My cab pulled into what looked like an abandoned estate in Thamesmead. A modestly sized, rusting, mobile office trailer that needed painting was next to a noisy diesel generator leaking gas onto unkempt grass mixed with weeds. The cab driver raised her voice for me to understand her, “You are here!”
Gary shouted, “This is it? This is the Reedsy Corporate office?”
She nodded, then raised her hands to her shoulders with her palms faced upwards.
Gary paused for a moment, glanced out the passenger side window at the rusting mobile office trailer, and commented, “But their website is so nice and modern.”
“Would you like me to wait for you?” the cab driver asked.
Gary responded quickly, “Yes! Please!”
She raised her hands above her head, “Ok, I guess I’ll just sit here and do nothing, like a limo driver!”
Gary exited the car and ambled towards the trailer. It was a rainy and chilly July afternoon. He had an interview with Reedsy.com regarding the Content Marketer position. “Emmanuel Natef seemed so relaxed and charming,” Gary thought while shaking his head. “How could anyone work in these conditions?”
He approached the trailer door and knocked. The sound of falling lumber hitting tile, followed by the door hitting the floor, surprised Gary and the Reedsy employees. Mayara Bendetti rushed towards him from a large circular table that filled nearly every part of the trailer. She was sitting closest to the front door.
“Ohhhhh, I am sorry about this.” She stepped over the fallen lumber and lowered herself to pick up the door.
“Are you here to fix the electricity?” Mayara shouted.
Gary helped her with propping up the door against the door frame. He held it in place as she secured the entrance with the falling pieces of lumber.
Gary leaned towards her ear and shouted, “I’m here to interview for the Content Marketing position.”
Mayara closed her fist and raised her thumb. She held onto the door and kicked the lumber to the floor. She slid the door far enough away from the entrance to brace against the wall. Mayara quickly dressed in an oversized brown coat smothered with oil, and she smelled like diesel fuel. Mayara soon exited the trailer and scurried out the front door.
Gary turned to face the massive circular table. Laptops, wires, paper sacks, and half-eaten food littered the table. There must have been a dozen Reedsy employees who stared aimlessly towards Gary. No one attempted to speak as it was impossible to talk over the generator.
A loud boom caused the trailer to shake like the earthquake tremors experienced in Southern California. He instinctively lunged underneath the table. The noise became quieter as the generator attempted to stop. Gary lifted himself off the floor when another loud boom startled him and caused Gary to strike his head against the bottom of the table.
It was now completely quiet. The LED lighting went dark, and the only light remaining in the room was from the glow of open laptops that were all beeping in displeasure from the power surge. Just happy that all that shaking wasn’t an earthquake, the employees exhaled in relief. Gary remained under the table, rubbing the top of his head.
A bearded man with a friendly face peeked under the table, “Are you ok, my friend.” He asked with a Spanish accent. He held out his hand and helped Gary out from under the table. “My name is Ricardo Fayet.”
Gary rubbed the back of his head while continuing to shake his hand. “My name is Gary Robinson. I’m here to interview for the Content Marketing position,” he replied.
A soothing voice from the other end of the table interrupted their greeting. “Welcome, Gary! We are delighted to see you!” He turned towards the others at the table. “You see? I told you someone would show up for this interview!” He had a half-eaten burrito in front of him while waving a ketchup bottle in his right hand. “My name is Emmanuel. I am the CEO of Reedsy.com,” he belched.
Mayara entered the room. She was wiping oily smudges off her face.
“Please excuse these horrible conditions, Gary. Unfortunately, we have had to temporarily relocate our headquarters. What we thought was a gas leak or rotten Kimchi at the nearby Korean restaurant was actually the smell of our own rotting sewage pipe. Apparently, it was slowly leaching into our basement.”
A woman with shoulder-length brunette hair adorned with festive, spiral-shaped curls laughed loudly, “Slowly? There was so much bat shit down there that we used to call our basement ‘Bruce Wayne’s toilet’. It was originally believed our basement was doubling as a bat cave. There was guano everywhere. Ugh!”
