by Tannis Koskela
Only a few weeks ago this bushy cat was a feral barn cat. Claws out, hissing, and quick to hide. A bit of warmth and regular food, and he has become a cat of luxury. He moves into the room like an inch worm. Step, then back arched for a pat. Step, then arch for a scratch. Step arch, step arch, tail curling around door frames, purring and pleasing. How far below is the feral, I wonder, and marvel at how quickly he has adapted.
And adapt too, I must. Time to search for another job in another city, but I grow weary of the game. At my age—just short of retirement—going to interviews, selling myself to employers, and trying to hide my apathy is a trick nothing short of the cat’s miraculous conversion to tame.
Digging deep into my dresser drawer, I find a pair of panty hose with no runs and put them on. I find a suitable black skirt and a decent sweater and some heels, then kill time til I absolutely must leave. If I get the job, it will mean learning all the new names and routines, the minutiae of a new job. The cat did it. Surely, I can—one more time.
Driving downtown, wipers on intermittent, I finally find the tall office building and then a parking spot not too far away. The concierge directs me to the seventh floor; on the ride up, I clean the rain from my glasses and make an effort to stand with good posture. Nobody will want a defeated looking sixty-year-old. In fact, I am not defeated. I have hundreds of plans and things to make, with the roughened hands to prove it; but it’s been a few months between jobs where nail care is noticed, and I need to remember to look the part. The elevator door opens. I step briskly out and scan the directional signs before heading to the glass-walled reception area of a new company. I am politely asked to sit and wait; I do as I’m told, remembering to sit erectly.
Several minutes later a woman ushers me into an office and says my interviewer will be with me in a moment. It’s all so familiar—a game I can’t seem to get out of. With every new job, it feels more and more insincere, each question so old and used up. Tell me a bit about yourself. Why are you applying for this job? What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses? How would you conduct yourself in this scenario, or that situation? Give me an example of conflict resolution. My answers have become so pat that I must pretend to give thought to each one. Does it show? I don’t know, but care less and less.
Predictably, a smartly dressed woman—younger than my daughter with the confidence that tells me she has seldom been corrected, disappointed, or thought that she has ever been in the wrong—enters the office and introduces herself, and I see the quick glance. She gives me the once over. Already, she has seen my greatest weakness. I am old. To her.
I have her number now. I must be self-deprecating, but also make it known that I am up to date with technology. I cannot threaten her with my own confidence—hers is too fragile, and mine is earned. I must avoid motherly smiles, but not be stern. I begin to walk the same old tightrope. I glance at her with a smile, then downward so as not to challenge her. Step, then arch. I answer her questions confidently, then add, “Is that what you were looking for?” so as not to intimidate. Step, then arch, inching my way through the interview.
It goes on for about twenty minutes, during which I learn more about her accomplishments and responsibilities than she does about my abilities. I respond with appreciative nods that say, you are a wonder. I try not to, but begin to feel a deep-seated animosity. She has no idea who she’s talking to, of the things I have accomplished. And she doesn’t want to know. She is more interested in her performance, how important interviewing and judging others makes her feel. She will hire someone like herself. They will talk about how boomers ruined the world for their generation. How we don’t understand. How hard life is for them.
I am still smiling appropriately, trying not to let my derisive smirk intrude, but I want to stand up and walk out while she’s speaking. Finally, it’s over. I shake her hand but cannot look at her. I thank her for her time and leave. I hold my head up high without self-prompting this time, then get back in the elevator and back to the street.
The rain is coming down much harder now, and people are scurrying to and fro on their lunch breaks. Some with umbrellas, some dashing between awnings. I walk slowly and shiver against the delightful cool of the rain soaking through my clothes. In the car I remove my hair clip and let my sodden, greying hair down, relieved of protocol. Before driving I search for a radio station, scanning the channels for a song I like. “Come on, baby, light my fire . . .” I sing along as I put the car in gear, release the clutch, and slide into the noon–hour traffic.
This time the windshield wipers are on constantly; in between strokes, the heavy rain almost obscures the view. The downpour hitting the roof of the car competes with Jim Morrison, and the taste of the interview is driven out, like an exorcism by sound. Loud swishes add to the cacophony as cars plow through deep puddles. There is a yellow stoplight ahead, but the road is very slippery. Rather than risk a swerving stop, I continue through just as a pedestrian dashes into the intersection. An umbrella looms into view followed by a sharp, distinct thump.
The shock of it and the noise in and out of the car leaves me momentarily confused. I have automatically stopped the car, but it takes me a moment to take action. I turn off the radio. One less distraction. Then the windshield wipers. The engine. I step out into the street where several people have gathered around a limp figure on the sidewalk. I feel sick and whisper a short prayer as I walk closer. The person sits up, skinny ankles in high-heeled shoes, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I walk closer. It’s the girl who had interviewed me moments before. I must have been her last interview before lunch. She looks at me, soaking wet and bedraggled, but I can see that she doesn’t recognize me. Good, I think, because I feel an inadvertent smile creep into my face.
The police have been called, and the girl is sheltering in a nearby shop she has hobbled to with assistance. I get in my car and await protocol. It was the kind of accident that seems inevitable in the city in this weather. Both of us were equally in the wrong. I don’t feel bad, and I don’t care.
The proceedings take about a half hour. An ambulance arrives and leaves without my interviewer. She is not badly hurt. The police take information, and we all go back to our lives.
The rain has lessened, but it’s still pouring and the wind has picked up. When I park and walk into my apartment building, branches are lashing the sky and my clothes are blowing around my body. Great transparent spots appear on my nylons where large drops of rain hit, and the spots look like naked flesh. My high-heeled shoes afford no water protection at all. I think of the girl—sprawled on the street, dishevelled and wet—undignified to say the least, and I laugh. I laugh, then smirk, then laugh again as I climb the stairs to my apartment.
I walk in the door, and the cat leaps high in the air and dashes under the couch. I throw my shoes in a corner, and he scurries. Still smirking, I walk through the place, leaving wet prints. Everywhere I go, the cat runs from. He has forgotten that he is tame.