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Contemporary Fiction

My first job application since the lockdown ended and I am all nerves since the benefits cut off months ago and I am not looking my best because no proper haircut. My side tooth is freshly broken and my face contorts from time to time as my tongue keeps exploring the gap where the tooth used to reside. I try not to do this, but it’s practically a reflex.

I show up at 3 o’clock as directed by the restaurant email. The maître d’hôtel, who looks like a walking penis, gives me a paper application form and points to a side booth, the table bare except for a rack of jam pots. He is completely bald, pink and rubbery, with a wrinkle that goes all the way around his neck. I read the directions, beginning with “Fill out using block letters” so I must revive a skill unused since Grade Five.

Why BLOCK LETTERS, I wonder, why not simply Print Neatly, so the form would be filled with a pleasing mix of upper and lower case that has been shown to have higher legibility. Perhaps it’s a test of how well I follow directions, and how badly I want the job, that I am willing to sit here and print so many BLOCK LETTERS, giving contact details for the last three places I worked, despite my hand starting to cramp. The places have all gone belly up, anyway, so this is pointless but I might as well participate in a bit of rare live theatre.

This resto looks similar to the others, with dark wood paneling and homey accents, if you lived in a home that was hung with framed prints of hounds hunting and ducks being senselessly killed for pleasure. Across from my booth there’s a mirror, its smoky glass a dead giveaway that it’s a two-way mirror so an HR person can secretly watch the job seekers as they fill out forms, thinking no one sees them as they chew their pencils, scratch their arses and steal cute jam pots.

My tongue keeps rooting around the broken tooth but my lips remain sealed as I mark the checkboxes under days and hours available to work. “Are you bondable?” and “Can you sing Happy Birthday?” Check, check and YES, IN 4 LANGUAGES. In the two-way, HR would see me grin briefly because I believe my talent is sure to get me an interview-cum-audition. My fourth language is pig Latin. Appy-hay irthday-bay oo-tay ou-yay!

The form asks, “What three words describe the ideal server?” My gut feeling: CLEAN, WELCOMING, ACCURATE. But then I pause. I do not want hair, no matter how CLEAN, in my food, so baldness could be preferable. Also, WELCOMING is weak. A server might welcome ten tables and not come back to serve a single one. And ACCURATE? Could get tiresome. In my opinion, hungry customers want food fast; so what if the server mixes up the medium-rare with the well-done. I erase my original answer and write BALD, ATTENTIVE, SWIFT.

My tongue tip is getting shredded on the broken tooth and my jaw has that unpleasant tingle just before the dental nerve fires. How soon can I afford a dentist? I get to the question: “What is your favorite food?” I speed-print APPLESAUCE. It was Mother’s favorite or so I infer. Good enough for her, good enough for me.

Now they’re asking about credentials, everything from mixologist diploma to St. John’s Ambulance certificate, important for resuscitating patrons who are choking or suffering cardiac distress. Or maybe suffering allergic anaphylaxis. Stupid of me to forget that. I return to the ideal server question and replace SWIFT with ACCURATE.

My thoughts spring back to the favorite food question. Definitely not OLIVES with pits, the source of my tooth mishap. My gut feeling, pun intended, craves comfort food, the slightly sweet, slightly acidic taste of APPLESAUCE, something that would not aggravate the tooth but perhaps I am aiming too low.

I bet the other job seekers choose PIZZA and BURGER. I would project manliness if I chose STEAK. I imagine my blade-like incisors tearing through flesh. I erase APPLESAUCE and print PRIME RIB. A down-home guy would choose MAC N CHEESE. How about COQUILLES ST. JACQUES? I do love them, love these fluffy vol au vent pastry shells filled with scallops in a creamy Béchamel sauce, but only a snob would choose them.

Should I really let PRIME RIB stand? Or is it just my stomach talking, a form of ventral ventriloquism? I could project joviality with PIE. Only a liar would choose KALE. The question really is, what are they trying to do with this question? Will they reject all applicants who answer with DORITOS, CANDY CANES, and UNCOOKED RAMEN NOODLES? Will they pre-sort us, put everyone who answers BACON on the morning shift and who answers NACHOS on the final shift, which serves only pub food?

The walking penis, let’s call him Dick, seems to think I am taking too long with this form; he strolls up and down the aisle of booths. The HR person behind the two-way might notice that I’m gnawing my lip, rubbing my eyes, and surreptitiously blotting my drippy nose on my sleeve. I can’t help it; I forgot my tissue. Sometimes moisture collects at the tip, I picture myself saying to Dick in a superb double entendre.

APPLESAUCE is a weak answer, except in one way. It’s wise to choose a food with existential clout. EGGS, for instance. Aren’t they considered the most complete food? Enough nourishment in the unassuming ovate container extruded by the hen’s vagina to grow an entire creature into existence. Miraculous, when you stop to think of it. On the flip side, a true risk-taker answers PUFFER FISH, which is delicious but if improperly prepared, results in death. Is that not equally miraculous, messing up Fate?

I stand up, my hand aching, collect my jacket (with jampot in pocket), and hand Dick the form. He has no eyelashes, and his eyebrows are bony ridges, not the crescent-shaped line of hairs at the upper edge of the eye socket that most of us have. I’ve heard of this condition of extreme baldness, but I can’t recall the name, the condition where the body rejects all hair follicles and I wonder if on hot days the sweat trickles directly into his eyes. I feel sorry for him even though my gut feeling is that Dick would be a pain to work for.

Yes, I pity him. I realize I will never get this job, so I wring some enjoyment from this sensation. Feeling pity for someone more powerful than I will be my tattered consolation prize. I stub my toe on the way out and the pain zigzags toe ankle knee hip spinal column jaw broken tooth. The minute the door closes behind me, I curl over and howl, my face a rictus of pain. In this debilitated state I drag-limp toward the muddy beat-up Saturn that has a fresh parking ticket clipped to its cracked windshield. Saturn, wasn’t he famous for eating his children? I recall Goya’s horrific painting. Ha-ha, what if I had answered that question with CHILDREN?

The Saturn ferries me home, its Check Engine light blinking arterial red, its worn brake pads shrieking, its gas gauge needle trembling below zero. As I approach the building where I rent an overpriced undersized vermin-infested closet, I notice a sleek black Lexus parked out front. I keep driving: an instinct, a reflex, a gut feeling that my landlord’s henchman has come to collect back-rent. Lockdowns stop and start. Jobs start and stop. But pain is continual, the need to shelter oneself, feed oneself, believe in oneself is continual. Tonight I should open that tin of APPLESAUCE that I’ve been saving.

  APPLESAUCE. I ought to have kept that answer. You can crush the phenobarbital to a powder and mix it in. All her friends and coworkers at Heaven’s Gate had APPLESAUCE as their final favorite meal. Good enough for Mother, good enough for me.

January 07, 2022 21:47

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2 comments

Amanda Fox
15:21 Jan 12, 2022

I absolutely adored this story - the tone is fun despite the dark humor, and I love the narrator second-guessing himself.

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VJ Hamilton
01:03 Jan 15, 2022

Thanks for your kind words, Fawn!

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