This is story #3 from my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. I honestly don’t know what to think of it. The prompt was “Tag” and the word count was 2500. It was a bit of a struggle to write as it is not typical of my stories. There’s a lot more description than I usually have and a lot less dialogue. It’s also not exactly plotted, it is more trying to create a mood. Strangely, Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River” (one of my favorite short stories) was my inspiration even though there is very little similarity between the two pieces.
Jim hated mid-morning appointments. He could sleep in a little bit. He could, but he couldn’t. It was too big. He’d been unemployed for too long. Besides, if he started the day lazy, it might show in the interview. It was a second interview which only made him more nervous. Better to get up early. Better to be in mid-morning form by mid-morning rather than bleary.
He pulled the covers off of himself hoping the cold would help him get up. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked. He sat up and let his feet dangle over the edge of the bed. He rubbed his beard. He wasn’t sure what to do. If he ate too early, he might be hungry during the interview. A rumbly tummy would be embarrassing. If he showered, he’d have to wait to get dressed. Can’t risk the clothes getting wrinkled or dirty.
The bathroom was as good a place to start as any. Get those teeth brushed and that bladder emptied. He walked down the hall to take care of things. When he was finished, Jim walked back to his bedroom and unplugged his phone. He stared at it without seeing for a moment then headed towards the kitchen.
Jim’s roommate was in the kitchen eating breakfast. “You’re up early,” he said.
“Yeah. I’ve got an interview in a little while.”
“As confident as I get,” Jim answered, not very confidently.
“Well, confidence is the most important thing. If you’re positive you’re the best for the job, they’ll believe you. Oh, I gotta get to work.” Jim’s roommate got up, put his bowl in the sink and headed towards the front door. “Good luck,” he said.
Jim was alone again. Waiting sucked. But he was alone. He decided he could shower without any pressure to get dressed right away.
He walked to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. The beard was a little shaggy, best do something about it. He liked it shaggy, the longer the better, but it’s not the look for a job interview. He walked back to his bedroom and opened the top drawer of his dresser. He pulled out clippers and the shortest comb, attached the comb to the top of the clippers, closed the drawer and walked back to the bathroom. Jim plugged in the clippers and picked up the trash can. He stood over the sink, looking in the mirror, holding the trash can under his chin. The clippers started buzzing as he turned them on. First, he dragged the clippers over his beard going down, with the hair. After that pass, he made another but this time going up, against the hair. Then, he shook the clippers into the trash can and put them into the same hand that was holding the can. He rubbed his free hand around his face feeling for any uneven spots. He always missed some, but this felt pretty good. Jim put the clippers back in his other hand and dragged it all over his face again. Better safe than sorry.
When he was satisfied, Jim turned off the clippers. He put the trash can down on the edge of the sink and took the comb off the clippers. He shook them into the trash can again. Then, he used the combless clippers to try to even out the lines on his cheeks and neck. They looked okay, but they could have been crisper. He unplugged the clippers and shook them over the trash again. He wiped them with his fingers and blew into the blades. Then, he took a piece of toilette paper and wiped the whole thing down again before putting the toilette paper in the trash can.
Jim put the trash can back on the floor and brought the clippers back to his room. When he returned to the bathroom, he looked in the mirror again. It could definitely be better. To his right, he saw his roommate’s razor and shaving cream on the shelf. He wouldn’t mind. Jim turned the tap on hot. When it got hot enough, he splashed water on his face and rubbed it around. After turning off the tap, he took the shaving cream down, sprayed some on his left fingers, and spread it on his cheeks and neck. Then he returned the shaving cream and picked up the razor. Hope it’s sharp. He scraped the razor, using short strokes, around the edge of his beard, pausing every couple of strokes to rinse the razor in hot water. Once the outline was complete, Jim rinsed and shook out the razor before placing it back on the shelf. He looked closely in the mirror. Probably should have gone to a barber, but it looked pretty good.
He let out a sigh and took off his shirt and shorts. Then he turned on the shower, a little hotter than usual, and got in. Aside from the regular bathing, he had to make sure he rinsed off any stray bits of hair or shaving cream. When he finished, he turned off the water. He opened the curtain and looked around the bathroom. “Ugh, the towel,” he mumbled under his breath.
Nothing to do but make a run for it. A wave of cold air hit him as he opened the door. He dashed down the hall to his bedroom, took the towel off the hook on his closet door and dashed back to the bathroom. Annoying but invigorating. Jim stood on the bathmat as he dried himself. Then he used the towel to wipe down the sink and get rid of any stray trimmings. He picked up his clothes and brought them back to his bedroom. Jim put the towel and dirty clothes in his hamper, put on a pair of underwear and a white T-shirt and walked back to the kitchen.
Breakfast time, but what to eat? They say you perform better after a good breakfast, so he decided on a fried egg on an English muffin with cheese. It took a few minutes to make it, then he sat at the kitchen table with his sandwich and a glass of water and stared blankly at the wall. He ate mechanically without really noticing the food. It should keep him until lunch. He looked around at the clock as he drank his water. He had half an hour to kill before he needed to get dressed and go.
He got up and put his plate and glass in the sink next to his roommate’s bowl. He was tempted to wash the dishes now to waste some time but decided against it. They weren’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t in the mood. Not that he was ever in the mood to do dishes, but he was even less in the mood at that moment.
