She didn't dare sit down, all the way in on the streetcar, for fear of creasing me. I think her feet must have hurt, too, in her neighbor's shoes, but she quickened her step when she saw the man at the door, unlocking it. He looked kind, but then so many did these days, who weren't anymore. They just hadn't had a chance to get their faces out of the set of kindness.
"Mr. O'Halloran?" she called, when she was a few steps away.
"Yes, miss, may I help you?"
"I've come, sir, about the job? Miss Hartigan's job?"
"As a checker?"
"Yes, sir. I'm Mary Malley–Miss Hartigan recommended me? I brought my references." Works of pure fiction they were, but certainly they proved she was an excellent typist and full of initiative. Miss Hartigan, however, now Mrs. Weitz, and on her way to the Far East with her new husband, had no idea the pale quiet girl who helped her mother run the boardinghouse was visiting her old place of employment today.
"Well, come in, and we'll see what we can do. You're up and about early, aren't you?"
"I'm an early riser, sir. I don't like to be late." She'd been up before five, to get the laundry and the breakfast well underway, while the boarders and her mother slept.
She waited while he locked the door again behind him. He motioned her through the main floor, to his office in the back. She didn't gawk at the display cases. "Sit, sit."
She sat primly, on the edge of her chair. She leaned forward to hand him the envelope with her references, and watched him look through them.
"These all look in order — it's odd that Miss Hartigan didn't mention you before she left, but I suppose when young girls are getting married, filling their old jobs for their old employers is not the first thing on their minds, eh?"
Miss Hartigan was no longer within hailing distance of thirty-five, but then, Mr. O'Halloran must have been nearly sixty. Mary herself was barely twenty-two, and looked younger.
"Well, with these, and Miss Hartigan's recommendation, I think we'll take you on trial, Miss Malley. You'll work eight to seven, every day, and eight to twelve on Saturdays. In a few minutes Mr. Kane in Personnel will be here, and you can get your timecard and your uniforms. We provide the uniforms, you understand, but you must have them laundered yourself."
"I understand, sir, thank you!" There was a tremor in her voice that touched the old man.
"Been out of work long?"
"Not too long, sir. But I'm happy to have found such a good position. Miss Hartigan — I suppose I should say Mrs. Weitz, now — said such nice things about this place." Miss Hartigan, had, in fact, run down the place loudly, and frequently, and with a horsey laugh that set Mary's jaw to clenching — but then again, Miss Hartigan had preferred marriage to a widower with vague shipping interests and clacking dentures to an honest day's work. That was the kind of man you met in her mother's boardinghouse.
"Well, I see Mr. Kane now — go fill out his forms and introduce yourself as the girl who is taking Miss Hartigan's place." He dug into his pockets and produced a worn billfold. He opened it and took out five dollars. "Here's an advance on your first week's salary. Buy a pair of shoes that fit — you'll be on your feet all day."
"Thank you, sir."
He may have seen that she was wearing borrowed shoes, but he couldn't have known I was borrowed, too. She made it back to the boardinghouse in time to return it and the shoes before my owner, or her mother, even knew they were missing. I wish I'd heard her tell her mother she wouldn't be running the boardinghouse any longer; that she'd have to find someone else to do the cooking and the laundry and to help evict the sobbing girls who'd lost their jobs, but I never saw her again. My owner left in the middle of the night to escape her bill, and we went back home to Sacramento.
[Click on the image to visit the eBay auction for this dress.]