HER FIRST JOB by Jeremy Stevens

 

Sandra was polishing her nails at the kitchen table, taking great pains to see that the polish was evenly distributed. She was going for an interview in the morning. It was about the hundredth one, she thought dismally, since she had left the commercial college four months ago. She had an idea that this job would be just the thing for her.

Her mother wasn't so enthusiastic. "An assistant in that hippy boutique in the shopping centre? Sandra love, why don't you try for a nice little office job? I mean, you've got good speed in shorthand and typing.

Her father had said the same. And in the end Sandra had flounced out of the room and upstairs. Middle-class snobs - that's what they were.

"I wouldn't mind if they had something to be stuck-up about, Sandra thought as she sat looking into her dressing table mirror. They were ordinary working people. She knew she was being unkind, but she didn't care. It was hard enough tramping from one job interview to another without the added irritation of trying to cope with parents who just didn't understand.

 

 

She got t o the boutique about 10 minutes before her interview. She felt nervous and she needed the extra time to relax and concentrate on making a good impression. She hoped there weren't many applications for the job. The last interview she had gone to, there had been about fifty girls before her.

"You haven't got a chance, love, I might tell you that now". The girl in front of her had looked her up and down discouragingly. "Just out of commercial school, aren't you? They all want someone with a bit of experience, you know".

"And how am I to GET experience?" Sandra thought, angrily. She had come away from that interview, disillusioned. She hadn't even bothered to wait for her turn. It had seemed pointless.

She would lie to get a job, now. Any kind of job.

"You have experience?" the woman asked. She was dressed smartly in an expensive-looking linen suit, and Sandra noticed how attractive her face was, with not a trace of make-up, except for a light covering of pale pink lipstick on her lips. Mum should dress like that, Sandra thought to herself, instead of wearing that awful beige raincoat.

"Oh yes! " she said, briefly, in answer to the question. "I worked in a shop in town during the summer holidays two years ago". She didn't mention the fact that it had been a greengrocer. She couldn't stand the smell of vegetables since.

"Well-" The woman looked doubtful. She was used to girls telling her barefaced lies about their experience. The last one had told her she worked in a large dress store in London for three years. She had found out, too late, after losing a good customer that the girl had worked in the dispatch department and had never served a customer in her life. This girl didn't seem so bad. At least she was dressed nicely and her hair was styled not unbecomingly.

"I'll tell you what . . . I'll take you on for a trial period. Say, three months? I'll see how you shape up during that time. If you're any good, then I'll keep you on".

Sandra felt as though a weight had been lifted from her. It had been difficult at home lately. She had felt guilty every morning, waking up, with nothing to look forward to except the columns of ads in the newspaper. She had always waited until her father had gone to work, before she ventured downstairs. He hated idleness.

"When is she going to earn her keep? She heard him saying to her mother one evening, as she stood in the hallway after coming home from another frustrating job interview. Now she would show him.

"I won't disappoint you, I promise". Sandra smiled and held out her hand, and the woman, sensing the relief in the girl's voice, smiled.

"When can you start, Sandra?

"Would tomorrow morning be all right?" Sandra asked a little anxiously. The sooner she started the better. If she were at home another day in the house, she'd go mad . . .

"That will be fine. Oh, by the way, I'm Mrs. Walsh, but Id like you to call me Laura. I hate formality. I've just taken over this branch of the shop and I won't be employing anybody else until I see what potential this place has first. So we'll just have to dig in and do the best we can to make this place the 'in' place for young people! "

Sandra looked at her and, for a moment she thought she saw a worried frown cross the woman's face. It must be difficult to set up a business in these times, she thought sympathetically. She would work hard and show how competent she could be, she said to herself.

 

 

Sandra burst into the kitchen, catching her mother by the hands and waltzing her round the room, laughing and talking excitedly at the same time.

"Sandra, stop it, please! You'll make me dizzy! " Her mother laughed at her exuberance and held onto the table when eventually Sandra stopped prancing about and stopped to explain about the job.

"Her name is Mrs. Walsh Mam, but she told me to call her Laura - and she wears the most beautiful clothes, and she's so nice. And I'm starting tomorrow, nine o'clock sharp, she finished triumphantly. "Please, wake me extra early, Mam, just in case I sleep late, won't you?"

She had to make a good impression, especially on her first day. It would never do if she were late.

Her father didn't say much when she told him the news. If anything, he seemed disappointed. Now he had no reason to feel hard done by, Sandra thought.

"But I suppose he'll soon find something else to grumble about", she thought. He always thought there was no good in the young people of today. "They have too much that's what's wrong with them! In our time, now, we had to work for everything we had, and work hard at that! "

She felt sorry for him, sometimes. She often thought that maybe he might be jealous of the young people.

"Dad should give us more credit", she had said to her mother one evening after one of his lengthy speeches on the youth of today. "I mean, at least he HAD work then, not like now, when work is so hard to come by".

I know, Sandra". Her mother had been sympathetic. "But be patient with him. Remember, we lived through hard times. He wants you to be a success".

 

 

She loved working in the boutique. She got to know all the customers by name. Not that there were many of them at first, but the few people who did come in always praised her pleasant manner to Mrs. Walsh. She could never get used to calling her boss Laura; it didn't seem right, somehow.

