“Okay so” is how his (let’s call them) sentences begin, what he stuffs inside them, how he punctuates. He smiles. Just the corner of his mouth. The top left corner of a Chiclet tooth mocks me. “Okay so why’d you leave? “Okay so how comfortable do you feel, uh, presentations, okay, and, uh, on the road? You know, okay so, you’ve done this kind of work, this kind of thing, okay I see that, okay so you understand…” is how a transcript would read. That’s not verbatim, of course. Nobody would remember his mess.
“Oh, I loved them, loved everyone there,” I lied. “I’ve built an extensive portfolio within the Federal IT space,” I lied, again. I got canned. I despise driving. My car is uninspected, so I try driving at night, and I’m always looking for cops. I do know Arjun Patel. That’s it. I think he left Program Management, though, to start a chicken place. Something Chicken. I remember him saying, and me saying, “that’s awesome, man,” and he said, “thanks, Nick,” and I started forgetting him. Even his name. It might not be Arjun. What else can I tell them? I drove here without my seatbelt on? I love the way it feels?
The next interviewer comes in. Did I win? My suit is pressed. That’s the last time they’ll see it, like this. I did twenty pushups, earlier. I spent fifty dollars, fifty real dollars, on DLC, and I feel sick to my stomach. My hair is shaved low because I get cowlicks. It makes me look like a fraternity brother, but I have a soft face. You would want to punch me in it. “Don’t you just want to…ya know” I know they’ll say that, slaming their fists into their palms. Plus, I’m smug. Like my personality grew on my face.
“You’re going to like it here,” “Commissions are good,” “Yearly Bonuses,” “We expect a lot,”
This one is tall with a pair of sunken eyes and smiles and laughs with me, he’s fifteen years older than me, at least, but I can’t help but think we’re childhood friends and that he’s letting me in on the good stuff. He could wrap an arm around me and show me the way, into his car, and then he’d take a wrong turn and I’d get that feeling and turn to my door and see the handle has been taken off. His face would be the same but different.
He slaps my forearm and I feel fantastic.
My new colleagues accost me. “Meet the Fed man,” a guy says. The small room fills with the folds of collars, jackets, grey blue black and that smell, it’s laundry detergent, the smell of fabric, it’s the void of smells, even my eyes are trying to lift something from them. They all make way for the man with the sunken eyes. They shut up when they sense he wants to speak. They don’t smell for him. God forbid.
How much does the position offer? I don’t ask. That’s crazy. They don’t bring it up. The ghoulish man has told me about the commissions, about the bonuses. We expect a lot. How much vacation time do I get? I crossed that question off the list, too. Who would want to take vacations from them? One of them brews his own beer. There is no list.
The Okay So man returns. He’s holding a thick folder in one hand, and stares at a phone screen in his other. “Hold on,” he tells me, and he takes a call in the interview room. “Dad, I’ll call you back, Dad, Dad,” he says, and he eventually hangs up because I’m more important than his father. What a move. His facial hair is trimmed but all over, and I can only see his grubby worm lips now and again.
Oh and the room looks like nothing. Imagine it. The interview room. Yes, that’s it. You’ve got it.
At my last job, I used to answer calls and then hang up right away. I played a lot of online chess. I threw my pieces away, for fun. Here’s my rook. Here’s my knight. “C’mon take this seriously” strangers would tell me. I watched pornography on my other laptop during meetings. There’s a chance someone could have seen it, if they saw the reflection in my glasses, but I don’t think they did. That’s not why I got fired.
“So how are you feeling about…” and he says some nauseating thing that I can’t even type out of third hand embarrassment.
Of course, it isn’t as embarrassing as the thing I tell him, which makes his grubby worm lips twist at their thoraxes into a smile, and he calls the ghoulish man in who I genuinely hope becomes my friend.
When the interview ends, I find myself returned behind the wheel. The sun lingers, but low. I buy a large #3, and I throw the change on the floorboard of the passenger seat. I have undone my tie. My jacket is made into a ball. I put my headphones in and listen to foreign music. They’re all opining, or exclaiming, and I tap my fingers against the door of my car, jamming. I don’t want to know what they’re saying.
Jack Frazier has been published in Prometheus Dreaming, The Binnacle (at the University of Maine at Machias,) and Unfading Daydream. He enjoys writing literary fiction and literary horror.