Jim wandered back to his bedroom. He put some deodorant on, sat on the bed and picked up his phone. His brother had texted him the night before asking for the name of a song. He started to reply but didn’t want to get into a conversation this close to the interview. It would freak him out if his phone kept buzzing while he was there. Instead he closed the app and opened his email. Just the usual junk. He deleted the emails and closed that app. He turned the ringer off, put the phone on the nightstand and just sat on the bed staring off into space.
After a few minutes, he roused himself. Might as well get dressed. He stood and opened the closet. His suit was on the left. It was his only suit, dark blue with pin stripes. It was meant to be appropriate for weddings, funerals and everything in between, including job interviews. He lifted the hanger and placed the suit on his bed. Then, he went back to the closet and found his brand new, never worn, light blue shirt and matching tie. Jim had bought them when he got asked back for the second interview. It was bad enough he would be wearing the same suit to both interviews, he couldn’t wear the same shirt and tie as well. His other dress shirt was white, and his other tie was red. He hoped this would be a different enough look. He put the shirt and tie on the bed next to the suit, turned to the dresser and removed a pair of black socks. His black belt was on top of the dresser and his black shoes were by the door.
He started with the socks. Then the suit pants, then the belt, then the light blue shirt. He had to unbuckle the belt and unbutton the pants to tuck the shirt in and fasten them all up after he had tucked. He tugged the shirt a few times around the waist to blouse it out a little. He had no idea if he was supposed to do that, but he felt it looked more natural.
Next, he lifted the tie off the bed and walked to the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror, buttoned the top button on his shirt and flipped the collar up. As he raised the tie, he noticed the price tag still hanging from it. That would be embarrassing. Jim left the bathroom and walked to the kitchen. He took a paring knife from a drawer and cut the tag off. He replaced the knife in the drawer, put the tag in the trash and returned to the bathroom.
This time he lifted the tie over his head and put it on the back of his neck, fat side on the left, skinny on the right. This was way harder than it ought to be. Nothing like tying a tie to make him feel like a child. He pulled the fat side down to make it longer. Then he looped the fat side around the skinny side, flipped it over the back and through the front. When he tightened it, the fat side was only about half as long as the skinny side. He undid it and tried again. This time the fat side was too long. Overcompensating. Finally, on the third try, it looked about right. He folded the collar back down and looked in the mirror. His mom would say he looked handsome. He didn’t see it.
Jim walked back to the bedroom. He stopped at the door and put his shoes on. While down there, he rubbed the dust off the shoes with his thumb. He should probably polish them, but he didn’t have the right supplies. He stood up, walked to the bed and put the suit jacket on. He picked his phone up off the nightstand. No new texts or emails. He still had a few minutes to kill or he’d be too early. Early is fine, but too early looks desperate. He checked that the ringer was off and put the phone in his pants’ pocket.
Better use the bathroom now. When he was finished, he washed and dried his hands, then re-bloused his shirt. One more look in the mirror. He figured he looked as good as he could. He walked back to the bedroom and put his keys and wallet into his pockets. Then he picked up a legal pad and pen from the desk. Someone told him once that it looked good if you take notes during an interview. He wasn’t much of a note-taker, but anything that might help. He took a deep breath and headed to the front door.
It was a bright and sunny day, which he found annoying. At least it was relatively warm. He didn’t own a jacket he could wear over a suit. He locked the door and walked down to his car. He took his phone out of his pocket as he got in. There was a wire coming out of the tape deck, and Jim plugged it into the phone. He turned on the car, then pressed play on his phone. “Idiot Wind” started from the speakers. That’s a bad omen. He skipped it. June Carter Cash’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” started. Probably not a good omen, but too good a song to skip. He put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.
The drive took about fifteen minutes. It would be an easy commute if he got the job. He was zoned out for most of the drive, to the point where he was actually surprised when he turned into the parking lot. It’s a miracle more people don’t die on the road. He found an open spot and parked. He was twenty minutes early and decided that fifteen was a better number, so he sat in the car listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing “Coffee Blues.” When the song ended, he turned off the car, picked up the pen and pad and unplugged his phone.
When he got out of the car, he checked to make sure his phone was on silent, put it in his pocket and walked to the front door. He approached the front desk, “Hi. I’m Jim Martin. I have an interview. . .”
The woman looked at her computer screen, “Yes. You’re a little bit early. Follow me.”
She stood and walked further into the building. Jim followed. There were fifteen or twenty cubicles with four enclosed rooms, one in each corner. They walked toward the closer office on the left. There were three chairs next to the door. “You can sit here. She’ll be with you shortly.”
Jim sat in the chair on the left and watched the woman walk back to the front desk. He was trying to be calm, but his right leg was bouncing uncontrollably. He shifted in the chair and crossed his legs. Then he bounced his shoulders and tilted his head back and forth. He stopped suddenly as he felt something scratch his shoulder. He reached up and felt the spot. The tag. He had forgotten to cut the tag off of the new shirt. His face flushed and he could feel sweat pricking his skin. He uncrossed his legs and the right one started bouncing madly again. He thought of running out to the car and ripping it off but didn’t want to have to explain himself to the woman at the desk. He looked around for a restroom. Of course it was on the far wall. He had five minutes, that should be enough time.
Just as he started to stand, the door to the office opened. A woman stuck her head out and said, “Jim?”
“Yes,” he replied. Too late.
She opened the door the rest of the way. “I’m Ruth.” They shook hands. “Come on in.”
Jim followed her into the office.
“You look nervous,” she said.
“Don’t be. The second interview is just a formality.”
Jim smiled for the first time that morning.