Set in Steel

June 18, 2017
By Anonymous

The start of my journey began not with the purchase of a train ticket, but with the realization that I needed something more.  As I stood standing on the train station platform with my parents, clutching my bags and gazing out at the people boarding the train, I thought about what was to come.  The train I was about to board would take me all the way to New York, a place that seemed so far away and strange at the time.  I had applied to be an architect’s apprentice at the Baker Office of Architecture and Design, defying my parents’ wishes to stay home in Illinois and help with the family business.  For months my mind raced about this moment, and finally I was here, standing in front of my future, my ticket out of Illinois and into the big city. Deep in thought, I then got distracted by the steam from the engine of the train billowing in the wind, flicking at the corners of the station signs.
My mother, Maude, was an emotional wreck, crumbling into my father’s arms.  My father showed a lack of any emotion, although I knew that once the train pulled away, he would be just as distressed as my mother.  As I turned to say goodbye, my mother was already embracing me with muffled tears.
“We’re so happy for you Nina. We know how hard you worked to get here and that you will achieve great things in New York.  Oh Raymond, she’s so grown!”  she sputtered.
My father nodded in agreement and I hugged them both a bittersweet goodbye. 
Looking ahead at the train before me, I took a deep breath and set forward.  I grabbed my luggage which consisted of a hat box, a suitcase and a workbag.  While boarding the train I quickly scanned my surroundings.  The upper class were at the parlor cars while us lower class passengers entered at the front, boarding on the coach car.  I entered quickly, not wanting to hold up the line and headed for the chair car, passing through the vestibule which connected the two together.  The seats in the chair car were surprisingly comfortable.  They had plush lining which was easy on the bottom side and enough leg and storage space to make a girl want to pack more clothes.   I took my seat and reclined next to a friendly gentleman with three young girls on the opposite of him.
“Hello, the name’s Henry.  And yours?” He said politely.
“My name is Nina.  Pleasure to meet you.” I replied.
“Say, this chair car is a real corker, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes sirree!  These seats are very roomy.”
He then chuckled, saying “We’ll if I can fit two of my kids in one seat,” as he gestured over to the girls sitting opposite to us, “then they must be!”.
“These are my children.  The oldest one over there, she’s Margaret Anne, and these two little ones are Grace and Laura.”
“Hi girls, pleasure to meet you too.” I responded.
He leaned in close and whispered, “Laura there, she’s a big booster for not wearing dresses.  As you can see, she just prefers pants.  And that’s fine by me.  Not so much by her mother.”
I wondered where his wife must be.  I thought that she might’ve been somewhere else on the train, but then Henry explained to me how she was caught cheating with the postman.
“And so that’s why we’re on this train.  I made a rash decision to uproot myself and my kids and move to New York.”
“Why New York, of all places?” I prodded.
“My uncle lives there and it’s a great city during this time.  The place is booming!  However, I decided too quickly to write out a letter to my uncle so I guess it’ll just have to be a surprise.”
“That sounds great, I’m sure he’ll welcome you all.”
“So what are you doing here?  Why New York for you?” he inquired with genuine curiosity.
Not wanting to brag, I quickly explained, “I applied for an apprenticeship with a great architect in the city.  I’ve always dreamed to go to a big city, and as luck would have it, my application was accepted!”
“Congratulations! That’s amazing.  Do you know where you’re staying? If you don’t you’re always welcome stay with Uncle George and us.”
“Thank you for the kind offer, but my boss has worked out an arrangement for me.” I replied.  It was great to already have met someone willing to help me out just a few hours into the start of my journey.
“Oh no bother,” He said, “it’s just nice to have someone to chew the rag with.  We’re in for a long ride.”
“I’m sure we’ll talk soon, I’ve got to go check out the dining car.” I said while standing up from my seat with a small stretch.
Making my way from the chair car to the dining car was easier than I expected.  No shooting glares came my way, just a few pleasant smiles and glances from the other passengers.  We all knew our class and were comfortable with it. 