Emmanuel kept his gaze on Gary and said sarcastically, “Gary, this is Laura Kerridge, our current Content Marketer. Her last day is today.”
Laura stopped laughing. “No, Emmanuel, I gave my 3 months notice,” she replied.
Emmanuel said nothing. He smirked while struggling to pour ketchup on his burrito.
“It must have been from us eating too many dumplings!” interjected a woman with wavy auburn hair.
Gary pointed towards her and winked, “I see what you did there.”
Emmanuel interrupted, “The young woman armed with puns is Savannah Cordova.”
A bearded man wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that read, “I pee in pools,” stood up from his chair and extended his hand. “I’m Ricardo Ferrolho,” he pointed at his shirt.
“The man looking for validation for his t-shirt collection is our Frontend Developer,” Emmanuel replied.
A middle-aged, spectacled woman with a photo of her cheek pressed against her laptop in a heart-shaped cutout was taped to the back of her tablet. Her hair was tightly fastened in a bun. She appeared annoyed and closed her laptop lid. Then, she mumbled quietly and reached for a thesaurus inside her coat pocket.
Emmanuel noticed that I was watching her peculiar mannerisms. He chuckled, “That is Karen Kinley, and she is one of our short story contest judges.”
Gary reached out his hand, but she ignored it. Instead, her attention remained on her thesaurus; she said annoyingly, “I should of stayed home.”
Gary immediately corrected her gaffe, “I should have stayed home.”
Karen lifted her head from her book and looked at Gary quizzically, “What?”
“You should have stayed home,” Gary repeated.
“That’s what I said,” Karen growled.
“You said ‘should of’ when you needed to say, ‘should have’,” Gary corrected her.
Karen tossed her thesaurus behind her, unfastened her hair, and shook her head. Karen rested her elbows on the table and smiled playfully at Gary.
Gary shook his shoulders and clapped his hands. “Oh! Let’s get this party started!” he declared.
Emmanuel was still trying to reach the ketchup at the bottom of the bottle. His knife was too broad, so he started using the end of his ink pen. Emmanuel was spreading ink and ketchup on the last bit of his burrito.
“What’s with the Brits and ketchup?” Gary said boldly. He shook his head in disbelief. “Is the food that bad?”
“Oh, things are getting a little bit saucy!” Savanna lifted her index finger in the air while closing her eyes. She was very proud of her pun.
The room let out another collective groan.
Emmanuel pointed towards a chair at the opposite end of the table. “Please sit down, Gary.” He opened his notebook and wrote a note: “Interview with Gary Robinson.”
He squinted at the page and said frustratingly, “Crap!” He noticed smeared ketchup stains all over his notebook. He tried to wipe the page, but it only made it worse. He rolled his chair away from the table and inspected his hands and clothes for sauce.
Ketchup covered his long white striped shirt and tie. He struggled with cleaning up his area. Finally, he grabbed a trash can and slid everything into it, including his notebook and the shirt he was wearing. His chest was as hairy as a shag rug, and his back was covered in moles.
“I’ve seen carpet swatches with less fiber,” Ricardo joked.
Gary placed his head in his hands and quietly laughed.
“Ok, that’s enough,” Emmanuel interrupted. He was scratching underneath his arm. But, he continued, “Why don’t we start with Laura Kerridge since she currently holds the position we are looking to fill.”
Gary sat up straight. Laura is why he flew all the way from Southern California to London. Gary couldn’t care less about this job, but their website was purposely designed not to accept authors’ emails. He was on a discovery mission.
Laura started, “How did you hear about us?”
“You know, Laura, hearing that question from you is really disappointing,” Gary replied.
Laura snickered, “Oh yeah? Why is my question disappointing?”
“Let me ask you, Laura. Do you delegate who reads what in your short story prompts? How does that work? Who decides on the winner?” Gary replied.
Laura’s face turned pale. She stuttered, “I, I, don’t understand?”
“Well, let me ask you again. How do you determine who wins your short story weekly prompts?” Gary asked insistently.
