The Interview

Fiction / Meghan Lamb

:: The Interview ::

She hears the cars pass, distantly, a soft, consistent rhythm. She breathes through her nose. Her chest rises as they approach. She lets her breath release in time with each departure. She is breathing as the highway breathes, a set of cold, gray, concrete lungs.

She is playing a game, lying by herself, there, in her bed.

It is only a game in the sense that there are rules.

She needs rules, or else she’d be lying in bed, doing nothing.

She hates doing nothing, but she doesn’t know what to do.

The object of the game is just to lie as still as possible. The object sounds much simpler than it is. Now, for example, drops of rain begin to tap against the window, and she really, really, really has to pee.

Rule #1: Keep your eyes closed.

Rule #2: Breathe slow, light breaths.

Rule #3: Lie on your back, legs straight, arms flat against your sides.

Rule #4: Listen for all the different sounds outside the room.

Rule #5: Blend them inside your head until they merge into one sound.

She is allowed to use her mind in any way she needs as long as she’s not thinking of her life, but using it to play the game. She reaches out her mental spiderwebs of softly blinking energy and gathers all the sounds that she is hearing.

The raindrops tapping on the glass into the metal pipes into the tunneled channels of the highway’s respiration funneling into her own, slow, even breathing, bursts of tendrils in her mind, white noise she stirs into the vague direction of these sounds.

She gathers all these sounds into a low, reverberating pressure, wraps it round her bladder like a ghostly ribbon made of thought. She breathes in and her bladder twitches. She breathes out. Her bladder hums. She breathes in deep. Her bladder stiffens. She breathes out. Her bladder moans.

Her stomach starts to growl. She tries to gather up this sound. Her stomach doesn’t listen and a wisp of piss releases.

She thinks, shit. Okay. I guess I lose this game, this time. Again.

She opens up her eyes and squints against the light.

She shifts her legs.

She sits up, sits there, leaning over, on the edge.

She stares down at the ground.

She stares down at her feet.

She stares into the dirty, sandy-colored carpet, swallowing her dull, empty anticipation of an ocean wave.

*

Her phone rings and she answers.

She can hear the ocean, softly, in the background, pressing up against her ear.

She strains to hear it, but her mother starts to speak.

She loses track.

She cannot listen to her mother and the ocean.

Hello, mom.

I remembered.

Yeah, the interview.

I know.

Of course.

I know. I know.

The black blouse and the gray skirt.

Yeah, they’re clean.

For just a moment, she can hear the ocean seeping through the phone.

A wave, particularly strong, comes crashing to the shore.

No, I remembered.

No, I know.

I know. I know.

I won’t forget.

No, I remembered.

Yes, of course.

I won’t forget.

She hears a bird call through phone, three times.

She shuts her eyes.

I won’t forget.

I won’t forget.

I won’t forget.

*

She runs the shower water till the steam fogs up the mirror. She steps into the shower and she pisses down the drain. She spits a string of drool into the stream of steaming piss. She tilts her face into the water, coughs, and clears her throat.

She feels clear. She feels clean. She feels okay.

She bends down at the waist to shave her legs. She looks down at the long array of blonde nubs set in black holes in her skin. She thinks of black holes in her body.

She towels herself off, brushes her teeth. She towels off a little circle window in the fogged up mirror. She studies herself in this circle: white foamed mouth, wet brown hair. She shakes off her head to dry her hair. She thinks, mad dog, mad dog.

*

She thinks, eye contact, eye contact. She looks across the room. She’s looking at a woman not much older than herself. The woman interviewing her has clean, blonde, upswept hair. The woman’s lips are pressed into a long thin line.

The long white strips of light blink over small tan squares of ceiling over long gray planes of cubicles of light gray faded carpet over black and white text posters over brown flecked squares of carpet over windows of translucent green tinged glass.

She blinks.

The woman’s long thin lips are twitching slightly.

She attempts to smile.

The woman looks at her like she is doing something wrong.

