The subway car click-clacked down the tracks, lulling her into a somnolent state. A long day at school, a lab assignment, and now this job interview. Lights flashed through the windows, the car slowed and stopped as multiple stations came and went along her way.
Climbing the station stairs, she emerged into sunset. The day was still warm, the wind a soft zephyr blowing the trees that lined the streets this far into uptown. A few moments walk found her facing a row of impressive brownstones. Climbing the softly worn steps, she faced an enormous wooden door. She imagined it could have protected a castle in some far away and long ago place and time. The door knocker was an unusual twisting twining bit of metalwork. Lifting it as if to knock, she distinctly heard a deep bong from inside. As if they were waiting for her, the door swung open. A young man in livery opened the door.
“This way, miss.”
He was so bland as to be virtually unnoticeable, yet she followed him into the house proper. This first entry, marble wrapped, was impressive, yet behind a second set of doors was the gaudily sumptuous. Velvet covered walls begged to be stroked, amazing in deep teal, while in the center of the room, the chandelier was a virtual waterfall of crystal. It threw thousands of rainbows against the walls and drenched the floor below in whispers of fragmented light. The effect was dazzling and a bit unnerving.
“Whoa…” The sound slipped softly from her lips.
“Yes, the greeting foyer,” which he pronounced foy-yay, “is impressive. Takes one’s breath away. He says it reminds him of sunlight shafting through the water.”
The young man fell silent. She threw a sideways glance at him. He was pale, a bit nervous, as if he’d said too much.
“Do you know anything about any of this? Any pointers? I really need this job…” Her voice trailed away as he shook his head vehemently.
“This way, Miss,” and he opened a door, ushering her inside. It shut quickly. A faint snick sounded almost like a lock. Turning she moved to try the knob, but a voice from across the room stopped her.
“Move closer, into the light so that I may properly see you.”
The voice was deep, resonant. The room was almost totally dark, just a single shaft of light beaming from somewhere high above her. She swallowed, nerves pooling into a swirl of butterflies in her belly. She turned back towards the voice, and took a step, then two, into the single ray of light. The source of it was located far above, and faintly she thought she could make out shelving. A library perhaps?
“Ye-es…I…have it w-with me.”
“Do you stammer girl?”
“N-no…that is, no, I don’t.”
“Then…don’t. I shan’t bite you. Bring me your papers now.”
The voice moved from annoyed to gentleness. She moved forward, the sheaf of papers clutched in her hand like a sword. She could see a chair, but as she moved under the beam of light, she was blinded. He could be deformed, or misshapen or something. Not that it mattered, if he hired her.
“Your job description was a bit vague. I–”
“You are the 37th applicant I have interviewed. I am looking for a very certain someone. There is only one specific criteria. All the rest depends on how we get along. About my impressions of you. ”
There was the sound of shifting papers. She attempted to move out of the light, but was commanded sternly to stay put. She stayed. All she wanted was to go home, and fall into bed. Finals week was coming and she was this close to being exhausted.
“For what vocation are you studying?”
“I’m taking general business courses, but thinking of expanding into accounting.”
“You enjoy playing the numbers games?”
She mentally shuffled her feet.
“Uh…not really. But that is where most of the jobs are. A college degree insures me a higher pay grade.”
“Not all jobs require words on pigskin after 2, 4, 6 years of deepening your personal debt. If this was your passion I could understand. But it sounds like a very boring chart you are plotting for yourself, with unhappiness as your goal.”
Her back straightened at the insult. Her eyes brightened. Her indrawn breath pulled her taut, lifting her breasts, drawing her nipples up and out. How dared he, the misogynistic bastard!
“You mean, because I’m a woman I should stay home and mind the children?”
“You have children?”
“NO! I’m single. I meant–”
“A relief, then. Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Sexual partner? Someone who will place more demands on your time, taking you from the tasks which I would require of you?”
“No…geeze…I–this is the strangest job interview….”
“You have yet to answer my question. And stop fidgeting, girl. I meant no insult to your gender. I wonder why anyone, male, female, hermaphrodite, would consider spending years in school for a career that is not calling to their heart. It seems a waste of an education.”
“My parents say no education is wasted.” She sounded huffy, even to herself.
“Your parents are correct, however, girl, there are many ways of achieving knowledge. This is something you should know. All of our lives we are being taught. Some lessons come hard and fast and we learn from our reactions as well as the results of others reactions. Tragedy can be the generation of change. Change is the beginning of growth. Growth is the outcome of becoming aware. Awareness is the start of knowing.”
He fell silent, the sounds once again those of papers being read, shuffled. She pondered his words. Certainly she considered herself ‘aware’. . .yet she did meet some students on campus who seemed to inhabit their own world, and were seemingly clueless about life.
“So, relationships? You never did answer that question.”
“No, no boyfriends. The college boys I know all seem to want the same thing and…well…” She squirmed under the light, trying to shield her eye from the glare.
“The same thing?” The rich tones invited more information.
“You know. Sex. For them it’s more about the score than really getting to know me and…”
“So you’ve been through a few relationships that ended unhappily?”
“NO! No I’m not interested in that sort of thing. I’m focused on finishing school and getting a good job. I want to be married before…well. I know it isn’t all that common by today’s standards. But I want to wait for the one.” Her words hung there, sounding defensive, and perhaps a bit combative.
“Ah. So you’re a virgin and you’re ….ashamed of that?”
“NO! Not at —this has to be the strangest job interview, ever! Why are we even talking about this? I–”
“Remember that I mentioned that I had to have a feel for you. That includes your values, the things that are most important to you — if that is a lover, then your time and attention here would be diverted. The person who is hired here will make an exceptional wage. Your living expenses will be included in that. It is a lucrative position, but only for the right person. As I said before, I’ve interviewed a lot of people. You are, thus far, the only one that has intrigued me, your stammer not withstanding.”
“I don’t stammer.”
“You have stammered. Nonetheless, you interest me. Go on your way and return here tomorrow at three.”
The light snapped off and she was totally disoriented. Behind her the door opened, and the same young man came in and took her arm.
“This way, miss.”
The door closed behind them, the young man casting a nervous glance over his shoulder. Shortly she found herself, still quite bemused, out on the street, staring up at the strange door on the strange house, with the exceedingly strange occupants.
Tired. She was too tired for this today. Wearily, she made her way back home.