My name is Rose, short for Rosemary. I’m 87, in a nursing home and not very well.  I get small strokes with no warning.  I know when it’s happening because my eyes go funny and I feel dizzy.  It wears off after a while, but for a couple of days afterwards I feel washed out.

I’m feeling OK today, sitting in my armchair by the window, looking at some photos of myself when I was in my twenties.  I’ve only a few photos from that time, all black and white.  Normal people didn’t take many photos in those days, not like they do now with selfies and all the rest of it.

I looked pretty good when I was young: an oval face, blue eyes, a trim figure, blonde hair, red lipstick, a bit of eye makeup − I was a smasher, that’s what all the boys told me anyway.

I’ve just shown my photo to the helper who’s brought me a cup of tea, a youngster from Poland.  I could see she was surprised it was of me.  Funny the way young people forget we oldies were all young once.  Still, I suppose when I was young I never really bothered to think about old people and I never thought I’d get old and decrepit myself one day.

Looking at these photos taken in the 1950s brings bad memories. In fact, I’m not sure why I do it. They were all taken by him so naturally he isn’t in any of them. He didn’t want his wife to find out.  They are mostly of me posing on my own.  I threw away all the embarrassing photos long ago, not that I ever had many of those because he kept them for himself.

I can remember exactly what he looked like: rather podgy, spectacles, balding and with a moustache that looked as if it would tickle. Funny thing is I can’t really remember his voice.  Still, it was all a long time ago so perhaps that’s not surprising.

He didn’t talk to me at all at first.  Just ignored me.  Or at least I thought he did.  Later he claimed he’d noticed me on my very first day, but he gave no sign.  He was the boss you see and I was a junior in the typing pool, only 16 and fresh out of the tec.  He was old enough to be my father, smoked cigars and was obviously filthy rich.  He wasn’t just the boss, he owned the whole company!  Every day he parked his black Rover right outside the front door beside a sign saying ‘Reserved for the Chairman’.

In a funny sort of way I suppose what happened was my fault because I got really cheesed off with him ignoring me. I’d got used to blokes fancying me: wolf whistles when I walked down the street, hands all over me when I went out on a date. I didn’t expect him to fancy me, just to acknowledge my existence.

To start with he’d barely glance up when I entered his office to put stuff in his in-tray. Whenever I took dictation, I’d sit there cross legged, leaning slightly forwards to show a bit of cleavage.  But he just gazed out of the window searching for the right words.

Then he’d say, ‘That’s it, Rose. I need those letters typed in time to catch the afternoon post’.

No ‘thank you’, but at least he knew my name. That was something I suppose.

Anyway, I got more and more resentful, him ignoring me like that.  So, I started doing things just to see if I could get his attention. I’d pretend I hadn’t heard something and ask him to repeat it.  I’d drop my pen and make a fuss scrabbling around picking it up. I’d sneeze and blow my nose hoping he might say ‘bless you’ or ask me if I had a cold.  I’d spend ages gathering my things together after taking dictation. Silly little things like that. But none of it worked, he didn’t appear to take any notice.

So, I stepped up my campaign. Getting him to notice me became a  game. Sometimes I’d stay on after 5 o’clock, when everyone else had gone, and go into his office without knocking, pretending to be surprised when I found he was still there.

‘Oh, sorry sir. I thought you’d gone home. I was just going to check your trays.’

‘No problem, Rose, just finishing off.’

Sometimes I’d loiter outside the building waiting for him to come out and ‘accidentally’ appear just when he was getting into his car.

‘Good night sir.  Drive safely’.

‘Thanks Rose.  See you tomorrow.’

See me tomorrow!  Progress.

I’d been working there for about a year when one evening, I’d stayed late clearing up, he asked me where I lived.  I told him with my parents and that I was saving up to get my own place. He asked if I had any brothers or sisters and I told him no, it was just me. He nodded and said it must be lonely but I told him I had a boyfriend.  After that, every now and again, he’d ask me about my boyfriend.  What did he do?  What did he look like?  What sports did he play?  What football team did he support? Did we go to the cinema?  Stuff like that.