The dining car was a luxury.  What was special about this train line is that we didn’t have to make any stops at the dreaded station restaurants which housed slow waitresses and cold, tasteless food.  All of the meals we ate on the train were prepared on the train in the back kitchen.  It made the food taste delicious and made it worth coming back every few hours, even if it meant getting up from my plush seat.
After finishing my meal, I made my way to the sleeping car, which was at the back of the train, meaning I had to pass through the parlor car with the upper-class passengers and their cold glares. 
As I entered, I found my place near the front, stepping around luggage and sleeping passengers.  It was crowded, as by this time it was nightfall, although I was able to find an open bed.  I took the shiny handle on the side of the chair and pulled down, folding out to reveal a small mat-like bed to sleep on. 
And that was how my routine went for multiple days on that train until I arrived at the station in New York. It was a comfortable routine which consisted of gazing out at the country landscape on the chair car, eating in the dining car, and sleeping comfortably on my pull-out bed in the sleeping car.

When we arrived at the gleaming station in New York, I was well rested and prepared for the day.  We exited at the front the of the train again, and while walking through I wasn’t able to locate Henry or his daughters to say goodbye.
I stepped down from the platform and took in my surroundings.  Loved ones embraced each other as they got off the train,  huge stacks of luggage surrounded the wealthy upper-class passengers and I stood in the center of all the organized chaos, looking up at the towering buildings surrounding the train station.  New York was similar to Chicago in being a large city, but I had never been so close to a skyscraper before.
I gathered my things and my composure and headed for the avenue.  From here, an older gentleman from the office picked me up, although he didn’t introduce himself,  and we sat in silence until we arrived. 
The Baker Office of Architecture and Design was a squat building, square with about six levels, and with intricate flourishes spread all around the exterior of the building.  The gentleman who picked me up told me to wait outside on one of the discolored benches for Larry to meet me.  I knew that Larry must be the boss, for he wrote that he would give me a small tour around the city and take me to my apartment to ‘ensure my safety’.  I waited for what seemed like hours, which in reality was only some odd minutes, but that didn’t falter my excitement and anxiousness.
Finally, a man in pinstriped slacks and a slim coat came out, walking directly towards me with an outstretched hand. 
“Hello, you must be Nina.  Welcome!  It’s great to finally meet the young talent in person.”  He declared with a friendly smile and a warm handshake.
“Yes, it’s great to finally meet you too sir.” I replied with a slight sense of intimidation.
“We don’t have much time, the day is passing. Let’s get started on this tour.  I’d like to take you to your apartment and on the way, we’ll pass by some interesting sights.”
“Sounds like a plan. Thank you by the way, I would be completely lost right now if you weren't assisting me.” I explained.
“You’re welcome.  Now let’s start walking or else we’ll miss the cable car!” He exclaimed while taking my shoulder abruptly and walking with a fast pace.
We walked through the most beautiful district to get to the cable car stop.  The buildings were massive, towering over us with shiny windows reflecting back the hot August sun.  People were walking around with a purpose, heading to trolley and cable car stops with their work bags in hand.  I almost felt out of place, with my old, large luggage dragging behind us and bag fumbling around in my arms, but then I remembered that I was walking alongside Lawrence Baker, one of the most well-respected and well-known architects in New York City.

We came to the stop and just in time too, the steam-operated cable car squealed to a stop in front of us and the large crowd of people.   Everyone rushed to get on, with few people exiting from the cable car and suddenly I lost sight of Larry.  Panicked, I quickly shouted out, “Larry!  Where are you?” with urgency.
My hat box and work bag which were cracked from age fell from my arms and onto the ground.  A  hand found my shoulder and swiftly turned me around while sweeping up my things. 
“Please, don’t call me Larry.  You are to call me Mr. Baker.” He breathed sharply.
