It was a simple game at first. Press start: be still. Don’t think, don’t move or blink. Calculate the gap between safe and danger. Then perform: laugh, respond with some wit. Or smile. Lie out loud.
“Sorry … Could you repeat the question?”
Brock King’s left hand curves around his pen as he writes.
thats a big left—
Not now. This is not the time to play. I need to remember three thousand, two hundred and seventy-five dollars and sixty-seven cents per month.
His right eyebrow goes up. Either a tic or an unspoken observation about my listening skills.
“No worries!” He pauses, finishes writing. “I was asking about what you thought your biggest challenges at the bank were.”
“I would say bureaucracy—at times it was difficult to get decisions made and move through all the levels of process. It could be a real … test of patience.”
My voice trails and dips at the last sentence, for the small mock punchline.
“Ha. I bet.” He laughs but doesn’t smile, keeps his eyes on the résumé.
$3,275.67 per month.
$7,670 to be exact. $4,990 after rent … phone … metro … food …
one night … two … a repeat maybe
The paper he’s looking at is a careful patchwork of employment history designed to suggest that I am a fit for the associate position on the corporate and public affairs team at Fentleman PR. This is the second interview. Brock and the human resources manager at Fentleman haven’t seen the thirteen or so additional companies I worked at over the past two years, the freelance work, contracts, and side gigs. Public relations is all about messaging.
My time at Nomad was great, for me: six months. If I wasn’t sitting across from Vice President Brock with the big left hand right now I would have stretched those six months to a year, but he and I met at a networking event at Nomad, just after I was promoted. He knows other people who work there. He’s too close to the truth, so that information has to stay consistent, even though two months after I met him, I was out of a job. Instead of saying I was promoted, I put on my résumé that I was in the higher position for the whole time I was there. With the other jobs on that piece of paper, it tells a story that my career is progressing, and I’m willing to bet he won’t check that detail. It’s a dangerous gamble, but desperation does that.
“What about accomplishments?”
“At the bank or overall?”
Out of the corner of my eye I see something move. Long hair.
“Let’s start with the bank.”
“I launched a programme to start book clubs led by branch managers. The objective was to promote the books Government Bank had funded among middle-income women between the ages of twenty-four and forty-five. This was around June … sorry … May, yes. May.”
“Really?” He looks up. “I think I remember seeing something about that. It launched in May?”
“That’s when we did the kick-off.”
Nice suit, tailored almost too close to his body. He wears just the vest and matching pants, with the lining of the vest slightly darker than the dress shirt. Very on-trend. He’s also sniffing around for something, but I can’t quite figure out what. My hand scratches at a faint ketchup stain on my pant leg, but that makes the stain worse, lighter against dark grey fabric.
A term like “kick-off” temporarily edges me toward safe for now; it’s a term types like Brock know well.
“That’s impressive. Especially considering, as you say, how difficult it can be to move approvals through at a bank.”
The truth is, the idea for that program came from me but my manager took it over, because the same week I brought it up, I was out. It was one of those last-ditch efforts, a desperate attempt to prove my worth and keep the danger away. The game was just starting back then. Losing that job was almost a good thing, for Gemini. She wants complete freedom, to set all the boundaries I live by on fire. Over time the danger of being unemployed became safe, for her. The game was overused, the stillness redundant. She levelled up.
I nod at Brock and force a tight smile. His complimenting my false accomplishment doesn’t mean safe. It was just a polite thing to say.
Entry-level. All this for a basic, entry-level job. I haven’t even been offered the position and am already distracted by how much money I’m not—
The hair moves again.
“Tsst.” Brock looks over at the thing beside his desk, a dog, I’m sure of it. The side of my body closest to the animal tenses up. I uncross my legs in case I need to run. Gemini takes the opportunity to egg me on. She’s loud, but my answers are rehearsed enough. It’s fine that I can’t hear myself speak over her.
“How are you at working on teams?” he asks.
i really dont work well on teams i prefer to work from home so no one comes over to my desk and thinks they can just talk to me whenever they feel like it because of course i am not doing anything important
“I love working with others.” I slow down, say every word with care. Brock doesn’t seem to notice. “Brainstorming is at the heart of any successful PR team.”
“Cool. And it says here you’ve had experience managing people?”
why do you care are you going to pay me to manage people you know what “brock” dont answer that yes i have a month of experience managing people
im great at it as long as they dont talk to me
“Yes, while at Nomad I managed a team of three employees—one intern and two senior account executives. At the time we were also looking for a junior account executive, but I
left before someone was hired for the position.”
It’s too much information, but the more I talk, the longer I can hold off on that question. The inevitable question:
“So you were a senior account manager. I’m curious why you would apply for this position. It’s more than a couple steps down from where you were before.”
cause she needs the fucking money dumbass!
I shift in my chair as if that could stifle her, just in case Brock hears. The dog gets up. My heart freezes.
Its face is obscured. All I can see is the side of a tail and body, expanding and contracting quickly. Brock’s head is turned; he stares, widens his eyes and points to the floor. He turns back to me and smiles.
“I’ve done a lot in my career, but I’d like to work in a job where I can gain experience doing what junior executives are doing now.” He blinks but doesn’t respond.
It will be important for me to stay confident, speak clearly.
