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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 3 – Sick with Fear

Helen Greenwood pins all her hopes on getting a job as a typist in Illingworths’ head office.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather’s novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

Helen Greenwood gritted her teeth. She was scared silly underneath, but tried to look calm. It seemed all so easy back home in Keighworth to imagine this interview. Imagining was one thing. Reality was another and she was a frightened seventeen year-old, out of her depth in the head office of Illingworths.

She sat with the other applicants outside in the corridor waiting to be called in. They were older than her - and looked it, made up to the eyebrows and full of themselves. She felt like quitting, wanted to run back home to Prospect Street. But she gritted her teeth. She'd got this far - and it was her only chance to get away. She had to go through with it.

She was sweating freely and felt sick with nerves. The heat was stifling. Why, today, of all days, had it to be so hot? Summer rarely got into its stride in Airedale, but this year it had come with vengeance. A heat wave was burning everything up and in the office it was stifling. Buildings were put up to keep the cold at bay in the Pennines. They weren't designed for such heat, and it was like an oven inside.

Helen pulled her blouse from her sticky flesh and eased herself on the hard wooden chair. She glanced across at the other girls short-listed. They looked as cool as cucumbers. She felt as green.

From the start they'd ignored her. They seemed to know each other. At least, they were all from Bradford, and they each knew where all the others worked, what was going on in the city, its dance-halls, cinemas and the lads they met there. They sat in their own little clique chatting amongst themselves, giggling at times, giving any office lad who passed the glad eye.

Helen bit her lip, then brushed away the droplets of moisture running along it. Her mouth was as dry as a bone. She kept telling herself to hang in. She wanted this job dearly. More than she had wanted anything in her life.

She was desperate - desperate to leave home. Not that she didn't love her sister and brother-in-law, but she simply wanted to get away from the stranglehold of Prospect Street and Keighworth. They were soul-destroying. She was in a rut and panicking to get out. She kept reminding herself of this as she waited for the interviews to begin, sick with fear, but a voice deep inside kept saying, "You've got to hang in! You've got to hang in! This is your last chance!" Then she added, "Oh God, please help me!"

If she didn't get this job, she was sentenced to rot in Keighworth for the rest of her life. That advert for the job at Illingworths had been her passport out. When the letter came saying she'd been short-listed, she was over the moon. Her chance had come and she took it with both hands.

She thought she'd cracked it the previous year when she'd qualified at the commercial college. But before she could act, unknown to her, her brother-in-law, Joe Gibson, had fixed her up with a job at Grayson’s Garage. It was safe, he said; so that was that. She had no say in the matter. She'd had to take it. She daren't gainsay him.

And the job was a disaster from the start, but poor Joe wasn't to know. He was just trying to help. In 1930 jobs were hard to find and he knew that only too well, for he had been out of work for months.

She hated it from the very first day. She was paid a pittance and was the garage dogsbody. The office was a kind of overspill from the garage, a kennel of a place that stank of old engine oil and tyres. She had all the accounts to do on top of her typing and daily office-work. Old Grayson nagged and nagged, and the garage lads hassled her every time she had to go in there. She had no real friends for she was bookish, and that set her apart from the pack. And packs in Keighworth were very close. You were either in or you were out.

She hated the place more than anything and began to find living with Mary and Joe unbearable. So when she'd seen that advert for a junior typist at Illingworths head office in Bradford, the big city beckoned. She didn't tell them at home. Only when they called her for interview did she let on. By then, it was too late for Joe and Mary to say much. They were hurt, she knew, but they let her go. At least they hadn't tried to stop her and she was grateful for that.

She began to fantasise about the job, dream about her own place in Bradford - a small apartment where she could live her own life and build up a circle of friends like herself; friends who liked good books, good music and all that. She pinned all her hopes on it and had been ecstatic - till she had had to go for interview. Now she was sick with nerves.

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