I Have No Friends — A Novel and an Experience

Helen McAllister

by Russell Dyer
published:  nov 25, 2017;  revised:  nov 25, 2017;  readers in past month:  332

As Helen sits in a chair in reception, she straightens her clothes and casually pets her hair, trying to press down her curls—they can be a little unruly at times. Wild hair might give the wrong impression during a job interview. She regrets now not having tied back her hair so that it would stay straight and orderly. She looks around for a Ladies room where she might fix her hair. There isn’t any in sight.

She opens a burnt umber folder containing her resumé. Everything is typed neatly, keeping with the image she is hoping to project: a proper and stable person. She frowns, though, as she scans her work experience. In addition to some unemployed periods of a few months between jobs, she hasn’t stayed in any job more than two years, and some for just short of a year.

She isn’t good at keeping a job for long. It’s not that she doesn’t do good work and is fired. No, never. Instead, she usually gets frustrated with the work, loses respect for her employer, or something else happens which causes her to quit. In addition to hurting her ability to find a good job, this has caused her financial problems, especially now that she lives alone, now that she’s divorced. So, she’s determined to rectify this, to do better in the next job.

Although she always starts a job hoping for the best, it never lasts long. It’s often a struggle for her to stay more than a year. As a result, she has low expectations and a low credibility with herself. She doesn’t believe herself when she pledges to stay at least two years in a job. It’s upsetting when others do not believe you, but very disconcerting when you do not believe yourself.

She sighs and then gets up and walks to the receptionist. She’s an attractive woman in her twenties from the midwest, judging from her accent—Helen has heard her answer what seems to have been over a hundred telephone calls. Her name is Wendy. That’s what the name plate on her desk says: just Wendy, with no last name.

“Excuse me. Do you have any idea how much longer I will have to wait?” Helen asks.

“No, but I’m sure…” The phone rings and she answers it immediately, rather than finish what she is saying. She smiles at Helen, supposedly in leiu of an apology. Helen returns to the chair where she was sitting.

She was surprised that she was asked to return for a second interview, after having met with the H.R. manager the week before. That interview did not go well. The woman was meticulous, asking about every job and every break in Helen’s work history: Why she had left each job and why it took her so long to find another job. She was not assured by Helen’s explanations. She seemed only more convinced that Helen was unsuitable.

It’s been frustrating for Helen, having to defend herself and trying to get people to see her worth. «They all ask the same questions and make the same negative comments,» she thinks as she sits there waiting. No one looks past her resumé, looks at her, wants to know about her and what she is capable of doing for them.

Helen sighs again and thinks about leaving: she has been waiting for twenty-five minutes, already.

“Helen McAllister?” She looks up and sees a man in his early thirties standing in front of her. He’s a nice looking man, moderately handsome with a kind face. He’s slender and a little over six-feet tall—she isn’t sure how tall since she is seated and he is bent over to speak with her. He has straight, vibrant brown hair, although it’s unkempt.

“Yes, I am she,” she says in response with a smile.

“Good morning, Helen” the young man says, offering his hand to shake. “I’m Roger Stringer. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long.”

Helen stands and shakes his hand in a feminine way and says it’s alright that she waited and it’s nice to meet him. He concurs—that it’s nice to meet—and leads her across an open floor with cubicles—the bull pen, as she will be told later that it’s called. Working in the bull pen are several secretaries, all of which are young, attractive women, and many more stock brokers, all except one or two are young men wearing suits or at least a dress shirt and tie with a sport coat hanging from their chair, and talking on the phone.

As she follows Stringer, she thinks about how it would be to work for him. She’s forty-two, maybe ten years older than him. She looks at the other men as she passes. «They look egotistical,» she thinks. Several of them seem to be watching her figure—she’s a good looking, slender woman with a full figure. One broker smiles and winks at her. She makes a disapproving face and then looks back at Stringer. He doesn’t look anyway like he’s one of them. He seems to be a gentleman.

