KNOWING HER PRIORITIES • by Larkin Cunningham

“Karen Baldwin?”

The girl sitting next to me rises from her chair and follows the guy in the pinstripe suit into the interview room. Another girl arrives to join the chair queue in Karen’s place. She limps a little and I guess she may have one leg slightly shorter that the other, like she might have survived polio or something. I strain my ears to try and pick up a question or two from the interview room, but it’s like a subwoofer is jacked up to eleven.

A little time goes by before the girl with the bum leg pipes up. It’s not that she’s ugly or anything, far from it, but you wouldn’t give her a second look on the street. She wears this little grey frock with white tulips on it that makes her seem limp and damp, like she’s been hung out to dry.

“I’m Tracey,” she says meekly.

“Bess,” I reply.

“Here for the interview?” she asks. I’m sitting here in line in front of the interview room and she asks that.


“Going for the receptionist job then?” she asks, like there is another position on offer… which there isn’t.


“Me too,” she says and smiles a closed-lipped smile.

I’m impatient at the best of times, but more so when I’m trying to escape inanity. I drum my nails on the arm of the chair, producing a clacking sound against the wood. It seems to make Tracey shift in her seat and I take some pleasure from it.

“I lost my job when Fielding’s closed down last month,” Tracey says.

“That’s rough,” I reply. Hearing my own voice I almost seem sympathetic.

“I could really do with this job. But so could we all, I suppose. No reason why I should get it over anyone else, I guess.”

Damn right there, sister, I think. In truth, I am only going for the job so that I can have a little more spending money for my Saturday afternoons with the girls. My husband works for a city law firm and shovels his wages into a joint account. But I’m bored and could do with some company during the day.

Tracey’s phone rings to something resembling choral music. Mercifully, she answers it quickly.

“Hi Momma,” I overhear her say. “Did you pick up Billy’s prescription? … Aw, Momma! You know how Billy is in the mornings without his meds. How’s his breathing? … Well, he needs his meds, Momma … oh there’s no point now. I’ll pick them up on the way back from the interview … yeah, Momma, fingers crossed.”

She puts the phone in her bag, but her hand lingers half in, half out, of the bag. I’m curious about Billy’s condition. I assume it’s asthma. But then I notice the great big teabags under her eyes and wonder if it’s more than that.

“Sorry,” she says, snapping out of her mini trance. I should really switch that thing off. But, I suppose I have to have it on just in case.”

“Of what?”

“It’s my Billy. He has CF.”


“Cystic Fibrosis.”

My heart sinks. I go out of my way not to engage in conversations like this.

“That’s rough,” I say again, this time like I really mean it.

“And what with his father gone and the mortgage arrears… oh, but listen to me prattle on, burdening others with my woes.”

Mercifully, the interview door opens and Mr. Pinstripe sees Karen out.

“Elizabeth Walker?”

I get up and he leads me to the room. Mr. Pinstripe introduces himself as Bruce Winters, C.O.O.. He smiles broadly and spreads his arms wide as if to indicate the spaciousness of his surroundings — though the room is no bigger than eight by twelve.

“So, you want to work for JJ Edwards?”


“So do a lot of others, Elizabeth.”

I don’t tell him I go by Bess. Perhaps over a drink I could tell him.

He asks me a lot of questions. I answer competently, almost robotically, to each. It becomes clear that I tick all the boxes and we start to get more relaxed, more conversational. But not so much that I would correct him about my preference for Bess.

Finally, when it seems like he is all but ready to hand me a contract there and then, he asks:

“So, Elizabeth, do you really, really want this job?”

I think it’s a fairly standard question on motivation. Then I think of Tracey, of her poor son Billy, of him coughing his lungs out because Mommy must go to an interview rather than get his meds first. I think of the repo man banging on her door to take away her TV, her car, her home. I think of Tracey and her mother scrounging at the thrift store looking to exchange food stamps for a pair of shoes for Billy. I think of Billy in a little white coffin.

But then I think of my friends, Jenny, Ashley, and Chelsea. I think of those Saturday afternoons on a department store crawl, of Gucci, Prada, and glasses of wine at the river-side restaurant afterwards.

“Yes, Mr. Winters,” I say beaming. “There’s absolutely nothing I could want more.”

Larkin Cunningham was born and raised in Cork, Ireland. He is currently a full-time graduate student of creative writing at The University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

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