Thursday, January 6, 2011

Deux: Draft


by Marshall Cain

I couldn't tell you how I got there, sitting scrunched up in that office waiting room. The walls around me went out forever, and there in the center of it all was a desk with a small blond sitting at it. For the last half hour it was me and that blond, me tapping my formal shoes against the tile, her chittering away at her keyboard. We both kept our eyes off the other, and I wracked my brain just wondering what I was doing.

This interview was a waste of time. I didn't even know what the job was, what this company did. These days though, when you get a call back for a job interview, you pick up another copy of your resume, put on your best slacks, and get your ass to that office. I didn't even remember applying, but between and other hiring sites, that didn't mean anything.

Next to the blond, at the desk, along the far off walls, there was a door. It was a big double door, the sort of door that belonged to someone important. The sort of person who could change my life with the amount of money they carried in their pocket. When I told the secretary what I was here for I tried to take a peek at the door. Yet I realized that it had no name on it, simply a number, two.

“Mrs. Dupont will see you now.”

The blond spoke to me, but by the time I looked away from my own lap and back at her, she was back to watching her computer screen. I walked to the door, my hand on its long metallic handle, and gave one last look at the secretary. She didn't return it. So I swallowed my worries, and peeked my head past the door.

“Come on in, make yourself comfortable.” Said a woman in a welcoming voice.

I turned my head and saw a woman's back, a tan business suit that was currently shoving a leather chair in place so I could sit down. With one glance, one wall lined with books and the opposite strangled by a large portrait painting, I could tell that this office belonged to someone beyond me. I stepped in, tucking the door closed behind me while looking everywhere but forward.

I tried to introduce myself, “My name is-”

She cut me off though, “I know what the hell your name is.”

Turning from her labor, Mrs. Dupont stared me straight in the eyes, and I could not help but do the same. She was without a doubt, odd. Maybe it was her name, Dupont, but she wasn't what I was expecting. She looked Asian, Japanese or Korean if I had to make a guess, I was never good at telling the difference. Her face was round and soft, the sort that could speak to a child-like kindness or a woman's intimacy. I could already feel myself sweating. Not that I only went for Asian girls, but there was something in those soft features that kicked me everywhere I needed it. All it ever took was one cute little smile, and I was trapped.

It seemed Dupont wouldn't hear of it. Her lips were locked in a slight downward curl that already made my ears burn with disapproval. She was a serious business woman, no matter how long those legs were beneath her skirt.

“Come on, sit, sit.” She said as she gave the low leather chair a pat. While the words that came out were welcoming, and her black eyes drew me forward, that expression still left me wary. Yet I still sat down, Dupont stepping back and resting herself on the edge of her heavy metal desk. Her legs crossed down at the ankle and she rested on her hands. That brow of hers furrowed.

At first she just watched me, and I squirmed there at the center of the room. I felt like the whole world bending, twisting inwards to focus on me, her eyes were the focus lens.

“You have no idea what we do here, do you?” Said Dupont without warning.

My first reaction was a hardy no, to yell it even. I was going to say anything, but instead her gaze stopped me. So instead I leaned back, gave her the best chill smile I could manage, and tried to seem in control of myself.

“We're a family company,” She said as she stood up from the edge of her desk, “Old as shit too.”

I found a chance to respond, “You've done very well.”

“Thanks, it isn't our fault really.”

I opened my mouth to say “Oh,” but found that nothing came out.

“I don't even know what we do anymore,” She said as she found her way over to the corner of the room. There was a small fridge on a black table. She opened the door, then leaned forward to take a look inside.

Saying I didn't look would be a lie. She definitely left herself hanging back for me to see, pressed there against her desert-skinned skirt. If I had to work with her, there was definitely going to be trouble. This interview was a tease, but between that glare, those legs, I would go insane.

“This family, we've been around for so long that I can't be sure what really happened and what is just conjecture.”

She pulled out a bottle of water and with a strong turn the crackle of the cap coming free was heard through the room. I turned my eyes away from her rear in an attempt to convince myself I'm not that shallow, and more importantly to avoid being caught if she happened to turn around.

My eyes finally passed by the painting on the wall again, and then I couldn't look away. It was large, at least twice my own height and I wasn't exactly short. The borders along the edge were a shimmering gold appearance, yet didn't give me a sensation that someone was showing off. Instead it seemed the portrait couldn't be framed any other way.

It was a figure, sexless and cloaked in a large piece of cloth that covered its body well enough to hide any hint of the body underneath. The cloth was of two colors, split down the center of the head down to between the feet. One side, along the left, was a violent red. The other side was a passive and dark blue. The figure had its hands held out to its sides, held up to present two items in pale fingers. A jagged wooden club on the red side, and a draped piece of cloth on the blue. The painting felt enigmatic, almost mystic. There was something about it that kept my eyes focused, it felt alien, yet familiar. It was just like a painting he would see in some old book, yet not like anything I ever saw before.