“How is that relevant to this job interview?” Laura quipped.
“C’mon, Laura,” Emmanuel interjected. “I think we all want to know how you select your weekly winner.”
Laura started to draw stick figures with a red crayon on the conference table. She tilted her head and slouched in her chair. “I delegate the stories to my staff. I allow each judge to take a turn in selecting a story that meets my criteria. I then select a winner from that list,” she replied.
“So, you don’t read every submission?” Gary asked.
“I love the short stories,” Laura replied defensively.
“You mean you love short stories,” Gary corrected.
“Huh? What? That is what I said?” Her voice raised. She moved her chair farther away from the table. She started to chew on the red crayon.
“You don’t need the definitive article when referring to all short stories. For example, you said you ‘love the short stories’, but you need to say you ‘love short stories’,” Gary explained.
Karen purred, “He’s right, Laura. No definitive article needed.” She turned to Gary, “Are you hungry? I know of this great place...”
“I assume you don’t read all the short stories provided for any given week, and neither do any of your judges, is that correct?” Gary asked.
“How can we, Gary?! Have you seen the number of entries per week?” Laura shouted.
A man that spent the entire interview pacing the room stopped and began fidgeting with cables lying across the conference table. The communication between Laura and Gary had made him feel uncomfortably awkward. His arms were visibly shaking.
“Alec, please just stop. You are making Laura nervous,” Emmanuel interjected.
Gary looked at Emmanuel, then at Karen. He winked at her. The author was discovering the answers to his questions. Back in the United States, Gary would send his drafts to people before submitting them to Reedsy.com, and the comments from his audience were universally admired, yet he didn’t hear a peep from the judges or Laura.
“Laura, I will ask the question you already have the answer to,” Gary replied.
Karen interrupted with a sultry voice, “Can you do that? I mean, use a preposition at the end of a sentence?”
“Watch me,” he whispered to her.
“How can you properly judge a contest when you and your team are not reading every entry?” Gary held out his arms in the same manner as a preacher does to its congregation. He answered for her, “You can’t.”
Laura jumped on her laptop. She was typing profusely. The Reedsy team was silent, waiting for Laura to reply. “Gary! Gary Robinson! I know you! You’re the one that wrote about the circus monkeys throwing turds on your date!”
Gary smiled, “Yes, that’s me!”
She laughed loudly, “You were not even close. The judge assigned to your story has issues with circus monkeys from his childhood.”
“So you selected a dark story about dying in a car crash? I fell asleep before finishing it. A real snoozer!” Gary continued to argue.
Alec interrupted them. His left eye was twitching, and his teeth were grinding in anger. “I read your story about the monkey turds thrown at your date! It wasn’t even funny!” he barked.
“You mean ‘it wasn’t funny’, Alec. And, gauging by your body language, you need to experience turd throwing therapy from circus monkeys!” Gary joked.
Emmanuel was now scratching his chest with both hands. He looked over at Ricardo and gestured with his head. The tall, bearded man stepped around the wires lying on the floor. As he passed each person, he had the difficult decision to try to squeeze by them with his butt rubbing against the back of their head or the stuff hanging off the front of him. He alternated front and back. Each person groaned as the force pushed their head forward.
Ricardo reached Gary. “We want to thank you for traveling from Southern California to London, Gary.” He held out his hand.
They briefly shook hands. Ricardo continued, “We just don’t think you are a good fit, and we are almost out of battery power. We need to fire up the generator.”
Mayara stood up and scurried out the front door.
Gary looked at Karen, “You up for some Lengua Torta?”
Karen stood up and stumbled over her laptop cable. Which caused her tablet to smash onto the floor next to her discarded thesaurus.
“I thought you would never ask,” she replied.
A loud bang from Reedsy’s diesel engine followed Gary and Karen as they stepped into the twilight of the evening.
Gary never won a Reedsy short story contest, but he did win Karen’s heart. They still are together, but Karen has decided to remain polyamorous with her laptop and thesaurus.