A sudden cold descended upon Josephine and it seemed her legs turned dense and heavy, her breath caught deep within her chest. With shaking fingers she took another berry from the bush.
Like any other day. Do what needs doing.
A sound or a shadow took her away from the berries, and Josephine raised her eyes toward the house. A curtain rippled and she saw Missus Lu's pale face at the window, staring down to where Josephine stood. Like an apparition, if Josephine hadn't known better. Hair dark and unsettled as a storm cloud, her eyes just shadows in her head. Missus placed a hand on the glass. Josephine nodded up at her and started back to the house.
A breeze came up and pushed at Josephine's back as she walked the path. Run<.i>, it whispered. Run
New York City
The brief was not finished. Lina Sparrow, first-year litigation associate, took another sip of cold coffee. Her eyes flipped from her computer screen to the digital clock glowing red on the wall: 11:58 p.m. Get it to me Wednesday, Dan had said. Counting on you to work your usual magic. Never had Lina been late before, never, and yet here she sat, the last two minutes of Wednesday dangling just out of reach, her office a cave of paper and tented textbooks, the cursor blinking relentlessly on her screen. The brief: 85 pages, 124 perfect citations, the product of 92 frenetic hours billed over five ridiculous days, a document that would go to the judge, be entered into the official court record, be e-mailed to dozens of lawyers, to the client, to the opposing side. But was it good?
Lina's shoes were offshe always wrote barefootand as she stretched her toes, she wondered what precisely was her problem. Last year she had graduated at the top of her law school class, and she was now the highest-billing first-year associate at Clifton & Harp LLP, the preferred legal services provider for Fortune 100 companies and individuals of dizzying wealth. Lina had heard of other people's performance issuestime management, crises of confidence, exhaustion, depression, collapsebut never, in three successful years of law school and nine prolific months at Clifton, had she frozen like this. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and blinked fast. Her office vibrated in the cold fluorescent glare: beige walls, gray carpet, white particleboard shelving units of the kind found in college dorm rooms, office buildings, prisons. On her second day at the firm, Lina had arranged a careful selection of personal items: on her wall, the law degree and one of her father's smaller paintings; on her desk, the glass snow globe of a pre-9/11 Manhattan skyline and the photo of her parents circa 1982, both with longish hair and secret smiles. Each item represented a unique stamp on the exchangeable, impersonal nature of this space. I am here, the snow globe said. This is mine.
Lina picked up the snow globe now and shook it. Fake granular flurries settled over the city and she repeated the question again and again: Was the brief good? Was the brief good? Was it? Silently the clock shifted to 11:59. And as the deadline slipped away, Lina felt a rush like skiing, or eating sugar straight, or that icy morning a taxi had careened toward her as she'd waited on the corner of Fifty-first and Fifth and watched helpless, immobile, infused with a wondrous dread as it spun out inches from the curb. An intoxicating, brief adrenaline. 12:00. What was she waiting for? Resolution? Inspiration? The brief said exactly what it had to say: our client wants money and the law says give it to him.
Lina bent her neck hard to the left and heard her spine crack. She slipped her feet back into her high heels. Somewhere down the hall, the night cleaner's vacuum whined with the insistence of a mosquito. Of course the brief was good. Weren't her briefs always good? Wasn't this, the law, what she did? And she did it very, very well. Lina typed a signature line and beneath it: Submitted by, Daniel J. Oliphant III, Partner, Clifton & Harp LLP.
Excerpted from The House Girl by Tara Conklin. Copyright © 2013 by Tara Conklin. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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