Now I am old, and I look back with a cool mind.
I was young, well educated and starting a life of my own. I can say without pride that I was pretty, tall, and slim, with a professional brightness and a rather endearing smile. Out of secretarial school and with a few years experience I felt poised to move into my career, so I was not at all surprised to get the job with Mr. Swinsen. I always called him Mr. Swinsen, but I thought of him as Gary. I was twenty six then, he was a youthful forty. I enjoyed working for him, he was kind and respectful, so I did my best. As I said, I was bright so it didn’t take me long to come to terms with the work. I did it well and cheerfully. He took an interest in my life, although I told him very little, just about visits to my mothers and to the museum, and on occasions he bought me flowers to put on the desk in my office.
Before long I was able to take on some responsibility for various aspects of the work. He trusted me particularly with some of the clients. One day, as he came into my office with art work that needed to be mailed, a colleague of his passed by. He lay down the copy and went to talk to his friend. He forgot about the mailing. So I decided to mail it anyway. That was the first time I did something for him, you know, to cover up a mistake. This was a small thing but later I covered up for bigger errors. He made mistakes in reading final proofs that I corrected, I reminded him of his wife’s birthday and on one occasion he even forgot his wedding anniversary.
I soon realized that I was quite an important figure in his life, of course I never discussed any of these matters with him but I became a kind of guardian, watching over him, keeping his affairs in order. Without me he would have made some very serious blunders. In a way you could say that a lot of his success was actually my success; but of course he didn’t know, because he didn’t know what I was doing for him. But perhaps he did. He was always very respectful with me.
I started to become a member of the work team. Of course he treated the men in the studio differently, but that was more like boys playing together, they had to have their smutty jokes and boyish sense of humour. I couldn’t be expected to take part in all that. Once he confided some personal matters about his married life. I listened of course and spoke not a word about it to anyone. In many ways I felt more important to him than his wife. After all, his work was clearly the most important thing in his life, and it was I who shared that with him, not his wife. She looked after his home and his children but it was I who stood beside him in the crucial battles of his life. It was I who supported him and covered his vulnerable sides.
I met his wife quite frequently of course – she came to all the company cocktail parties and dropped into the office regularly. She and I were on friendly terms. When we were alone we even talked as if we were a sort of partnership, she taking care of his domestic life and so on while I supported him in his work. All went rather well for a number of years until that painful spring day.
He had seemed in a very bright mood for a number of days. I naturally assumed that it was the spring weather. That morning he’d been particularly bright, although somewhat distracted. He told me that he was spending the afternoon with business partners so not to expect him back after lunch. So, you can understand my shock when, after a walk across the Common to Charles Street, I saw him with a young woman leaving a small Italian resturant. The valet opened the car door for her and they drove off together. It didn’t look like a business meeting. Though perhaps it was. I knew that men of his age did occasionally need to fulfil a sort of biological itch to have an affair with a young woman, and she did look a little like that type. Her dress was too tight, too short, and too deeply cut to be worn innoccently. I confess to feeling a little disturbed by his behaviour, and that distrubance only increased over the course of the next few weeks.
A month or so later I learned that he and his wife had seperated, and it wasn’t much longer before he told me that he had moved into an appartment with another woman, it seemed. Not three months later she, yes, the same little slut, appeared at the office. I could not believe that he would allow himself to be so destroyed by such a woman, so blinded. He lived in a sort of adolescent joy, clearly besotted by the girl. How could he have allowed this to happen? She started to take control of him. Apparently she was some sort of attorney and had drawn him into various business dealings that I was not party to. I do not know that they were criminal but I suspect they were. They would work late into the night, with obvious enjoyment and without the slightest thought of me. And yet I still did my work
meticulously. I still served his every need. why did he not include me in this venture? What right had she, that nothing, that silly little girl, to interfere with our work.
He started to make mistakes. Well perhaps no more mistakes than before but why should I fix them when he has cut me out of his life. Sometimes an urgent call would come through but I saw no reason to help him out now. Of course I tried to be pleasant at all times but it was difficult with the way he was treating me.
Gradually she started to take him over completely. He started to ignore me, and then was surprized when I was less friendly towards him. On a number of occasions he even suggested that there was something wrong with me; with me mind you! I, of course, said nothing. Then he started complaining that I was being difficult, just because I didn’t jump to his every wish and fancy, or because I would question some of his decisions. He started to get really awkward, trying to force me to do this or that, but I stood my ground I wasn’t going to let him get away with that sort of childish behaviour. In fact he was becoming more and more childlike, getting continually irritated with me when I tried to put him right on things that were going awry because of her influence.
He became increasingly more difficult to work with.
Eventually I decided, one evening on my way home across the Common, that he needed to go. I could no longer work with such a weak minded, ineffective, inefficient boy. It would take time, but eventually I would get rid of him. It would be much better for the company.
I often took my lunch with the men from the studio, and I soon learned the dynamics of company politics. With a word here, an ommision there, even by praising him, I was able to darken his reputation. No one of course suspected his loyal and devoted secretary. Gradually his colleagues also came to see that she had far to great an influence on him. Sadly I had to misrepresent him on some occasions, but, I asssure you, it was a necessary poison to remove this cancer from the healthy body of the company. His presence, evil and corrupting, had to be terminated.
Finally I saw my opportunity. We were preparing a very sensitive presentation, a bid on a large government contract, for one of our large accounts. If I mentioned it you would know the company well. I had discovered that she had some connections with a competitor of our client, and it was a simple task for me to divert some critical information to the competitor, and when our client lost the bid some months later it became clear that a leak had occured. Rumors started to creep about the company. Her name was never mentioned, but always implied. Gradually Swinsen started to have his suspicions. I could see the doubt and distrust start to poison his heart. One evening, when she was at the office, they had an enormous row over the issue. She stormed out, leaving him to soak his sorrows in the whiskey he kept in his desk to toast completed campaigns with clients. At first he was quiet and thoughtful but then he became most angry. I was shocked to see him throw his glass across the room before he grabbed his coat and stormed out of the office.
He shouldn’t have been driving. I said this to the police the next day when I showed them where the had thrown the glass – it had marked the wall, although I had, of course, cleaned up most of the mess. When they told me his face had been badly cut and that he had lost his sight, I was terribly shocked, I almost feinted. What a terrible thing to happen; what a tragedy. Everyone said it was. They knew why it had happened, although no one said it out loud.
He didn’t come back to the office of course, and I began working for Mr. Gilotti the company vice president, an older and quite stable man. I have worked for him and his successor for thirty years now. Soon I think I shall retire. I’ll have plenty to do. In my spare time I read for Talking Books for the Blind.