LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2020
This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2020.
"Would you like a glass of water?" the man asks.
He's in his mid-forties, balding, with a round face and ruddy, wine-stained cheeks. Dressed smartly in a blue suit, with a pink pocket-square that perfectly matches his silk tie, he's the sort of bloke you'd expect to see being escorted out of Royal Ascot after a rowdy stag do, not interviewing candidates for an entry-level position at a second-rate recruitment firm.
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Wonderful," he says, taking a seat across the desk from me. He rests his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers together as if in silent prayer.
Don't bother, I think, no one up there's listening. I spent hours yesterday begging God to break my leg so I wouldn't have to come here this morning, and for what? The beardy old git couldn't even stretch to a measly twisted ankle.
"Shall we begin?"
No. No. Definitely not. Nope. I'd rather stick pins in my eyes and dance around naked in front of my old secondary school teachers.
I smile. "I'd love to."
"Brilliant. First off, can you tell me why you applied for the role?"
Well, call me crazy, but I always dreamt of not going bankrupt before the tender age of twenty five. Unrealistic, I know, but when I forked out nine grand a year for my university degree, I was hoping I'd be able to find a decent job afterwards. As it is, I graduated thirteen months ago and, out of the approximately seven trillion interviews I've endured since, the only job I've managed to secure isn't exactly the sort of high-powered, glass ceiling-smashing role I was aiming for. I won't tell you which company I currently work for, but let's just say that if I had the words 'Do you want fries with that?' tattooed directly onto my forehead, it would save me a whole heap of time and hassle.
"I want a career that will challenge and stimulate me, where I'll constantly be striving for better and where no two days are the same," I explain, repeating the well-worn line.
Well-worn lie, you mean. You want a fast-paced, stressful job about as much as you want to go on a second date with the rat-owning yodelling-enthusiast you met on Tinder last week.
"That's good to hear. The work we do here is very varied. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming. Are you confident you'll be able to keep up?"
Not in the slightest. I'll probably have a meltdown in the staff toilets before my second week is out.
"Great. Although, I should warn you, sometimes we're so rushed off our feet that we don't have time to stop for lunch. Will that be an issue for you?"
Will intentionally starving myself be an issue? What's next? Denying me access to fresh water? Daylight? Toilet breaks? Why not just stick a dirty bucket underneath my desk and be done with it, you Dickensian, workhouse-owning tyrant!
I blink slowly. "Not at all."
"Work here starts at seven a.m. and finishes at six p.m.; most of our staff wake up around five to ensure they get here on time - you know what travelling across London can be like. Is that all right?"
How on earth did you manage to bag yourself a career in recruitment? That's what I want to know. Because, right now, you're making this job sound about as appealing as rabies-flavoured ice-cream with a side-helping of sewerage sauce.
"That's fine. I've always been an early riser."
Have you heck! For the first twenty-one years of your life, you thought the day started at eleven a.m.; it used to drive Mum bananas.
"And the salary isn't a problem? I know twenty-one thousand doesn't always stretch that far in the capital."
You don't say? And here I was thinking I'd be able to holiday in the Maldives this year. Better cancel that private jet, hey?
"No, but I've always been thrifty."
Always been skint, more like.
"Excellent, and where do you see yourself in three years' time?"
I hate this question.
The man smiles encouragingly. "It's okay. Take your time."
Can I take three years? Because, honestly, I really don't have a clue. I look into the future and all I see is this gaping black chasm of uncertainty and fear and stomach-churning anxiety, and I think, is this it? Is this adulthood? Because, if it is, I seriously regret wasting so much of my childhood longing to grow up.
Hey, get it together! I'm the one who's supposed to muck this up for us, not you. Quick, say something vague and ambitious-sounding. He'll love that; his sort always do.
I swallow thickly, composing myself. "I see myself having progressed through the ranks. Long-term career growth is very important to me, and I believe your company will enable me to unlock my full potential."
Phew, nailed it!
"Very good," he says, getting to his feet. He shakes my hand. "Well, thank you for coming in to see us today. We'll be in touch. Before you go, is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
Can you give me the job?
Don't worry, I'm only kidding. Mostly.
But, seriously, I'll do anything.
What about if I slept with you, would you give it to me then?
Bloody Me Too movement, spoiling it for everyone else. You know, sometimes I wish I'd been born in the nineteen-thirties. My gran's never had to work a day in her life. She married my granddad and he took care of everything. That's how it was back then. Can we go back to that, do you think?
God, I'm a terrible feminist. I don't mean it. It's just that this is all so much harder than I thought it would be.
So, can I have the awful job that I don't really want, please?
I stand up, shaking my head as I plaster on a smile. "No, thank you. I'm good."