Just whipped this up over the last hour out of nowhere…. Very rough draft…
“I once wrote a poem about a puppet,” Jeremy says, eyes bright with excitement.
Mister Metcalf half glances up from the résumé, spectacles dangling on the bridge of his nose precariously like a circus act. “Mmmm,” he says with a nod. “And how’d that go over?”
Jeremy looks down at his hands, which lay folded on his lap but obviously desperate for something to do. “Good, I suppose.” His tie suddenly feels too tight. A bead of sweat forms on his upper lip. He wipes it away with his hand, glad to put it to work.
“You haven’t mentioned it here,” says Mister Metcalf, tapping the résumé sprawled out on his desk like an oil spill.
“Well, no. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.”
Mister Metcalf lifts the sheets of paper on his desk and shakes them in Jeremy’s direction. “I see a lot of things you’ve done in the past, Jeremy. Not much recently, though.”
“How do you mean, sir?”
Mister Metcalf looks up again and meets Jeremy eye to eye. He holds his gaze with steely grey eyes until Jeremy looks away. “What have you been up to lately, is what I mean.”
“Oh I’ve been up to lots, sir,” says Jeremy, trying on an encouraging grin that does not seem to fit his face.
“Give me an example, young man.”
Jeremy thinks a minute. The ceiling in the waiting room is made up of 186 square tiles, he remembers. He counted them while waiting for this meeting. That fact won’t impress Mister Metcalf.
Before Jeremy’s mind has time to weigh its value, his mouth is already cutting the cheque. “I met a girl last week on the subway!”
Mister Metcalf leans back in his leather office chair and guffaws. “Really now.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a cigar. He quit smoking years ago but still enjoys reminding himself of a more carefree time in his life. He throws his feet up onto his desk and raises his hands to the back of his head. His paunch protrudes like a third trimester pregnancy. Clearly he’s enjoying the new direction of the conversation. “So how’d that work out, boy?”
“Not that well, I’m afraid.” Jeremy looks out the office window. Wonders how high it is from the ground below. They are on the third floor so that’s got to be like 30 feet, he thinks. Can you die from a 30 foot fall to the pavement? He’s not sure.
“Well, what was her name?”
“What?” says Jeremy. “Oh, um, Cynthia, sir.”
“I have a niece named Cynthia. Lovely name, that one.” Mister Metcalf plays with the unlit cigar in his mouth, glasses on the verge of making a run for it. “So don’t be bashful, Jeremy, let’s hear it, then. What happened? What happened on the subway that you got to meet a nice girl named Cynthia?”
It dawns on Jeremy that Mister Metcalf is probably putting him on. He looks at the palms of his hands for answers that aren’t there. Whatever he had to lose is lost now, he figures. “She works at the video store where I rent my videos. She works the day shift so I never see her. I only go in at night to rent movies. She has long dark hair, very curly. I saw her get on the subway and she had on a t-shirt with the store’s name on it. Before I could catch myself I said, ‘Hey, I know that store; I rent my videos there.’ She smiled and told me she worked there. I said I’d never seen her there and that’s when she told me she worked the day shift only.”
“So that’s it, then?” says Mister Metcalf, clearly unimpressed.
“Well, no. We got talking about favourite movies. She’s into science fiction. Not many girls into that. I was impressed. She has a really nice smile.”
“And I suppose you asked her out, right? That’s where this is leading, yes?”
“Yes and no. I mean, I did ask her out but she’s not interested. She said that if I was asking her out on like a date sort of thing, then no she’s not interested. But if I want to hang out and watch movies, she’d be okay with that.”
“What the hell kind of answer is that, boy?” Mister Metcalf barks.
Jeremy isn’t sure what he means. Isn’t sure of the answer Mister Metcalf might be looking for. He looks out the window for answers but finds only blue sky and tree tops. “I don’t know, sir. She’s really pretty and can do a lot better than me, I suppose. I don’t even have a job. Why would she bother with me? But we’re going to go out. Just as friends, of course, but still…”
Mister Metcalf drops his feet off the desk and straightens up. “I guess you’re right, Jeremy. A girl wants a guy that’s got some security and stability behind him. You shouldn’t put yourself down, though. Girls can smell that, you know.”
“How do you mean, sir?”
“You know. Like, they can smell low self-esteem a mile away. Stinks almost as bad as desperation. There ain’t no antiperspirant that can hide that smell, boy.” Mister Metcalf slaps his desk, a laugh jumps out of his mouth. Jeremy smiles, unsure if he should.
“Yeah, but I’m a nice guy. Girls like nice guys, right?” asks Jeremy, although he’s sure he already knows the answer.
Mister Metcalf just shakes his head. “Boy, you got a lot to learn about the fairer gender. Most girls want a guy with an edge. Someone who’ll keep ‘em on their toes. Haven’t you heard, nice guys finish last?”
Jeremy nods, reflecting on Mister Metcalf’s words. Truth is, he knows there’s no chance with Cynthia. At most they’ll be friends and he’ll have to listen to her go on about some other guy, some better guy, she’s pining over who’s only in love with himself. Jeremy’s certain their new friendship will make a heartfelt after school special on TV someday. He slowly realizes that regardless of whether he gets this job, he’s figured out something here today that’s made the trip worthwhile. He’s no longer interested in working for Mister Metcalf.
Mister Metcalf is watching Jeremy closely. Neither says a word for a minute. In the reception area outside Mister Metcalf’s door a phone rings and is answered. Finally Mister Metcalf speaks, his voice toned down. “Don’t worry about it, Jeremy. Don’t listen to me, what do I know? I’m an old man and it’s none of my business.”
“Yes, sir,” says Jeremy. “That’s fine, sir.” He stands up and extends a hand. Mister Metcalf rises instinctively, reaches out and takes Jeremy’s hand. After a quick shake Jeremy thanks Mister Metcalf for his time and leaves the office.
By the end of the day Jeremy’s résumé has found its way to the recycling bin next to the desk. Mister Metcalf has moved on to other things.
And so has Jeremy. He rides the subway into the wee hours of the night. None of the stops look familiar anymore. He knows he should care but doesn’t.