“Oh, I’m sorry, thank you.” I said with my head down.
“I forgot that you aren’t used to the quick, crowded pace of city life yet.  You’ll adjust soon.  Take a seat next to me.”
I grabbed the rest of my belongings and sat next to him and the cable car took off.  We passed through even more of the city, with each block more crowded and with taller buildings than the last.  The ride was comfortable, but slightly longer than I expected. 
Finally, the cable car pulled into the stop in a very crowded area and what hit me first was the stench.  It was like the pig yard at home, emanating from all over yet seemingly coming from nowhere.
After descending the cable car’s steps, along with a cluster of other passengers, it quickly became clear that this neighborhood wasn’t like the last we were in. Mr. Baker guided me away from the bustling crowd and towards the cracked sidewalk.  As we walked, he started to talk about the neighborhoods, saying,
  “The neighborhood we’re passing through now is the Lower East Side.  As you can see, it’s a place that you don’t want to stay a while in.”
With a brief nod, not giving way to my side on the new surroundings, I took a moment to look around as he continued to jabber on about the nobility of his neighborhood compared to mine.
Gazing ahead, I counted twelve large, seven-story buildings stacked squarely side-by-side on either end of the road.  The faded red brick created a brash contrast against the plain, flat dirt lining the sides and front of the buildings.  Webs of clotheslines  weaved between rails and buildings with scraps of clothing strewn across, creating a sea of dull cotton.  Frail metal balconies supported multiple children and American flags.  From inside the open windows, people sat staring, gazing down and making direct eye contact comfortably.   Up and down the front of every building people were gathered around the steps. They stood with their heads low, hands fanning themselves as they laughed and chattered.  Several women with small children on their hips strolled down the middle of the road, fanning their struggling young ones. 
It seemed as if time was frozen.  We walked for twenty more minutes through more neighborhoods, each looking the same as the last.  Finally,  I had to break the silence,
   “This is all so… different.  I’ve never seen so many people in one place before. “
  “Well, welcome to your new residency for as long as you’ll be here in the city.  They’re called tenements.  The place I’ve found for you is on the nicer side, it’s calmer, but what you get in environment you lack in space.  We’re just arriving now.”
I wanted to ask him where he lived.  I’m sure he must’ve lived in a tenement at one point, but I feared that my questions would be too personal and invasive.  At this moment I realized that city life wasn’t as glamorous as I dreamt it would be.  With all of the skyscrapers and convenient transportation aside, it was just as dirty and broken down as home.

he new neighborhood we arrived in did seem better than the last, although they looked almost exactly the same.  The main difference was the people.  From just arriving a minute ago, I was already hit in the face with the fast chatter from multiple dialects. 
Here, the dirt surrounding the tenements was replaced by patches of dry, brown grass.  Gathered around the grass are dozens of barefoot people and children, speaking their native language while going about their tasks.
We approached the front steps of another identical, tall red brick building with a herd of people sitting outside.  Through the front door was a narrow corridor with a large set of stairs. There, an elderly woman sat on an old, plush chair in the corner with a segment of velvety fabric and some large needles in her lap. 
She didn’t seem to notice us as we stood waiting in front of her, and I hesitated to say anything because of the odd silence in the room.  Suddenly, someone came sauntering down the stairs while yelling,
“Mrs. Thistle! Helen, do wake up now Mrs, we’ve got guests.”  with a slight chuckle.
The woman in the chair sat up straight hurriedly, and looked around until she saw Mr. Baker and I standing stiffly in front of her with the man who ran down the stairs, who was leaning against the stair post.
“Jaysus! Cop on Frank, I’m absolutely bushed!”  She yelped with a thick Irish accent.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Thistle, but we’ve got some company here!” He replied as he gestured over to us.