This is the place you get, the room you get, the woman that you get when you fill out an online form to be a Service Specialist.

The woman interviewer asks about her favorite things.

She clears her throat. She says something generic like, keeping things organized.

The woman interviewer asks where she will be, five years from now.

Right here, she says. She looks into the woman’s cold blue eyes.

The woman interviewer asks, what is your greatest strength?

She says, my greatest strength is staying focused on one thing for a long time.

What is your greatest weakness? Asks the woman interviewer.

I don’t know, she says, still focused on the woman’s cold blue eyes.

She takes a typing test. She types the lines of lightly flashing words inside a little paragraph inside a blinking box:

Dates drier ills erosion! Oil codes will stand in come to cease the Leakage! Dares accumulation follow actor mild curl? Coil found erasing solar moon aloft cruel crooked idols: begin answer, enter, insert inert people, sacred sounds around! Cool moons cold rivers found and corked the ribbon caskets open closing, soil softened lofts erode now follow stand alone no more.

Her fingers curl now, twitching, as the cold blue woman tells her time is up. The woman nods and blinks. She tells her, thank you for your time.

Then, just before she leaves, the woman says, I like your coat.

The woman says this quickly, like she has to get it out.

Thank you, she says.

The woman looks down.

She looks down.

It is a lovely color, says the woman.

Lovely, ocean blue.

*

She walks home, then, beneath the cool moon, the cold light rivulets reflected in oil puddles in the streets that gleam with Leakage!

She gets home, looks down at the city that is growing in the sink. Pillars of dishes, fogged terrariums of glass.

She foams a great white cloud of soap between her hands.

She rubs them, runs the water, and forgets what she is doing.

She strips down to her underwear, uncorks the wine.

She pours a bright red ribbon in her glass.

She sits and sips it.

*

Hello, mom.

Yes, that’s right.

Black blouse. Gray skirt.

Mhm.

I don’t know.

I think, fine.

I don’t know.

I said that I didn’t know.

I don’t . . .

I didn’t mean . . .

I didn’t mean that I don’t care.

Yes, I do. I do, mom.

Yes, of course I do.

I’m sorry, Mom.

I didn’t think of that.

*

She lies in bed and listens to the sounds of night, the rhythms of the highway, shuffled footsteps on the stairwell. She runs her right hand up and down her ribcage like a xylophone under her lifted nightgown, under shadow-fingered sheets.

She plays her night game, which has slightly different rules:

Rule #1: Keep your eyes open.

Rule #2: Breathe slow, light breaths.

Rule #3: Lie on your side, facing the window.

Rule #4: Listen for all the different sounds outside the room.

Rule #5: Blend them together and convert them into words.

Rule #6: Blend them together and convert the words to phrases.

Rule #7: Repeat each phrase inside your head.

Rule #8: Do not respond with your own thoughts, or phrases.

Rule #9: Do not find any meaning in them.

The rhythms of the highway whisper, oh, hello, hello. The shuffled footsteps whisper oh, what, oh, what, why. The creaking movements of the floors above her whisper, hey, ah, hey. The radiator whispers, listen, listen, list.

*

Days pass.

The curtains drift.

The sounds paint shadows that she listens to.

The bed sheets smell.

The phone rings and she answers it.

The water runs.

The bath drain echoes.

The pipes creak.

The bed sheets sigh.

The light stretches its tired hands across the floorboards.

*

She clicks her feet across the floor. She walks downstairs.

She checks her mailbox. She has a new white envelope.

She opens it.

A new white letter slides into her hand.

It reads:

I write to update you on the     Service Specialist     position.

I write to advise you that the hiring process is complete.

We interviewed a number of well-qualified job applicants. Ultimately, we decided on a more qualified applicant.

We hope you understand, and we sincerely thank you for your time. We wish you all the best in your endeavors.

*

Hello, mom.

          Sorry. No, I haven’t.

            No, I have. No, mom. . . I didn’t.

