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).