She finally turned to look up at Mr. Baker and I, and her demeanor switched completely as she smiled warmly.  She got up creakily while setting her sewing supplies down, and suddenly embraced me with a big hug.  She gave a quick handshake to Mr. Baker while saying,
“Thank you for bringing dear Nina.  I hope you two have made good company and have been safe in your trek here.  It’s always nice to see you Mr. Baker.”
“Same with you, Helen.” He said.  Then, he turned to me and added,
“I’ll see you on Monday in the office Nina.  Please come dressed appropriately in your business wear.  Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I replied.  The comment about my attire made me look down at what I was currently wearing, a slim bell skirt that my mother gave to me right before I left.  It was old and well-worn, but it had been used by my mother when she was working too, but decided that I wouldn’t let Mr. Baker change who I was.
“Nina? Hello?”  said the man which snapped me out of my thoughts.
“Oh yes, sorry.  Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
The man laughed and said, “I haven’t even introduced myself yet.  My name is Frances Dunn, but most just call me Frank.  What I was saying was that Larry has already left, and Mrs. Thistle can show you your room.  I live just above you two if you need anything.”
“Well thank you Frank.  I’ll be seeing you later then.” I said with a smile.
Mrs. Thistle made a hand gesture for me to come follow her through the corridor.  I followed, and we walked a short distance to one of the doors at the end of the hall.  With each footstep, the wood floor creaked and relaxed.  Mrs. Thistle fumbled around with her keys for what seemed like ten minutes, and then was finally able to pull out a small dull key which she then twisted into the rusted doorknob.
“Well, it’s not the biggest place, but it sure does seem more comfortable than those tenements on the Lower East Side.  And plus, we get deployed more summer doctors than any block.”  she mumbled.
As soon as we entered, I was hit with that same musty smell.  The apartment consisted of two rooms, and felt very cramped.  One larger “great room” and a second, much smaller “dining room”.  In one corner of the great room was a mess of what seemed to be dress making supplies.  Mannequins, needles, fabric, and jars of thread, buttons, and scraps were stacked on top of each other without any sense of order and the floor and walls were lined with unorganized jars, taking up a large chunk of space.  In the other corner, sat a small cot which would soon be my bed.  The lack of windows was apparent, which must’ve added to the musty smell because almost no sunlight hit the inside of the apartment at all, and there was no ventilation.  Yet, another thing was missing from this tiny cramped apartment-  a bathroom. 
“Mrs. Thistle,” I muttered, “where do we… where do we uh-”
“Oh don’t be silly.  It won’t do much good rooting’ around for a water closet.  There’s shared toilets out the back in the courtyard, all the apartments share them and when you’re done, you mustn't forget to remove your waste and rinse in the basins.”
“Oh, alright.” I reply in shock, not used to these strange ways of living. 
“I think that I’ll be going to bed now Mrs, I’ve had quite the long trip you see.” I add.
“That’s nonsense child, I haven’t gotten to learn anything about you yet! I’d like to learn a bit more about whom i’ll be sharing my apartment with!”  She replied with a laugh.
“I see, I see. I'm sorry.”  I say while grinning with embarrassment.
“Well, there’s not much to know about me.  I’m a plain Jane.  Born and raised in Illinois, my parent’s have a family business selling butchered goods, so I guess you could say I grew up on a farm.  Although, we never had the pretty ponies to play with.”
She chuckled, then said,
“Well I’m sure you’re enjoying city life now.  I guess I should tell you a little about myself.  I was born in Dublin, and left for America some years ago now… I can’t seem to remember.  Anyways, I brought my family with me, my two sons and husband.  Unfortunately, my youngest son and husband passed during one of the hottest summers New York City.  It just gets too hot here in the tenements for the young and old, but I’ve managed to fight off the heat sickness.”
She stopped then and looked down at her hands.  I felt bad for her, and slightly awkward.  I grabbed her hand firmly and gave it a pat.
“Well, now I’m with you.  And I’d also like to get to know the others on our block.  But tomorrow.  I’ll be going to bed now Mrs. Thistle, you take care.”
“All right, goodnight Nina.”
