PROMPT: Interviewer’s Phone
You have a job interview and meet the interviewer. When you leave the interview, you realize you’ve mistakenly taken the interviewer’s phone and he’s taken yours. The new phone rings and the caller ID reveals it’s someone you know.
The economy had taken quite the dive as of late, and Jeremy had been feeling particularly discouraged. He had been comfortable as a senior manager at an accounting firm, but some bad investments and shady business dealings had rendered the company bankrupt and defunct, so he had been pounding the pavement in desperate search of any kind of job. Jeremy had been able to land a few interviews here and there, but had not been successful in starting a new career. Hell, the poor bastard couldn’t even get himself hired as a bus boy, let alone as a waiter. He was steadily losing hope and had actually begun entertaining the idea that he would have to move back home – temporarily, of course – to try and save some money. Broke and desperate, with no romance prospects either, Jeremy decided to have lunch with his mother at her home and delicately approach the subject of his return. He would do his best to hide his utter disgust at the very thought of moving back home to avoid offending Ma, but he wouldn’t appear too eager either. It was a fine line to navigate and Jeremy, with his confidence at an all-time low, wasn’t sure he could pull it off.
“Things are bad out there, Ma,” Jeremy confessed. He sighed and left his grilled cheese sandwich untouched. A steaming bowl of tomato soup also remained in pristine condition to the right of his plate. Though he had been with his mother for nearly two hours, he hadn’t eaten a thing. Ma’s eyebrows contracted with concern, forcing her forehead into deep wrinkles that ran parallel to the tiny lines radiating from the corners of her wide, oval eyes. They were dark, as was her thinning hair. Ma was certain that she would be bald by the time lunch was over because Jeremy was stressing her out to an extreme level. She sat across from him, leaning back in an uncomfortable chair, with her thin arms crossed over her ample chest. With a piercing gaze, she had been watching Jeremy carefully. He was distressed, and had come to Ma for a solution – temporary or otherwise. “You know I’ve been trying to find a job. I roam the streets all day, popping in whenever I see a ‘Help Wanted’ sign, and asking around if there’s a work.” He allowed his lungs to deflate, but his shoulders remained high, near his ears. He covered his face with hands. Jeremy did feel ashamed, but the physical manifestation of it also allowed him to avoid eye contact with his mother and to mumble his request. Between twitching fingers and beneath sweating palms, Jeremy confessed, “I don’t know what else to do, Ma. My checking account is looking pretty bare, and I think I should move back in.” He rushed the words, treating them as one would the removal of a band aid – best to do it fast and just get it over with.
“Whatever you need Jeremy, you’ve got it,” Ma said. She spoke simply, crisply – she was so sure of what she was saying. “Why don’t you eat something, though? I think we’d both feel better if you at least ate a little something.” She was still studying him, still worried.
“I’m not all that hungry, Ma.” Jeremy leaned back further in his chair. He was looking anywhere but his loving, compassionate and patient mother.
“Alright,” Ma conceded. “I’ve got to call and check in with Margie. She fell this past winter, remember? Fell and broke her hip, the poor thing. I’m just going to step in the other room for a second; I’ll be right back.”
Jeremy was already regretting his decision immensely. Ma kept looking at him with those aged, sad and knowing eyes, like if she left him alone for even a second, he would fashion a noose from his belt and call it a day, right then and there. He didn’t say much else and went to bed fairly early, doing his best to keep to himself.
The sun beat in hot and furious through his small bedroom windows, set up high beside one another in the far wall opposite his twin-sized bed. Everything was uncomfortable; the greenhouse-like heat, the cramped bed and the very situation. Jeremy could have easily slept through the heat, groggily waking for a moment to turn the fan on and increase the speed of the spinning blades to as fast as they could go. His mother’s incessant knocking, however, prevented him from rolling over and giving up. He rose and answered the door.
“Jeremy,” she began, seemingly breathless, “I just heard that a new firm is hiring downtown. I went ahead and called for information. They’re doing an open house from 11:00AM to 1:00PM. You should get down there!”
Suddenly wide awake, Jeremy asked, “What time is?”
“Just past 10:00AM,” Ma answered. “Hurry and get in the shower!”
An hour later, Jeremy was in a suit and taking the bus downtown. As it was midday on a weekday, the bus was blessedly empty and Jeremy had room to stretch out and expel some nervous energy. He considered the sudden opportunity a serendipitous sign that things were finally turning around for him. He pulled the wire and the bus rolled to a stop before a large office building. It was impressive with its metallic-looking surface and wide, expansive windows. There was a “FOR RENT” sign in the window, beside another sign which read, “Sullivan & Son Accounting Interviews on Second Floor.” Beaming, Jeremy used his reflection to straighten his tie and headed inside. He bounded up the stairs and found the second floor wide open. He could easily imagine neat, long rows of cubicles with a supervisor office in the rear. Yes, this would be an acceptable setting for renewal, rebirth and success. A rotund man in a fancy suit sat in a folding chair at a long folding table. As Jeremy approached, he looked up but did not smile. “Can I help you, young man?” he asked in a gruff voice.
For just a moment, Jeremy faltered. The man was intimidating to be sure, and Jeremy felt the surge of optimism dissipate. How could he perform under such cold scrutiny? He cleared his throat to pull himself together, and seated himself in another folding chair opposite the interviewer. Able to flash a winning smile, Jeremy introduced himself.
Jeremy returned to the street below some thirty minutes later, all smiles. That was easily the best interview he’d ever sat for, and he felt confident the position would be his. Every question was answered with the right amount of hesitation and humility. His personal anecdotes were funny and engaging, and the two men discovered they had the same cell phone. The interviewer, Mr. Sullivan himself, had failed to silence the ringer of his phone. Mumbling apologies, he pulled the phone from his breast pocket and Jeremy eagerly announced he had the same mobile device and removed it from his own pocket as proof. Speaking of mobile devices, Jeremy was eager to call his mother. He wanted to tell her how well he had done, and he wanted – no, needed – her to praise him and admit she was proud of him. Retrieving the phone from his pocket, Jeremy began to dial but stopped.
It wasn’t his phone – a beaming grandchild stared vacantly out of the screen. Jeremy’s background was simply red and did not contain an image. He must have grabbed Mr. Sullivan’s phone by mistake; after all, both had lain their phones on the table and in the midst of the absorbing task at hand, both had forgotten which was which. Jeremy looked around, wondering if Mr. Sullivan would be inside, or was he coming out for a lunch break? He turned around to head back inside and inquire when the phone rang.
It was his mother’s home number.
The color drained from his face. He slid his thumb along the screen’s edge, answering the call. He brought the phone to his ear. “Hello?” he called in a husky voice that was remarkably unlike his own.
“Hello, Barry? It’s Vanessa. How did it go? Did Jeremy do well? Did he think it was real?”
Jeremy’s mouth went dry. How could he have been so gullible, so blind? It had not been serendipitous; it had been designed. “Ma, this is Jeremy. I took Barry’s phone by accident, I guess.”
On the other side of the line, Ma’s face went ashen. “Oh, Jeremy ….”