“I’m kind of embarrassed to
actually say this out loud
admit this, but there’s a lot that junior execs do that I’ve had no insight into for a while. I’ve sharpened my management skills, but I think getting more tactical experience, you know, talking to reporters and influencers, social media monitoring, creating content. I think relearning the basics will help me move forward in my career.”
“So does that mean you don’t plan on staying in this role for long?”
“Well, does anyone stay in a role for more than a year? I think that’s the norm for most executives at this level. Ultimately I am looking to stay somewhere long-term, but I also want to further establish my on-the-ground work experience.”
Uh-huh. Again, I’ve spoken too much. I should have stopped at “long-term.”
The dog starts to whine.
It breathes in sharply through the nose and stops.
“Are you a dog person?” He smiles at me again, small, in case I say no, but he’s barely hiding his enthusiasm.
“More of a cat person, to be honest.” Another rehearsed lie, only used because it’s better than an honest, flat no.
“Ah, yes. Ant and some of the peeps here bring their cats in for our ‘bring your friend to work’ days. It can get kind of mad around here.” He chuckles.
god he thinks youre like him he thinks youre an “Ant” a “peep”
i think this is poop
“Ah, I see you worked at Lamb as well?” He’s looking back down at the résumé, has it flipped over from the blank side where he was making notes.
“Yes, great experience.”
“Why did you leave?”
It was nice of him to assume that. At the end of my probationary period they told me it had come down to “fit.” I just wasn’t a “fit.” Ironically you can’t train for “fit.” I’ve tried.
“Well, Lamb is consumer-side, as I’m sure you know. I’m looking to make the switch back to corporate.”
“Ah, so you worked with Marsha.”
“Yeah, Marsha Gordon? It says here you worked at Lamb from …” He peers down. “August to May of last year? She started in that time as the VP of your team, like around January, so … ?”
I open my mouth to say something, but there’s nothing to say. Close it.
“She’s …” His voice softens; he clears his throat as if embarrassed. “We’re engaged actually.”
Options race through my mind: the dates are wrong on the résumé, I was in Cuba when she started. Oh, yes, of course! Marsha! Embarrassed laugh! But I didn’t know Marsha. If I pretend, he will catch me in that lie.
No more moves.
Gemini throws the controller down, takes a stretch.
“Well, I … I left Lamb in November.” I bend down and reach for my bag to avoid his eyes and buy some time. Frank’s head lifts off the floor in alert, but my body is already tensed.
“So … you worked there from August to November?”
“The senior account manager position … yes … sorry.” I act confused, an attempt to interrupt his thinking, but his eyes are fixed on the résumé with a blank look.
“That was a mistake,” I tell him.
I look at the copies of the fabricated résumé on my lap, trying to find a way out, but I can’t focus to read the words on the page. The only thing keeping me from sprinting away is the open-concept design of this office. The eyes and bodies out there that would see me, possibly recognize my face from somewhere, or recognize me at some future networking event.
now you know thats not going to happen
There’s still the possibility I can recover from this. If he likes me, he could ignore the lie I’m trying to cover up as a mistake. We could still laugh it off.
Gemini savours the win.
She doesn’t give a fuck about recovering, she likes that this game is dangerous and that I get tripped up with my rehearsed answers and falsified work history.
“That’s kind of a big mistake to make.” Brock’s eyebrows go up, but he still has that smile on. It’s either meant to be kind or mock me, I can’t tell. I clear my throat and mumble an apology, but my voice is still hoarse. I say something about being confused. His eyebrows lower and the smile fades. My face and neck burn. Recovery isn’t going to happen either.
In the thirty minutes it took for the interview to happen, Fentleman PR’s Toronto office has undergone a bad renovation. On my way in I absorbed every detail. Heavy magazines printed on thick, glossy stock paper. Air filled with natural light coming in from floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the office. Soaps and lotions, colognes, perfumes, and precious, precious coffee in the air. Fresh flowers on the reception desk. Light-grey marble, silver and gold accents. Concrete floors. Pictures of families, babies and parents on desks. Tailored, fashionable bodies clacking boldly by, on the phone and doing the things these types did. Gemini had been silenced by my hope, my thirst to be one of these types, to be made safe by an insurance plan.
I open Brock’s office door, and now the natural light is glaringly sharp. My nose crinkles at the smells in the air; adrenaline stops a sneeze. A few of the eyes that I wanted to avoid turn and look in my direction when I close the door. Gemini makes eye contact. She lets a split second go by, but the employed strangers don’t give more than a passing glance. Brock’s closed door must signal to them something I know already: that I am a nobody, and will not be showing up at the office to occupy an empty desk in a couple of weeks.
Fuck your “Follow your dreams” screensavers, your matching polka dot pens and notepads, your company-branded merchandise. Fuck your levels and team structures, fuck your red-bottomed heels at top-level and fuck your capsule wardrobes at mid-level. Fuck your end-of-year bonus payouts. Fuck your personal and company cell phones and tablets. Fuck your meeting rooms named after Canadian cities. Fuck your head office and fuck your wall murals. Especially fuck your take-your-fucking-pet-to-work days.
Gemini and I are in unison. Now she lets me use her words. Now, on my way out, the details are reminders of how misguided I must have been about this place.
would want to work here?