful.”
“Perhaps, but I have worked very hard.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dare suggest otherwise.” She was smiling up at me and I felt my lip twitch again, enjoying such invigorating banter.
Over the next few weeks she would show up at my door well before 7:00AM and have tea with me and some breakfast. Then, we would walk to work. Every other day she would go to the office, then the factory. She much rather enjoyed her time at the office I could tell. Another strange thing began to happen; I almost got excited on days that she would walk with me. Almost. Some days, she would even stay for dinner and we would discuss our readings. We even read some of the same books. We both enjoyed Arthur Conan Doyle and poetry. Though she revealed in secrecy that her favorite novel “so far”, as she put it as she would be reading for her whole life, was A Little Princess. I asked how she got so many books with her family’s condition.
“I would do anything short of murder to read,” was all she said. She also insisted on taking home leftovers to her grandmother.
“What is your father up to these days?”
“I would have no idea.” She went to leave, suddenly grim. I thought over and over, concluding that he must have run off. He had never been a fellow I would have interacted with.
“Oh, I am remise. Is tomorrow to be the factory or the office?”
I smiled tension clear in her small face, “Whichever you would prefer.”
She went to answer, then stopped short, rethinking, “Much to your surprise I am sure I would prefer the office, but I told Stella that I would bring her The Little Princess tomorrow.”
“The Italian lady from the factory.”
“You are going to give away your favorite novel? Amelia, I am flabbergasted.”
“It doesn’t seem fair to hide something so wonderful.” With that she left. I ran to the store immediately to grab any book I could find. Old, new, strange, popular, one I had never even heard of. I knew she would enjoy the nonfiction as well, especially ones in different countries. I would give them to her the next day, even though she was to work at the factory.
“I’m off for my lunch!” I practically ran out with all the books I had bought in a box. I sped to the factory, sweat acclimating on my brow, dripping down to my excited smile. I just kept picturing her face when she saw what I had brought her.
As I rounded the corner I could barely hold in my jitters. I bounced toward the building, but was brought to a standstill. I felt the sweat leave, ice taking its place, shooting painfully to my heart. Something I hadn’t felt in years; dread. Flames jolted out of the third floor windows, glass shattering and falling down towards the screaming people on the streets below. They licked their way toward the rest of the building, making an awful sizzling sound. I heard a scream as something fell from the window. No, not something but someone.
I stood there for a very long time watching, watching as the fire consumed the building and as more people attempted the jump, choosing the fall over the heat. I watched as firemen tamed the fire, calming it until it raged no longer. Then, I turned and walked home.
Eveline arrived late that night, “Edward open this door!” She banged and banged until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I opened it to her destroyed face. Tears mixed with sweat, matting down her hair in weird places.
She pushed her way in and continued to yell, “How could you, knowing full well that the conditions there were not up to code, allow your family to work there? Have you no brain, no morals, no – no heart!” I leaned at the counter, allowing her to continue. Her hands waved about, ready to hit anything in her path.
I interrupted her “Would you like to have dinner sometime this week?” I looked her in the eyes, and she froze, returning my stare. She simply nodded.
And so I met her that Friday. I brought the box of books.