After five nights of dutiful work, Willie had perfected her routine. She had always performed well under pressure, and this had been a good test. Her timing was exact, and all of her duties were completed in the allotted time frame.
She hadn’t encountered the fetching gentleman again, and although a bit disappointed, she wasn’t sure that she really wanted to. What she was sure of was that after those long five days, she was absolutely exhausted.
Sunday morning she got home in time for worship and she, Papa and the two boys headed to church. Reverend Peterson could be a little long-winded at times, and she found herself drifting off while trying to pay attention to his sermon. She remembered hearing him talk about the importance of raising your children to have honor in all walks of life, but after that, she remembered nothing.
She found herself resting her head on her Papa’s shoulder as he was gently nudging her to stand while they sang the closing hymn. Any other time he would have been a bit disapproving, but he knew how hard she had been working. When she begged forgiveness, he smiled and said he was sure that the good Lord understood.
When they got home, she began preparing lunch. After they ate, Papa urged her to get some much needed and earned rest, while he looked after the boys. She was grateful and promised that it would only be for a little while. Laying down on her hay-filled mattress felt almost like a blessed event, and she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She began to dream of walking up huge stone steps that had been carved into the side of a mountain. The steps were steep and cracked, and moss was growing between each one. She couldn’t see where the steps led and it frightened her. Suddenly, she heard her mother calling her name, and woke up with a start.
She opened her eyes and saw Papa standing beside her bed, telling her that he was leaving to go to work. She sat straight up and said, “Papa. I was dreaming that mother was calling my name.”
She was surprised when she realized that she had slept all through the night. “Oh, Papa,” she said. “I am so sorry.” He looked at her, smiled and said, “it’s okay child. We all deserve a good sleep now and then, and what could be better than to drift off and dream of your mother?”
She got up, dressed and went to wake the boys. While making breakfast, she noticed a small glass of water on the kitchen table, holding three dandelions. Dandelions were Enezs’ favorite flower and after she died, Willie used to pick them and put them on the table for Papa, hoping it would make him smile. He had done the same for her.
It was time for her to return to work, and once again, she walked the three blocks to the factory. Even after a week, Mr. Digby still showed no interest in having even the slightest bit of conversation. He looked as though he thought smiles should be earned, not freely given away. Or maybe he had nothing more than a mundane relationship with life.
He handed her an envelope and walked out, locking the door behind him. Inside the envelope was four dollars and fifty cents! She had never seen that much money. Mr. Digby hadn’t told her that she had done a good job, but she hadn’t been docked any pay, so she was sure he had been satisfied with her work.
The daytime workers made two dollars a day. Her work wasn’t deemed to be anything special, so she was paid only seventy five cents a day. Even so, she was thrilled. As she clutched the envelope, she started dancing. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been that happy. Papa was going to be so proud of her.
Her dance was suddenly interrupted when she looked up and saw the fetching gentleman, once again walking down the middle of the floor. This time she was embarrassed for a different reason. What would he think? Would he tell Mr. Digby, or worse, tell the owner that she was whiling away her time, dancing? Would she be dismissed?
He turned toward her, and for a moment, she thought she might swoon. She could feel her pulse quicken and wondered if he could see her heart beating through her shirtwaist. He seemed to be moving in slow motion as their eyes locked, and she felt a chill go down her spine. It was as if he could read her most private thoughts, but he didn’t speak, nor did she.
She watched as he disappeared down the dark hallway as he had before. She was a bit unsettled, and a little dismayed that he hadn’t acknowledged her presence, but calmed herself by thinking, “silly me. Why would he speak to a poor working class girl?”
Nearing the end of her shift and readying the supplies for their place in the closet, she was confused when she noticed that the large dark stain had returned. Again, she scrubbed the stain and again, removed it with very little effort. She thought it a bit strange, but didn’t give it a second thought. Her mind was occupied with the thought of running home to show Papa the envelope full of money. When Mr. Digby unlocked the door and stepped inside, she gave him a smile, thinking that he might return the gesture, but she wasn’t offended when he didn’t.
Several weeks went by, and while Willie enjoyed the feeling of being able to help Papa, she found that she was becoming more and more puzzled by the intriguing ways of the fetching gentleman. He only appeared on Monday, which made her wonder if perhaps he was the weekly bookkeeper.
The next Monday as always, he appeared. She was startled when he looked at her and said, “you there. What is your name?” Timidly, she said, “I’m Willowdean Prescott, Sir. I’m the nighttime worker.”
“I see,” he said. “Carry on, then.”
Her heart skipped a beat and her stare followed him a few minutes longer as she watched him walk down the long dark hallway. Not only had he finally noticed her, he had asked her name! Again, she had to remind herself that she was just a poor working girl, and should read nothing into a casual glance, or a simple polite question.
As she dusted and swept, she constantly glanced toward the dark hallway. She even entertained the idea of trying to quietly walk down to catch a glimpse of him at work, but she didn’t dare intrude on a space not designated for cleaning.
As the sun rose, the dark stain once again appeared as it did every Monday, but it was no longer a surprise. She came to expect it just as she expected the fabric scraps, and the thin layer of lint that covered everything like a blanket of low-lying fog.
The next week, the fetching gentleman spoke again. “Miss Willowdean,” he said. “I must apologize for my rudeness last week when I failed to properly introduce myself. My name is Albert Middleton.” Willie could feel her face blush. Her heart was pounding as he reached for her hand, brought it to his lips and gently kissed it, never breaking eye contact.
The world seemed to be spinning as she politely curtsied and said, “no apology necessary, Sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She felt as if he had cast some kind of spell on her that put her into a momentary trance.
After that fleeting encounter, not only had he asked her name the week before, he had remembered it, and now she was certain that he wasn’t the weekly bookkeeper.
After he smiled, he, as always, walked down the long dark hallway. She continued with her work and most likely unaware, had an extra spring in her step.
To be continued________________________