writing exercise #16

Creating conflict! Write about two people going after the same job, from each person’s pov.

My thighs stuck to the vinyl of the chair. I imagined the rashy effect. Why had I worn a skirt this short without tights? I glanced at the woman sitting to my left. She was probably 10 years older, wearing a longer, straighter skirt with a matching jacket. Her haircut suggested it wasn’t one she’d done herself. I touched the back of my neck. The short hairs stuck out, pleasing to the touch – my friends had laughed and run their hands over the fuzzy band. I hadn’t meant to go so short, but with each correction, well, this is where I ended up. The other woman’s wavy locks flowed over her shoulders. Sexy. Professional, but sexy. I shifted my now-sweaty thighs – it must be eighty degrees in here – and sagged against the backrest. No way was I getting this job.

Oh, to be young and cool, I thought, stealing a look at the woman to my right. She could still pull off a short skirt and even shorter hair. My legs held up scrutiny as long as I wore tights, but bare-legged? Forget it. I wish, especially in this heat. But two kids and sixteen years of waitressing jobs left a history of varicose veins and stretch marks from waist to ankle. I never let my husband make love to me with the lights on anymore. This woman probably had a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They probably cavorted naked on the beach, carefree. I could never cut my hair off like that. Only the most confident women could. And if she was that confident… I didn’t stand a chance of getting this job.

I tried to imagine that level of sophistication. As I filled out the application – why do they ask you to fill out an application when they’ve already asked for your resume? And why do they include high school in your education? Like I need to tell them I tested out my junior year because I was bored with school and enthralled with my pot dealer boyfriend. Are they going to call my high school? Ask about me? My English teacher would tell them, despair coloring his voice, “Oh! Cherie? She had so much potential! So much wasted possibility.” Well, that is if he remembered me. It’s been five years, after all. I’m sure he’s had other wasted possibilities move through his classroom. I did love reading Catcher in the Rye. But I don’t miss anyone.

I need this job. I didn’t really consider, back when the kids were babies, what it would mean to re-enter the job market. The job market. Like I’m at the store, choosing a career off the shelf. I wish it were so easy. I’m an expert at finding supermarket deals – and fast. With two kids in the cart, you don’t have time to mess around. Can I put that on the application? Good at avoiding conflict through efficient time management? I’m so old. At 36, I’m so old. I can’t believe they ask for high school history on this application. How ridiculous. As if who I was as a teenager has any bearing on who I am as a woman not far from shifting into her 40s. High school mattered because that’s where I met Dan, Dan the Man. Dan the Man who would get me pregnant at 19. It’s kind of crazy we’re still married. I’m glad that worked out. The only other thing I remember from high school is English class. Mr. Lewis. Reading Catcher in the Rye. As a kid, my focus was on Holden. As a mom, all I can think about is the children he had to catch.

“Janie?” the reception called out. “That’s me!” I enthused. Too loudly. As I stood, the stupid vinyl chair refused to release my thighs at first, so I ended up standing to a lovely sucking sound. Way to make a good impression. I’m sure they were both red across the back. Gawd. It was like being in sixth grade and having to go in front of the class to explain diagramming sentences. I don’t know why no one else got it. But I tugged my skirt down and smoothed my hair, channeled my idea of classy. The receptionist gestured to the door across the hall. Deep breath. I strode over and opened it.

God, to move with such confidence. I watched Janie, cute name, go in. I should flee. I’m too old. Too prim. I had no idea what to wear so I went to the mall, to the department store, bought this suit ensemble. I feel like I’m sixty. I think about waitressing, how I slung hash browns and T-bone steaks at the hippest diner in town – crazy how that job offered a sense of cool, but this attempt at a “real job” reminded me just how awkward I was. I love my daughters, but dishes and dusting and laundry weren’t doing me any favors when it came to creating a resume. Now they were both in elementary school. Dan’s construction job paid the bills, but not much more. This job meant health insurance. A crazy concept. And one we needed.

The interview flew by. Generic questions asked by this guy, this manager guy, wearing beige with sandy brown hair and light brown eyes and the kind of facial hair that guys who can’t actually grow a beard seem to cultivate. I tried to impress his face upon my memory, but was pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize him in the line at Starbucks. Yes, I’m responsible, I said. Yes, I pay attention to details.

The door opened. Janie, all unblemished legs and sassy hair, skimmed past, flashed me a smile. The manager probably just went gaga over her and was now going through the motions of finishing the interviews. Fuck. I would never get this job. “Amy?” the receptionist called out. That’s me. I stood, brushed the wrinkles off the front of my skirt. I shrugged my shoulders back. I needed this. My family needed this. I walked in the door, bright smile and hand out for a confident shake. It’s all about the webbing between thumb and forefinger. I’d read that in Cosmo of all place, but it was true. You shake hands, not fingers. Yes, I’m responsible, I said. Yes, I pay attention to details.

Shit! I’d left the lights on. My battery was dead. I kept meaning to get jumper cables, but that meant stopping at the auto parts store, which may as well have been China for all the familiarity it inspired. I suppose always depending on the kindness – or opportunism – of men was not a good long-term plan. Or even a short-term one, given the fact I was stuck in this parking lot.

“Do you need help?” I asked her. “Do you have jumper cables?” she responded. “Sure,” I said, unlocking the minivan. “I keep them with me ever since I owned a VW bug – that thing used to die all the time.” I smiled at her, hoping she wasn’t too embarrassed. She looked embarrassed, red flushing across her unwrinkled, unblemished face. Janie laughed. “I had a Volkswagen once,” she said. “Man, that thing used to break down all the time! That’s why I finally switched to Honda when I could.” I smiled, clipped the red clamp onto her battery and the black where it would ground. “Hey, I’m happy to help.” She grinned at me. “Thank you. Those are great earrings, by the way.” I reached up, touched the dangling glass. “Thanks! My husband gave them to me last anniversary. I really like your hair. I wish I could wear it so short.” Janie’s grin grew as she moved to her car. I climbed into my  own driver’s seat, turned the key, started the van up. Across the divide, she did the same. Her engine sputtered, sputtered again, kicked over, then purred. “Yay!” I shouted. She clapped. For a moment, we shared the same energy, the same spark. I stepped out of the van, already saddened by having to disconnect.

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1 Comment

  1. Joey maggio

     /  January 17, 2012

    Nice. I like it. No matter what age……..we lack confidence or find our wraknessea and not our strengths????

    Reply

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