(Thanks to my colleagues at the Open Genre Writing Group, NSW Writers Centre for their input towards this short story.)
I almost slip on the wet road as I run for the tram. I’m late for my first day at work. I had fretted and fretted last night about what to wear but shouldn’t have bothered. Now I am wet from the freak shower that had started as soon as I left home. I’d checked the weather report on my phone too, making sure I didn’t over or under dress. My sky blue silk blouse is soaked through, sticking to my skin like cling wrap.
I’ll duck into Cue at the mall and grab something off the rack when I get off.
This solution momentarily calms me. It had been six interviews to get this job, only my second one since I finished university. I feel a smile begin to form at the corner of my mouth as I remember the coffee stain on the new boss’s tie, half way down, perfectly round like a target. I had noticed it when he stood up at the end of the interview to open the door.
I had felt a child in an adult’s world sitting across a vast boardroom table from the HR manager and my new boss, feeling dwarfed by the big furniture and the confidence of the people opposite me. Sure, they were friendly enough, but their questions were one dimensional, lacking authenticity and sincerity like they’d asked them many times before:
Why did you apply for the role?
Can you give examples of your ability to develop relationships with stakeholders?
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I was by this stage limp from the effort of my performance. My new boss escorted me back to the lift. I kept my head up and shoulders back, just like Mum had taught me. Stooping had made me feel more like my tribe of shorter friends at school; a habit I’d developed since I was a teenager. We chatted awkwardly while waiting for the lift to arrive. It was then I noticed his shoelace was undone. We shook hands. His handshake was firm. I could hear Dad saying you can’t trust anyone with a soft handshake.
I think I could like this guy.
The interview questions kept going round in my head as I tried to slip off to sleep that same night. Then I deconstructed my answers. Did I sound positive enough? Was I too honest? Did I give them the response they were looking for?
My first day at work whizzes by in a fog of new faces and names. I didn’t expect that my role as a Research Assistant required meeting everyone in the organisation. I wish I’d had a ball of red wool in my pocket that I could unwind, forging a path through the labyrinth of offices, leaving a trail back to my desk.
This new world is exhausting so far.
By the time I get on the tram for home I am not able to fit any more information inside my head. I recognise Gunter getting on at the front of the carriage. My heart rate quickens. I didn’t think I’d see him again, not after our last meet up a fortnight ago. He told me then he was going back to Europe in a few days’ time. My bed was a tussle of sheets that smelled of the sun. I could hear waves crashing against the shore in the distance as we silently lay together in the dark afterward, barely touching.
And now we are both on the same tram fully clothed, hemmed in. I imagine him naked, striding around my little flat, light-footed for such a tall man. Looking comfortable in his nudity. He seemed so exotic and self-assured.
We’d met on a tram. Not that I have a habit of talking to people on public transport, especially on my way to an interview. I am quiet before I have to perform in front of strangers. On this occasion I had dropped something. I can’t even remember what it was now. A small packet of tissues maybe. Those ones you buy for travelling. My neighbour half-filled her suitcase with them when she went back to Greece to see her dying father. As if there are no shops in Greece.
Gunter had been sitting next to me on the tram when I dropped whatever it was. We both bent down at the same time to pick it up and our heads bumped. It made us laugh. I’d sneaked a look at him before then. So handsome! And he smelled deliciously clean, fresh, like he’d just walked through a meadow and brought the wildflowers and sunshine with him into the carriage. Everyone around us was dressed in sombre dark clothes. It was raining outside. He looked so alive.
I slide down into my seat and put on my sunglasses and headphones, and focus on the back of the person’s head in front of me, hoping he won’t recognise me. I see him whispering to someone who is just out of view. As we round another corner I get a glimpse of his companion. It’s the receptionist from my new job. The one with the green eyes and perfect skin. I hear myself let out a groan.
I get off three stops before my street. It starts to rain again. I am soaked through for the second time today, this time it is my new lilac button up shirt that sticks to me like a second skin. I take my heels off and walk the rest of the way in stockinged feet, already dreading tomorrow when I have to face her at work.