NEXT • by Shawna Mayer

The line was long. I was standing behind a man who had a hole in his shoe; his toe flexed whenever he shuffled forward.

A woman with thin red lips and a big smile handed me a flyer advertising a seminar on resume writing hosted by the company that fired me. I offered her a wan smile. “Everybody could stand to polish up their resume,” she chirped.

My resume was so polished my higher education had been buffed right off. No one wanted to hire a receptionist with a Master’s degree.

“No thanks.”

She shoved it toward me again. “Give it some thought.”

I wanted to smack the paper out of her hand; more to the point, I wanted to ball it up and shove it down her well-meaning throat until she choked on it.

Instead I took it and mumbled thank you.

When you are unemployed there is no scarcity in well-meaning people who will offer less than helpful advice: job fairs, networking, resume building. I wonder if they’ve ever been asked, “So how much do you want to make?” Then when responding with a modest hourly figure, being told brusquely, “Well, we pay minimum wage.” Or worse, during a brisk five-minute interview to be a reader for the blind, asked, “How important do you feel communication is in this position?” After blinking a few times, I responded, “Vital.” They thanked me and said they would call on Thursday, no matter what, but when Friday rolled by and the phone still hadn’t rung, I was left with another endless weekend to autopsy my answers.

The line now extended out the door behind me. The woman papered each person.

Five, ten, then twenty minutes passed. Back behind the partitions, phones rang endlessly.

I sighed and looked at my watch.

Why didn’t they allocate more than one employee to the front desk? I shifted from foot to foot, in an effort not to lock my legs and pass out. Of course, there were no chairs. This was all a part of our punishment.

A man came out from behind a partition and surveyed the line. He was sipping a cup of coffee. The woman with the flyers joined him in surveying us.  He leaned over and said something to her. She laughed, her bright red lips revealing white straight teeth, a benefit of having a dental plan, and said in response to his unheard question responded, “They’re unemployed. Where else do they have to be?” He took another sip of coffee and the two of them wandered out of sight.

I could see that the man in front of me had overheard them too. He clenched his fist but said nothing.

I picked up a pamphlet entitled “Preparing for Your Job Interview”. It featured a stick figure carrying a briefcase and a checklist. My eyes wandered down the bulleted items: bathe and wash your hair; wear clean clothes. So that’s what I’d been doing wrong; I put the brochure back, and glanced around for a pamphlet for the advanced unemployed — those of us who had mastered showering on the big day and needed a little help with the question, “So tell me about yourself.”  What did they recommend when you smiled at the interviewer and she snapped at you, “Don’t pretend like you’re happy to be here, I know you’re not.”

Or the interviewer who asked me, “You’ll be dealing with a lot of irate people in this position, how well do you handle conflict?”

Finally the line dissipated. The man who had been in line ahead of me now leaned over the counter and jabbed at his paperwork forcefully. “They told me to bring this in and I waited over a half hour, and now you’re telling me it’s the wrong damn form. Who do you think you are?”

From the corner of my eye I saw the security guard approach. The man at the counter noticed too. He took the form the front desk man had offered and stomped off. “This is some bullshit,” he snarled.

My turn; I handed over my forms.

“Is this your only copy?”

I nodded.

“Okay, wait right here,” he sighed.

The sign behind the desk informed me that if I were a veteran there are special programs to help me. I smirked, imagining a room full of military personnel with automatic weapons being lectured to about soap and a punched-up resume.

The man behind the counter returned and handed me a photocopy of my job search record.

“When will I know — ”

His sigh was almost a groan. “We’ll send you a letter.”


“If you haven’t received anything in a week, call in.”

“Right,” I said, still listening to the phones ringing endlessly somewhere behind us.

“Next,” he snapped.

Shawna Mayer currently resides in central Illinois with her two cats Omar and Ziggy, and a Quaker parrot “The Bunk”. (And yes, “The Wire” is her favorite show.) Shawna is currently working on an untitled novel about an itinerant preacher who discovers his fiancée is pregnant with the second child of God. She holds a Master’s degree in English but is much more proud of the fact that her cheesecake won the coveted “Best Flavored” at the Lucas Brown Partnership Invitational Cheesecake Competition this year. She also wishes to thank her Thursday night writer’s group for their love and support.

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Every Day Fiction