Can't Help Falling(7)

By: Kara Isaac

“Emelia Mason?” The words came from her right. Emelia loosened her death grip on the chair and stood. Next to her was a woman with an immaculate gray bob and a weary face. Her voice sounded tentative, even though Emelia was the only one there. She could only hope that meant there were few contenders for this job.

She pressed her palms to her skirt for a second, then held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Emelia.”

The woman gave her a quick handshake but didn’t quite look Emelia in the eye. Not a promising start. “Elizabeth Bradman. Thanks for coming in.” The woman gestured toward a hallway and then led her through a door that sat ajar a short distance away.

They entered a cramped, utilitarian room. Along one wall stood a row of filing cabinets, in the middle a battered wooden desk. Facing the desk was one worn chair, stuffing poking through a couple of cracks in the brown leather cover. No one was ever going to accuse the charity of wasting donors’ money on aesthetics, that was for sure.

The one incongruous thing was the top of the desk. Precisely positioned folders and papers surrounded a green blotter, on which sat one piece of paper at a ninety-degree angle to the edge of the blotter. A fountain pen sat to the side, parallel with the edge of the paper. Perfect order. It made Emelia feel happy just looking at it. A woman after her own heart.

“Take a seat.” Elizabeth gestured to the chair positioned facing the desk, again, right in the center.

Emelia’s feet moved across the worn carpet, her breath shallow in case it happened to dislodge any of the papers.

She placed her purse on the floor and perched on the chair as the woman moved behind the desk and sat. Her posture remained as straight as a broomstick. “I’m the acting executive officer for SpringBoard. Please tell me, succinctly, why you applied for this job.”

Clearly this was not a woman who believed in small talk. Or making potential employees comfortable, for that matter. Fortunately, Emelia had prepared for this question. “I have recently moved to Oxford. As you’ll see from my résumé I’ve had a range of involvement with charities in Los Angeles. I’ve spent the last few years working as a journalist but am looking for a career change. This seemed like a role that would be a good fit for my skills.”

Ms. Bradman tapped a tapered finger on the sheet of paper in front of her. “You have an American accent, yet your application states you have the right to work in the UK. Is that correct?”

“I’m a British citizen. My mother was British.” The only thing her mom had left her that turned out to be any use. “I have my passport with me if you’d like to see it.” She reached for her purse, but Ms. Bradman waved her hand.

“Why the sudden desire for a change from journalism?”

Because I was the type who made headlines out of other people’s misery. Because somewhere in the last five years, I lost myself in pursuit of scandal. Because someone is dead because of me. Because this job is my one chance to make some kind of atonement.

The thoughts flashed through her mind, robbing her of breath for a second. She forced herself to push them back, to focus on the task at hand. Emelia framed her response carefully. “I enjoyed the work that I did with charities back home and when I read this job description it looked like a great fit for me.”

SpringBoard focused on getting books to kids at poor schools. Not unlike thousands of other charities around the world. But their point of difference was they then connected every book they provided with experts who came in and talked to the classes, made them real. Academics, historians, archaeologists, even a few of the authors themselves were listed on the honor roll on the charity’s website.

“I see.” Ms. Bradman looked her up and down. Emelia was thankful she’d worn the most conservative outfit she owned. Black skirt and jacket, blue shirt. Finally, a sigh escaped. “I’m not going to lie. We are not in good shape here. The last executive officer quit without notice a few months ago. I’m filling in temporarily as a favor. The board has given us until the end of the year to turn things around. You seem like a perfectly nice young woman but I can’t afford to make a hiring mistake. And the truth is that Americans and the English are very different. I’m not sure I can trust our one chance to someone who doesn’t even know the English way.” She started to push her chair back as if to signal the end of an interview that hadn’t ever really begun.

A streak of desperation surged through Emelia. She was in Oxford for this job. She had burned her bridges, had nothing to go back to. It could not already be over after less than ten minutes in a closet-sized office. “I knew Anita.” She just blurted out the words from between her lips, causing her chest to constrict.