"Such a nice, helpful girl, Laura!" she heard one of them saying, and this praise gave her a warm feeling. She worked even harder to get the shop on its feet, even helping to choose the kind of stock that would sell well. She always told customers to let their friends know where they bought their trendy outfits.

The weeks seemed to fly and, almost before she knew it, Sandra had completed her trial period in the shop. She went into work the following Monday morning, full of trepidation. She hoped she could stay on working in the shop. She found it a challenge, especially when she was helping a customer to decide what outfit was most suitable for her particular type. People were always pleased with her expertise in co-ordination and colours.

She thought maybe she would go to night classes for fashion design, even if she werent kept on in the boutique. At least she had gained something from the experience, something which might prove invaluable should she decide to continue on in the business of fashion.

"Sandra - sit down, dear. I want to talk to you". Mrs. Walsh sat behind her desk in the little office at the back of the shop. Sandra had grown quite fond of the woman who had given her her first chance to earn a living. She had told Sandra one evening, when they had stayed back to sort out a new consignment of clothes, how difficult it had been at the beginning, how her husband had died just twelve months before and had left her to run the shops. It had always been his dream to make a success of the chain of boutiques, and, she told Sandra, she had promised him that she would do everything in her power to make the dream come true.

Now, as Sandra sat there in the little office she knew that her boss HAD made a success of the business. Satisfied customers had been kind, and they had told their friends about the "marvellous" new boutique. Weekends were always busy, when young people would come in to spend some of their money on something nice to wear at the dances and parties that weekend.

"You don't need me to tell you, Sandra, that you have passed your trial period with flying colours!" Mrs. Walsh smiled encouragingly at her. Sandra sat on the edge of her seat, her young face looking worried, as she waited for the final verdict. "As a matter of fact", Mrs. Walsh went on, "you have been such a help to me these last few months, I was thinking of promoting you to buyer. The shop is doing extremely well, even better than I could have possibly imagined. I can afford to get in another shop assistant, now".

Sandra looked at her, disbelievingly. She was going to stay working in the boutique - and as a buyer!

Of course, you'II have to learn a lot more about the business. I'd like you, if you're interested, to take a course in the College for Fashion and Design. I'll pay for the course, naturally. Well, Sandra, what do you say? Are you interested?"

 

 

She walked home on a cloud that evening. Even Dad wouldn't irritate her now, Sandra thought, as she turned the key in the front door. She felt so happy, so proud that she had achieved so much in such a short time.

" I'm up here, love", her mother called from upstairs. "In the bedroom. Your Dad has had a little accident at work he's in bed".

Sandra ran up the stairs and into the bedroom. Dad was lying in bed with his left arm bandaged. He struggled to sit up when he saw her. He hated admitting to anybody that he was unwell.

"Its only our mother fussing, as usual", he mumbled. "A small burn - that's all it was. That doctor is another fusspot! I'll be out of this bed in the morning, just you watch me! "

He looked pale and tired, and Sandra thought she had never seen him looking so shook up before.

"It must have been some burn, Dad, if the doctor bandaged it up like that and told you to go to bed! "

Her mother looked at her, warningly. She didn't want another sparring match between them. Not when he was in this state.

"Dad, Mrs. Walsh is keeping me on - as her Buyer in the shop! " Isn't that great?" Sandra waited for his reaction. He was probably going to throw cold water on her excitement, as usual, she thought, feeling suddenly depressed. Would he never be satisfied, happy for her in whatever she decided to do?

"That's great, love. I'm so proud of you!" Her mother' gave her a hug and squeezed her arm encouragingly. "Sit there, on the bed, and talk to your Dad while I get us a nice cup of tea".

Her mother hurried downstairs and Sandra sat on the edge of the bed.

 

 

She knew he had disapproved from the very start of her working in that "dress shop", as he had disparagingly called it. All that shorthand and typing had gone to waste, all the money he had spent on a commercial college, all had come to nothing!

"Dad - I know its not what you wanted for me, and I'm sorry I disappointed you".

He put up a hand to stop her Its me who should be apologising, Sandra". He plucked at the sheet self-consciously. She knew he was finding it hard to talk like this. Apologising didn't come easy to a man like him. She put out her hand tentatively and laid it on his broad hand. He looked up at her, and to her amazement, she thought she saw tears in his eyes.

"Its a wonder you didn't pack it in long ago. God knows I wasn't much encouragement to you. "I just want you to know that I'm proud of you"' he said, quietly. "I suppose I was a bit jealous Sandra. Here you are, a young lady, going out into the world, and you don't need your Dad any more. It didn't really bother me, you know, that you hadnt a job. I was afraid that you'd get one. I didn't want to let go, you see".

She sat there, listening to him, and the great rift that had been between them for so long suddenly seemed to disappear. They were once again listening to each other.

"Watching you, Sandra, over the last few months, working so hard in that shop, trying to make a go of it - its made me feel ashamed! " She bent over him and gently put her arm about him.

"Maybe it was my fault too, she said. "I saw only my side of things".

But it would be different now. The past and the present were friends again - and the future seemed- bright. Next week she would enrol in night school . . . and she knew now that she would have her Dad's encouragement.

They had weathered the crisis.

 

ENDS © Jeremy Stevens 2000

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