               It’s not. . . No. . . I can. . . No. . . I don’t. . .

                 Mom, I. . . No, I. . . No. . . Please, don’t say that, mom. . .

                    I. . . No, I. . . No, I. . . I try to be. . . But. . . No, I try. . . I try. . . But. . .

                       Maybe. . . I’m just not that kind of person. . .Mom. . . No. . . I know. . .

                          I know, but. . . I know, mom, but, no, I know, but, mom, no. . . I know,

                                but, Mom, I know, but, MOM, NO, I SAID NO

      NO

I

SAID

       I

      SAID

NO

                  I’m still here. . .

               Yes. . . No, mom. . .

             I’m sorry. . . No. . .

           No. . . I won’t. . . I’ll. . . No. . .

         I’m so sorry. . . Yes. . . Ok. I will.

       I will. I will. I will. Don’t worry.

     Mom. Don’t worry. Oh. I’m so sorry. I will.

   Please, mom. Please, mom. I will. I will.

  I’m sorry, mom.

I will.

I will.

I

love

you

too.

*

She hears the cars pass, distantly, a soft, consistent rhythm. She breathes through her nose. Her chest rises. It falls.

She thinks about the ocean coming from a distance, through the phone. The expectation of its sound, which haunts all surfaces.

She gets into remembered rhythms. She thinks, oh, what, oh, what, why, replays the sounds of rustling, the smells of different seasons.

Upstairs, a vacuum starts. Of course, this interrupts the rhythm, starting with a rattled wheeze, then pacing back and forth in breathy whines.

She thinks, it sounds like crying, like some lonely robot child.

She thinks, that is me, somewhere inside.

Some lonely robot child.

*

Meanwhile, hundreds of headlights form a shifting, shining pattern on the highway, beaming into falling snow, hundreds of thin white lines that feel linked, their own bright streaming pathway, their own everlasting pathway, shifting, winding, separate from time.

Somewhere beyond the highway, in the darkness, is a lake, a miniature ocean filled with vague, dark movements that the headlights cannot reach.

But in a way, isn’t the snow just falling bits of frozen lake?

Bits of that dark expanse, turned small, to fall in sheets that disappear.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

This piece began as a completely different text in its form, content, and appearance. It was originally written as a relatively traditional short story with a more defined plot arc revolving around a young woman and an older woman in a queer D/s relationship. It involved a lot of sensory deprivation scenes, a creepy mask, and some odd distanciated chats via various online forums. Above all, the original story heavily insinuated the ways in which this older woman was a mother substitute.

In short: while my intentions were good, I realized (about 3/4 of the way into writing this story) that I wasn’t bringing anything terribly vital to this fairly well-explored narrative. I just wasn’t as invested in the story’s atmosphere as I thought I’d be.

The original story (of which I haven’t retained much material) included some frame passages wherein the young woman performs self-stimulating rituals (which appear here as the numbered “rule” sections). I realized that these were the only parts of the story I really connected with, so I decided to build a new story around them.

I deleted about 95% of the original story and allowed the remaining “rule” sections to establish its rhythm. I decided that, opposed to writing a story about a D/s relationship that housed the anxieties of various dynamics within this young woman’s life, I’d approach those dynamics—her relationship with her mother, her relationship to her mother’s expectations—a bit more directly (and, though I still ultimately wrote through various formal scrims, I felt freer to do so as a result of this directness).

I know it probably seems silly to call this story “direct,” but it’s all relative…and for me, this is as direct as it gets.

When I wrote this, I was re-reading 4.48 Psychosis (Sarah Kane) and watching Je, Tu, Il, Elle (Chantal Akerman). There are probably (light) traceable strains of both in this piece.

 

Meghan Lamb currently lives with her partner in St. Louis, where she is a fiction MFA candidate with the Washington University Writing Program and a Graduate Assistant with the Modern Literature Collection. She is the author of Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace, 2016) and Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance Press, 2014).