I never could stay inside the lines
by Jeanne Ellin

Fifty-five years ago this May, I started my first job. Not with the other girls on the shop floor but penned in solitary in a little office. For £2.50 pence I am not a naturally precise or neat person with no affinity for numbers.

I did the books (very badly) for a repairs factory and the six outlets that took in repairs. Every total had to balance to the nearest 2p. With hurried handwriting a 5 could be confused with a 3 causing many reworkings, no calculators then. The shop and factory wages were also my task. Two men had the same last name and I confused their pay.  Only the one who received less than usual complained.

I also got to do any small errands like fetch dry cleaning for my boss and relieve the cashier from her little metal cage for her lunch break.

My lasting regret, not a sin numbered in any catechism, still haunts me.

I succeeded the woman who’d worked in that office for 45 years.  She took pride in the many ledgers she had filled with her small neat (fitting into tiny squares) figures. All those years never a blot and there were dip-ink pens used, certainly never a crossing out or a covering up. Ever.

She dressed soberly, her only treats were a box of Dairy milk and a Mills and Boon every Friday to sweeten her weekend.

When she retired after a few weeks of tutoring me in her tasks she left her last set of books with several blank pages for me to fill.

I blurred, blotted and overran the squares repeatedly. All those careful years and she handed over to a bored teenager without pride nor interest in her work.

IMAGE: “Blue-02” by Georgia O’Keeffe (1916).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  The prompt was timely, as I am approaching the fifty-fifth anniversary of beginning my first job and welcome the chance to explore that memory. As I am now older than the woman I took over from I see events from both perspectives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeanne Ellin is an-about-to-be  70-year-old woman of mixed heritage endeavouring to live a creative life in a small space with even smaller resources. She has had a textbook on counseling published, as well as poems in numerous anthologies and one collection, Who asks the Caterpillar? (Peepal Tree Press, 2000).