They reach Stringer’s private office, which is surprisingly messy: like a boy’s dormitory room. There are stacks of papers on his desk, old newspapers on the floor in one corner, small yellow notes stuck to his telephone, several empty coffee cups, and a plant in another corner, which is dead due to lack of water.

There’s one chair for visitors in front of his desk, with his overcoat draped across it. He scoops up his coat and reveals a stack of files on the chair. He grumbles and lifts the stack with his free hand. The stack almost slides loose of his grip for a moment, before he steadies it by curling his arm and pushing the stack against his side.

“Please have a seat,” he says while looking around for a place to put the thick stack of files he’s now holding.

She sits as he places the stack of files on top of a trash can next to his desk. He hangs his coat on the knob of his office door and then pushes it closed. He turns to go sit behind his desk, but then the coat slides to the floor. He looks back at it and says with a wave of his hand, “Stay there. See if I care.” Helen smiles.

“So, Helen,” he starts, “Tell me about yourself.”

“Very well. To start, here’s my resumé,” she says while removing it from her folder and handing it to him.

He takes it and glances at it for only a couple of seconds before putting it on his desk. “Yes, that’s fine. You’re qualified to do the job,” he says as a matter of fact. “Tell me about yourself—not your work experience.”

“Oh, well…” she says, a little confused. “Well, I went to college in…”

“No, no. I don’t want to know about your education. I can tell you’re an intelligent woman and all. I want to know about you,” he explains. “What kind of person are you?”

She hesitates. She isn’t sure how to present herself, what to say. Should she say she is honest, hard working? She isn’t sure what he wants to know. She debates as to whether to mention that she’s recently divorced and has no children.

“Here. Let me help you get started: Do you like dogs?”

This surprises her. “Um, not particularly.” Then she thinks that might not be a good thing to say: everyone is supposed to like dogs. “I mean, they’re alright.”

“No, that’s fine. You don’t particularly like dogs. What else?” he says. “Do you like to travel?”

“Sometimes I do,” she says.

“Where have you been? Have you ever been to Europe?” he asks.

“No, I haven’t, but that would be marvelous,” she says with a little smile. He likes that she used the word, marvelous.

“Ah. So you’re a romantic,” he observes. She smiles affectionately for a moment before checking herself. “Tell me the top five places in the world you’d like to visit.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have the money to do that,” he explains cautiously.

“Forget about money. Let’s just fantasize. Assume you have the money and can go anywhere you want.”

“Well, hmm… Top five,” she ponders. “In order of preference?”

“Yes. Let’s hear the list.”

“Alright. Well, Paris would have to be first,” she says.

“Of course. You’re a woman and a romantic,” he observes. She smiles and then ponders a bit. As she is considering her list, he interrupts her and says, “You know what, you don’t have to tell me the list. I mean, skip two through four. Tell me number five.”

“Number five?”

“Yes, what’s the fifth place you’d like to visit?” he asks. “Now you don’t have to worry about ties for second and third place. Just jump to the place you’d like to visit after you’ve already been to the must-visit places. Get down to the one that fascinates you, that enchants you, that you’d see after you’ve visited the usual great cities of the world,” he explains.

She thinks for a moment and then says, “Prague.”

“Prague!” he exclaims. She nods her head a little timidly. “Excellent choice. Beautifully preserved city.” She smiles warmly.

“Alright, next question…” Just then his phone rings. “Darn it,” he snaps while looking down at the phone. She grimaces at his comment. He notices her reaction and thinks it’s odd that she is offended by the use of the juvenile word, darn. He picks up the phone and speaks quickly, saying he is busy and would have to call back. When he finishes, he says, “Sorry about that. Now, next question: What type of food do you like?” he asks.