She retreated to her “room”, which was really just the dining room.  I retreated to my cot in the corner, and it squeaked in displeasure as I laid down.  My thoughts drifted to everything that has happened today, from embarrassing myself in front of everyone at the cable car stop to walking through the blocks and blocks of tenements… A place I now call home.

The next morning I woke to the ‘thump-thump-thump’ of the stairs, and Mrs. Thistle whistling from her room.  I sat up, and knocked on the wall, because there was no door, just an archway with crackling paint.  She replied, and we walked outside to see Frank talking to a woman with a small child on her hip and another tugging at her hand. 
“Hello Frank, Mary,” said Mrs. Thistle.
“Morning.” Said Frank with the tip of his hat.
“Good morning Mrs. Thistle.  And who is accompanying you today?” asked the woman next to Frank.
“This is Nina.  And she’s not just accompanying me for the day, she’ll be living with me for as long as she wishes.  All she has to do is help pay the rent.”
I gave a shy smile to the woman, but she didn’t send one back.  Instead, she tilted her head and nodded, then struggled to keep her baby on her hip.
“I’m Mary Burnett.  Live just next door.  Pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure to meet you too,” I say.
“Nina,” said Frank, “I’d like to take you on a tour of the city today.  I know that Larry must’ve taken you on a ‘tour’ which was probably more of a walk down some of the most dangerous streets in the city, so I want to make it up to you.”
“It would be my pleasure.” I reply.
Frank walks me over to the sidewalk and we wave goodbye to Mrs. Thistle and Mary. 
“Hey,” he says, “don’t feel bad about Mary.  She’s been pretty uppity since her husband has been in the saloon all the time these days.  It’s hard for her to support those kids without him, so she stays with him.”
“Oh, I understand.  It must be hard for her.”
“Yeah, it’s tough, but we all manage and help her out.  That’s just how it works.”
We come to agreement in silence as we walk on. From there, he showed me some unique sports that only a true New Yorker would know about.  We visited the Metropolitan Art Museum and I got to see some of the most fantastic architectural pieces there.
We arrived back at the tenement after a truly satisfying day.  I got to know how to properly take a cable car, and which streets to watch out for.
The small community of people in my tenement changed my perspective on these almost unhabitable places.  The friends that I made there made me feel better about my situation, knowing that I’m not alone.

I creased my new dress between my fingers and flattened it out again, for the fifth time.  I stood in the lobby of the Baker office,  fully of nervousness and excitement for my first day of work.  Just as I was taking a closer look at a framed photograph of a beautiful building, the large glass doors swung open and the same man who picked me up on the first day walked in.  I began to say something, but he cut me off with a surprising smile and guided me into the office. 
The inside of the building was not as detailed and intricate as the outside.  No lavish flourishes decorated the walls, only framed maps of the city hung from the dry, bare grey wall.   Unorganized papers flew out of every bookshelf, and stacks of architecture books lined the walls.  My eyes flew over everything, soaking up the environment.
“Let me finally introduce myself.  I’m John Wheeler.  Your go-to guy for how everything works in this biz.  I can tell you how Larry runs the workplace, what to do, and what not to do.  Now let’s go up!”
“Up?” I ask. 
“On the elevator of course.  How else would we get to the sixth floor?  That’s where you’ll be working, with me and a few other colleagues.”
“Of course..” I replied with hesitation.  I didn’t know that the office even had elevators, but looking down at my new heels, I was relieved.
When we reached the sixth floor, the atmosphere was the same as the first.  The same cold, grey walls with huge maps of the city all over, scattered papers everywhere and the click-clack of heels on tile made the office space feel almost empty.
Mr. Baker greeted us and brought me into his office.  He told me a little more about John, and how much of a ‘lunkhead’ he was, but he emphasized on how he brought talent to the company, just like myself.  He then showed me my desk, which was situated near the back near the elevators. Every time someone came up or down, I would be the first to know with an annoying ‘ding’.  My desk also was unusually isolated from the rest of the groups’.  Johns was not too far away to ask him some questions, but that required a long walk in-between cramped desks, stepping over books and boxes.