Another year went by.  I got promoted and earned a bit more money but my mum became very poorly, skin and bones, in and out of hospital, and eventually she died. I was only 18 but I’d never been particularly close to my mum.  She didn’t really approve of any of my boyfriends.  Her death wasn’t unexpected but my dad went to pieces and started drinking heavily.

I took some time off for my mum’s funeral and when I came back to work my boss asked me if I was OK.  Did I tell you his name? I always called him sir, but his name was Clive Richardson. Not that it matters, it was all so long ago.

We started to have longer chats after that.  He was a busy man so I was flattered that at last he was showing some interest in me. He was always very polite. He’d enquire about my dad and, in particular, kept asking about my boyfriends.  He seemed fascinated.  How many did I have?  Where did I meet them?  Didn’t they get jealous?  Did I have a favourite?  What colour was his hair?

Things steadily got worse at home.  My dad lost his job and moped around all day, drinking and feeling sorry for himself. His debts mounted up and he was forced to put our house up for sale. A bit of a wrench. It was only an ordinary semi-detached but I’d lived there all my life.  I moved in with one of my boyfriends.  He still lived at home with his mum but she objected to us sleeping together. It was very awkward, with lots of unpleasantness and rows, so I started to look for somewhere else to live.

I didn’t tell my boss but he’d noticed I was taking the occasional half-day off and asked me what I was up to.  I told him my dad was selling the house and I was looking for a place to rent.  That’s when he made his offer: he’d set me up in a flat and pay the rent, but I mustn’t tell anyone.

I was lost for words, too flustered to ask any questions.  I just blurted out that I’d think about it. He said to let him know in the morning but that I mustn’t tell anyone or he’d withdraw the offer.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was an amazing offer but what was the catch?  Was he setting me up to be his mistress?  In all the time I’d worked for him he’d never attempted to touch me or made any improper suggestions.  He’d always seemed more interested in my boyfriends than in me.  It was a puzzle, but I decided to accept his offer and see how things turned out.  If he turned nasty I could always move out.

Within a week he had found a place and he took me to see it. The house had recently been divided into self-contained flats. The one he showed me was on the ground floor.  It had its own front door that opened straight into a sitting room with a small kitchen area in one corner.  A short corridor led to a nice a bedroom with a small bathroom beyond.  The flat was empty when I first saw it but he said he’d get it furnished.  I was over the moon.

Two weeks later he gave me the keys and said it was ready for me to move in.

The flat looked quite different now that it was furnished.  The sitting room had an armchair and a sofa in front of a gas fire. The kitchen was stocked with crockery and cutlery and some saucepans.  The bedroom had a double bed with a padded headboard, side tables with lamps and a dressing table. There was also a three bar electric fire.  On the wall opposite the bed a large mirror had been fitted.

It was luxury.  I couldn’t believe my luck.

After a few weeks he started to enquire about boyfriends again.  Had I broken up with the last one?  When would I get another one?  I didn’t like to tell him it was none of his business so I just said I was between boyfriends at the moment but that there was plenty of talent at the local dance hall.

Not long after I took a boyfriend, his name was Steve, back to the flat.  He was amazed to find I had such a nice place and asked me how I could afford to pay the rent.  I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.  After drinking some bottles of beer together, and mucking about on the sofa, he finished up staying the night.

A couple of days later I found an envelope tucked away in the top drawer of my bedside table.  It had money in it and a brief note:

Rose

Well done!  Keep the bedroom lights on next time and the covers off.  Don’t worry about using the electric fire, I’m paying for it.

The note wasn’t signed but I recognised the hand writing.  

It felt creepy at first, but I got used to it, convincing myself it was a small price to pay for a rent free flat.  I never knew when he was watching.  He never said anything, but whenever I brought a different boyfriend home, a few days later, tucked away in the top right hand drawer of my dressing table, I’d find he had left an envelope with money in it.  No message, just money.

A couple of years later he had his accident and it all came to an end.  The flat was in his name and the solicitor sorting out his affairs told me I’d have to move out. Anyway, I couldn’t have afforded the rent.  So, I moved away and got a new job.

And a new boy friend.

I’ve never told anyone about this, well, not until now. If I told my Polish carer I bet she wouldn’t believe it!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned his name?  Still, it was a long time ago and I expect anyone who might have been interested is dead by now.

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