“My job,” Mrs. Dupont began, “Is to connect people. To make sure that some little sap like you doesn't blow up our older-than-dirt track record.”

I turned back to find her looking at me, her lips held at the edge of the bottle. She had taken a swig already, yet she didn't look satisfied. She hadn't even told me what she wanted yet, what sort of job this was, yet those glaring black eyes of hers already found me lacking.

“I won't disappoint,” I said in a practiced interview voice. Confident, spunky, yet willing to learn. What else could any employer want, what did she want?

“I know you won't,” Dupont said before taking another drink, “because you're a keeper.”

I couldn't help but smile. She didn't return it.

“Look, I'm going to give you one shot, one question,” Dupont put her bottle down, “you either get it or much more likely, you don't.”

Maybe it was something in her eyes. They were black, yet not dull. I wouldn't say they were shimmering, glowing, anything of the sort. Yet there was something there. It was like a pair of well polished stones, ancient and common, remarkable when you truly stop to consider them.

Dupont pulled up her sleeves, and then turned her head to the painting. Her mouth sat open for a moment, and for a second the picture and her seemed to have a moment. I was afraid that she forgot I was there, she didn't say a word.

“Mrs. Dupont?”

She didn't look at me before she started speaking, “In Anaheim, there's an older woman named Theresa Nguyen that works at a small Chinese food place in a mall. She's only worked there for a year, one of many jobs she has to bounce between to keep her small yet functional apartment. She is 52 years old, she hasn't dated in 5 years, and has two children that don't know how good their life is.”

Dupont spoke like she was reading a script, this was a story she knew. Yet there was something else, a touch of emotion that spoke of something that I didn't think was rehearsed.

“One day a man arrives, one of many that day, to order food. The man is older, White, and his face is covered with the folds and creases of someone who has seen a lot. His name is Duncan, his friends call him Dun. He comes up to order some food, but first he asks Theresa what all comes with the lunch special. She tells him, and Duncan's face curls up with a look of disgust. He tells her, he can't understand a word she said.

“This isn't the first time this has happened to Theresa. She came to America from Vietnam when she was young, yet she spent a lot of her time speaking Vietnamese with her family, her accent was still there. This was something she always stayed aware of when working. Yet this man, who she didn't know, or know the name of, he was just that certain age. Theresa didn't know for sure, but she was right, Duncan was 54. He fought in Vietnam, lost friends in Vietnam, and did things he would tell you he 'wasn't proud of' in Vietnam.

Not that the average Vietnamese immigrant had anything against soldiers of that war, and Theresa didn't either. Yet, not everyone that went to Vietnam was all that kind to the people there. That, with Duncan's comments, and Theresa found herself feeling defensive, offended. She apologized, and repeated herself. She tried to enunciate, and pointed to the dishes she referenced. It was no use, Duncan shook his head, scrunched up his nose, and told her it was okay. Then he walked away.”

Dupont's head turned back to me, then a moment later she seemed to realize where she was.

I realized I was holding my breath, and took in a breath.

“The question,” Dupont started, “How do we resolve the issue, or prevent future cases like Duncan and Theresa?”

The question seemed silly, vague. What was the 'issue', or the 'case'? Yet Dupont looked at me, waiting in silence.

If the issue was the fact that the woman felt offended by the man's reaction, wasn't the issue perceived racism? Maybe the problem is the lost sale, the fact that Theresa's accent pushed away a customer, regardless of the man's possible bias. Yet there was no sign that the man even knew Theresa was Vietnamese, or hated Vietnamese people, Duncan could have been a generous and hard working man, like so many soldiers.

I took another deep breath, and realized my face was getting a little moist. Even if the question was vague, it was deciding my future, my financial livelihood. Plus there was Dupont, what would she want to hear? Was this about the company, about helping their bottom line; or about helping an employee and customer interact better?

Clearing my throat, I looked Dupont in the eyes and said, “Nothing.”

Her eyes widened and she leaned forward, “Excuse me? What did you say?”

My confidence was shot just like that, but I had no choice but to repeat myself, “Nothing, there's nothing we can do. I mean, we don't even know if the man was hard of hearing, or a bigot, and-”

“Exactly,” Dupont said. Her lips curled up, a smooth crease that turned to a soothing smile. I knew I would like it, “Duncan really is a racist, mind you, but thats besides the point.”

She opened a drawer behind her desk, and pulled out a lighter and cigarette.

“So, I got it right?”

She made a shooing motion with her hands, “Come back for work tomorrow morning.”

I rose, and tried to thank her. She turned away from me though, looking once again at the portrait that hung high upon the wall. Her cigarette lit, she let out a puff. So I left, walking to the large double doors out of the room.

As I got out to the secretary desk, the blond was up and moved past me to speak into the office.

“Mrs. Dupont,” She said, “Zed is on the line.”

I didn't stop. My interview was done and I finally had a job. Now I just needed to figure out what my job was.

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