Something I hesitated to ask John or Mr. Baker about was the lack of women in the office.  It bothered me that, including myself, there were only two total women in the workplace.  Not only were there very few women, but the climate of the office was dim.  Everyone worked silently, with their heads bent over their books while closely reading or examining maps and photographs.  No cheery laughs occurred, not even a sound, besides the elevator ding.  Just the buzzing from the electric lamps, the click-clack of heels, and the elevator dings filled up the silence, with an occasional turn of a book page.

It wasn’t what I imagined my first day of work to be like, or even my job to be like at all.  Just large, heavy architecture books dropped in front of me with a deadline for three papers and designs.  Even my boss, Mr. Baker wasn’t like how he was in the letters, or how I expected him to be.
I told myself to remain calm, with a positive attitude.  After all, this was the reason that I came to New York for. Over time, I adjusted to the silent chaos of the office.  John was able to help me out a few times and I didn't see Mr. baker as much.  He remained in his office for the whole day.
          One night after a hard work shift, I had just gotten done with my large design project.  I was in the restroom, glaring at myself in the mirror.  My summer freckles were long gone, something I loathed since I was just eight years old. It was the dead middle of winter, with the heat in the office barely keeping it at a habitable temperature.  I was wrapped in a warm wool shawl that Mrs. Thistle had knit me, which covered the puffy sleeves on my new bodice. 
           Before I could continue in my thoughts, I was interrupted by a timid knock on the door. 
“Yes?” I replied back to the tall slab of wood facing me.
“It’s Mr. Baker, he has requested to see you in his office.” Called out Anne, the sole other woman in the office.  She and I had become close friends,  eating together frequently during our lunch break.
“Ok  Anne, I will be out in just a minute.” I called back.
Through the thick wood door our voices were muffled, so the only response I got was a muted sound.  Disregarding whatever it was that Anne said back, I pushed through the door with a confident stride and walked through the still-cramped hallways to the cavern of Mr. Baker’s office.
The first thing I noticed in Mr. Baker’s office was the lack of any personal photos around.  The sole picture that was framed sat hanging directly above his huge leather chair, and it was of a massive building with a small figure of a man standing below it. The next thing I noticed was that in addition to no personalization to his office, there was an obvious lack of color.  The stark contrast between the white tiled floor and the dark grey walls made me squint, and in turn, made Mr. Baker tilt his head and say,
“Nina, what’s gotten into you?”
Surprised, I said nothing but quickly took a seat in the chair opposite of him. The huge windows that took up the entire western wall drowned the room in sunlight that was coming from the sunset, making me stop and stare.
“Nina.  Now is not the time to be stargazing.”  He spat.  My gaze snapped away from the window and locked onto his eyes.  I wondered why he was being so cold.
“The reason I called you in for this meeting is because I’d like to talk with you about your work so far.”
This is exactly what I assumed we would be talking about.  I had finished all projects and designs well within the deadlines and I knew that my work was developing into something far superior than most of the others in my sector.  I immediately relaxed into my chair and took a deep sigh of relief.
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been producing great designs lately.  But unfortunately,  today marks the last day before your resignation. We value your potential, and that potential will have great use at a different company.  Take your things and be out of the office by 7.”  He stated matter-of-fact.
I was shocked.   My blood was boiling yet I had nothing to say.  Instead, I got up, shook his hand and exited the room.  I felt the heat on my cheeks as I mustered the courage to make the final walk between the messy desks. 
I could hear everyone chattering and whispering amongst themselves, which was unusual.  As soon as I came out, the whispers came to a dead halt.  But what I did hear was not kind to the ears,
“I heard he’s giving her the boot right now…”
“Well I heard that she’s getting a promotion!  And she doesn’t even work that hard!”