“Oh, um, I like just about any type of food,” she says. He frowns slightly, but not noticeably. He has a fairly good poker face. “What’s important is that it’s done well. I mean, it can be something simple like a club sandwich, or it can be a fillet mignon with a port and mushroom sauce. I like them both. What matters to me is that it’s prepared properly, the ingredients are fresh and good, and that the cook has done a good job, given what he has cooked.”

He nods his head approvingly and says, “I couldn’t agree more.” She smiles. She’s starting to like him. He then asks, “Would you consider yourself a team player?”

She smirks briefly and then says, “Not really.”

“What?” he asks with surprise in his voice.

“I don’t like sports, so I don’t like any aspect of sports as a controlling metaphor for my behavior or work ethics,” she explains. “Instead, I prefer to operate in my best interests and the interests of those who are close to me and who operate in my interests. If you work for me, I will work for you. If you protect me, I will protect you.”

“Interesting. My kind of gal,” he says and then picks up her resumé again and glances at it. “Yes, very good. I like what I’m hearing.” She feels good that he appreciates her perspective.

“Thanks,” she says. She starts to speak again, but hesitates. He looks up at her to see what she wants to say. “I‘m sorry, but don’t you want to discuss my work experience?” she asks.

“Nope,” he says as he puts down her resumé. “Everything looks fine. Besides, I care only about what you will do for me, not what you did for these other people.” She nodded slightly in agreement. “So, do you have any questions for me?”

“Well, the H.R. manager explained to me last week that I would be your personal assistant. I think I understand what that entails. Would I be replacing someone who left recently?” she asks.

“No, not exactly. Previously, I shared a secretary with four other investment advisers,” he explains. “My business has grown enough, though, that I can now justify having my own assistant.”

“Oh, congratulations. Good for you,” she says with a smile. “I should point out, though, that I don’t have any experience in the investment business.”

“That’s alright. You’ll learn easily enough,” he says. “The H.R. manager told you about the pay and benefits?” She says she has. “So, do you want the job?”

“Yes, very much,” she says, a little surprised as he seems to be offering it to her.

“Excellent!” he says and stands and extends his hand, again. “Can you start Monday morning?”

“Oh!” she says, elated at how well the interview went. She stands and shakes his hand and says, “Yes, I most certainly can.”

“That’s superb! Now, I need to get back to work,” he explains. “I have a few calls to return.” She says she understands and that it’s not a problem. “Here, let me walk you out,” he says as he bends over to pick up his overcoat. She objects, saying it’s not necessary. He insists, throws his coat back onto the visitor chair behind her, opens the door and gestures for her to walk through the door first.

He quickly overtakes her and leads her to the entrance, past the bull pen. Half way there, though, he’s stopped by one of the sales assistants. She shows him a few pieces of papers related to one of his clients. Helen lingers at a respectable distance behind him, not wanting to overhear what’s being said. As it turns out, she is leaning against the corner edge of the cubicle for the young man who had winked at her earlier. He smiles and stands to speak with her.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he says to her. Helen looks briefly at him, frowns, and turns away. “Are you working this corner? If so, how much do you charge?” he asks with a chuckle.

Stringer heard what he said and walks decisively towards him and says, “Hey! That’s no way to speak to a lady.” The young man steps back a bit, looking pale, and says he was joking. Stringer enters his cubicle. While trying to back away, the young man stumbles and falls back into his chair. Stringer says in a disgusted tone while hovering over him, “You better clean up your act.” Helen had noticed previously that Stringer is a tall man, but he now seems taller and larger.

He turns back towards Helen and says, “I’m sorry about that.” She smiles and nods. She is very much impressed and charmed by him. They then resume walking together to the entrace.

At the door, they stop and Stringer says, “Thanks for coming in. I look forward to seeing you again on Monday morning.”

“Yes, absolutely. See you Monday. And thank you, Mr. Stringer.”

“Please, call me Roger”

“No, sir. I don’t think I can.”

“Very well. It’s your option to do so when you want.”

“Thank you. I look forward to working with you for many years to come,” she says, somehow knowing that this time it will be so.