Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chapter 1

 June 1998
Jessie Green glanced at the red digital clock on the wall … 4:30 p.m.  Another half hour and they could all go home.  With a sigh she reached for another shirt from a pile of freshly laundered linen and placed it on the press.  In the five years she had worked for Muller’s Laundry & Dry Cleaning she had pressed hundreds, maybe even thousands of garments: shirts, blouses, slacks, table cloths and bed sheets.  It was not a bad job.  She knew there were better jobs, but with no qualifications, working in a laundry was all she could do.
When Jenny Sullivan came to collect the work orders of the day for invoicing tomorrow, Jessie watched the girl with a mixture of admiration and envy.
Jenny Sullivan was Harry Muller’s assistant and always looked picture perfect.  She never had a hair out of place, a smudge in her make-up, a wrinkle or stain on her clothes, a ladder in her stockings or dirt on her shoes.  Jessie wondered how she did it, how she managed to always look so cucumber fresh. 
Looking at Jenny made Jessie wish she had finished high school, and then she too could have gone to secretarial school and looked smart in cute little outfits, with cute little shoes.  Instead she wore jeans, T-shirts and sneakers to work, because being comfortable was important when you were on your feet eight hours a day. 
She often regretted dropping out of school.  If only she had stuck it out those last three months.  But no, back then she was far too anxious to make her debut into the working world. She felt she was wasting her time in a classroom.  She could not wait to get out into the real world and start earning money.
When Jessie heard that Muller’s Laundry & Dry Cleaning was looking for help she applied for a job and was hired on the spot.  The following Monday, instead of going to school, she proudly went to work.  At the time she was certain she was making the right decision, but now she was not so sure.  If she had graduated she could have her choice of careers.  Instead she worked in this laundry, this hot, steamy laundry and was probably stuck here forever.  Sure she was earning money, but Jenny Sullivan probably made double if not triple of what she was making.
At the sound of her name Jessie looked up from her work and saw Betty McGill frantically tapping her wristwatch.  She cast another glance at the wall clock and nodded at her friend.  It was just after 5:00 p.m.
“Are you okay?” Betty asked as they walked home, noticing that her friend was not her usual talkative self.
Jessie gave a listless shrug.  “Just thinking, you know.”
“About what?”
“The past.  The future.”
Betty frowned.  “That’s heavy thinking my friend.”
“Don’t you ever think about things?”
“Like what?”
“Like what the future holds for you.”
Betty shrugged her shoulders.  “I suppose I’ll meet a nice guy, get married and have kids some day.  What else is there?”
“A career.”
“A career!” Betty burst out laughing. “Jessie, you and I work in a laundry, I would hardly call that a career.”
“Don’t you ever wish you could do something else? Something a little more challenging, a little more sophisticated.”
Betty looked at her friend and smiled.  “Sure I do.  I would like to be a doctor or a lawyer or something else that earns me tons of money, but I’m not exactly qualified.”
Jessie hesitated before making the suggestion.
“We could go back to school.”
Betty laughed again.  “Jess it takes years to qualify as a doctor or a lawyer and we didn’t even finish high school.”
Jessie waved an impatient hand.  “I don’t mean that.  I mean, we could take a course, a secretarial course.”
“You mean learn to type and stuff?”
“That is exactly what I mean.”
Betty looked doubtful.  “I don’t know Jess, I’m sure there’s more to being an assistant than just typing.  I think you have to be smart for that sort of work.”
“We’ are smart Betty.” Jessie retorted with a small edge in her voice.
Betty continued. “And there is the small problem with a decent wardrobe.  You’ve seen the kind of outfits Jenny wears to work.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have those kinds of clothes.”
Jessie had to admit that Betty had a point.  Their wardrobe was a potential problem.  Both of them wore mainly jeans and T-shirts.  Hardly appropriate office wear.
“Any plans for tonight?” Betty asked in an attempt to change the subject.
“Nothing special,” Jessie answered with a hint of boredom in her voice.  Same thing I do every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday night … ironing.”
“You still iron for your neighbours?”
Jessie nodded.  “Elizabeth and Clara are old, they can’t do their own ironing anymore and they are very grateful that I help them.  I do Elizabeth’s laundry on Mondays, Clara’s on Tuesdays and my own on Thursdays.”
Betty shook her head in wonder.  “I don’t know how you do it girl.  You iron all day long and then you go home to more ironing.  Haven’t you ever suggested to them that they could send out their stuff to a laundry?”
“No,” Jessie said vehemently, “and I’m not about to, it’s extra money for me.”

That night after she finished dinner and washed the dishes, Jessie set up her ironing board and iron and collected the ironing from the storage room.  She switched on the stereo, selected a CD, plugged in headphones and turned up the volume.  She liked nothing better than to sing along with a CD. 
Singing along with a CD was something Jessie loved to do while ironing.  She sometimes worried that the neighbours might hear her, but thought this unlikely.  She never heard a sound from them, so she figured they couldn’t hear her either.  If her voice drifted down to the street through the wide open balcony doors that was different.  People on the street below couldn’t see her.  They didn’t know where she was, didn’t know who she was.
When the last piece of clothing was ironed and folded, Jessie packed away the iron and the board, put the kettle on for a cup of coffee and decided she would curl up with a book on the couch.  She would slip between the pages and let herself be transported to a sleepy Irish village with some wide awake citizens.  She loved the little village in which the story was set, and she loved the people in it.  They seemed so real.  They were not the pretentious high society types with tons of money.  They were not professionals with glamorous careers.  They were ordinary people, with ordinary lives, who loved and cried, worked and struggled, and somehow made a success of what they were doing.  Considering herself ordinary too, Jessie liked reading success stories.  They gave her hope and courage for the future.
When the clock struck eleven she reluctantly closed her book and carried it with her to bed. She stopped to close the balcony door and switch off the lights.  In bed she would read another couple of pages and before falling asleep and dreaming of a wonderful future.

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