“If I had my druthers, she would’ve been booted the second day on the job!”
I ignored the comments and packed up my things slowly from my desk into my work bag.  Then, I hastily made a retreat to the elevators and flew down to the lobby. From there, John was talking to a man whom I recognized.  It was Henry, who I met on the train.  I wondered what he was doing here, and how crazy it was that we would meet again.  But then a pit of realization fell on me and I ran outside and regained my composure with a few deep breaths, trying to remain calm.
I took the cable car home, and my main worry was telling Mrs. Thistle that I no longer had a steady income to pay the rent with.  The ride home felt like a flash, it was shorter than normal.  As I got off, I noticed that my hands were red from squeezing the handles of my work bag.  I quickly shook off the pain and tromped up the stairs, passing by Mary.  She gave a small wave and a smile, for her oldest daughter was pulling at her hand and her husband was calling her from inside.

When I entered inside the tenement, Mrs. Thistle wasn’t in her usual spot, which was in the corner with some sewing supplies, usually fast asleep.  A rush of panic and uneasiness ran over me and I sprinted to our apartment.  I swung open the cracked black door and stepped inside, searching around for any sign of Mrs. Thistle.
“Mrs. Thistle!? Where are you?”  I called out to the cramped, seemingly empty room.  No response.
“Helen!  Mrs. Thistle” I tried once again while panickedly running around the great room.
Frank must’ve heard my cries because he suddenly appeared next to me, after the rapid sounds of ‘thud-thud-thud’ came from above.
“I’ll go ring the police on the tube!” He shouted.
I nodded, and hurriedly ran to Mrs. Thistle’s room with a pit of dread in my stomach.  As soon as I entered, I saw her and fell to my knees.  She was lying on the floor, with heaps of blankets piled on top of her.  I rushed over and put my hand to her forehead.  It was slick with sweat but cold to the touch.  There was no sign of life left in her, no blue spark in her eyes or warm red blush in her cheeks.  I put my head in my hands and wept uncontrollably, until Frank ran in some five minutes later.
“She’s dead, Frank.  Gone.  The deadly winter stole her from us.” I bawled.
Frank said nothing, only wept alongside me until the police appeared, which would be hours later.

elen Thistle died in those tenements because of how poor the living conditions were.  She was like my second mother, my rock during the hard times and challenges I faced.  It would take me three weeks to finish mourning Helen.  In the meantime, I moved in with Frank, since I didn’t care for living in a house where someone passed.
To keep myself busy, I found a passion that I didn’t even know I had inside me.  I volunteered for weeks until I was finally was made a board member of the National Women’s Studies Association.  My role was to attend events, recruit more members, attend club meetings, and participate in local civic and charity organizations, so my time was always occupied.  I also helped with campaigning for better living conditions in tenements, something that would’ve saved Mrs. Thistle’s life years and years before.
Frank and I stayed close friends, but nothing more.  I tried to keep in touch with Anne and John from the office but received a cold shoulder from both, which I didn’t mind as much, since I had become close to Mary after Mrs. Thistle’s passing.  Mary and I enjoyed quite a few laughs about Lawrence Baker’s dotty ways, and she became surprisingly empathetic towards me.  Things are going much better with her husband know that he’s kicked the old habit of going to the saloon each night.  Her husband, James, even offered to help my start my own architecture business but I declined.
What felt like years after my ‘resignation’ and Mrs. Thistle’s passing, I sat outside on the burning patch of dry, dead grass outside the tenement, hugging my cozy wool shawl to my bodice.  Streetcars zipped down the block, bursting with passengers, and their boisterous voices filled the street, mixed with the German and Irish accents spewing out of every window.  The ever-reeking tenements still bordered the sidewalk, with their red brick now more chipped and faded than before.  What I did next I do not regret.  I picked myself up and walked down the black, cracked street until I lost sight of ‘home’.

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